What you need to know about lawyers.


What do lawyers do?

Lawyers protect their clients' legal interests by negotiating for them, preparing documents, providing advice, and representing them in legal proceedings. Their knowledge, training, and experience keep their clients out of legal trouble and minimize the difficulties once their clients are in legal trouble.


How do lawyers charge a client?

How a lawyer charges a client depends upon the type of work involved. There are generally three types of fee arrangements: set fee, hourly rate, and contingency fee.


Set fees are used where the amount of work involved is generally known in advance, such as preparing a will, closing a loan, or defending certain types of criminal cases. In those cases, the lawyer will quote a single fee that the client must pay for the work involved.


Hourly rates are the most common method for lawyers to charge their clients. Under this approach, the lawyer charges the client the number of hours involved multiplied by the lawyer's hourly rate. All lawyers have an hourly rate, and it can vary widely from lawyer to lawyer, with the most experienced and accomplished lawyers generally charging the highest rates.


Contingency fees are used most often where a lawyer represents a client who is the plaintiff (the party filing the suit) in a civil suit. Under the typical contingency fee arrangement, the lawyer collects nothing unless he or she wins the case, at which point he or she collects an agreed-upon percentage of the amount recovered.


What is a retainer and what is a reasonable amount?

A retainer is an amount the client pays up front for the work the lawyer will do. Retainers are common in cases where the lawyer will have to incur out-of-pocket expenses in preparing the case for trial, such as criminal cases.


If I meet with a lawyer, do I have to pay them and keep them as my lawyer?

Whether you have to pay them when you meet with them depends upon the lawyer. Most lawyers provide a free one-time consultation meeting, but not all do. You should ask the lawyer before meeting with him or her whether the consultation is free. Meeting with a lawyer does not obligate you to hiring the lawyer. In any event, the lawyer works for you, and you are free at any time to dismiss him or her if that is your wish.


What kind of documentation and information do I need to prepare for meeting with a lawyer for the first time?

You should bring whatever documents you have regarding the matter you want to hire the lawyer for. If you are not sure whether a document is relevant, bring it. If you have a general understanding of the law involved, you can ask better questions and greatly increase the value of your meeting with the lawyer. One way to gain a general understanding of the law is to visit a local library and research the area. A better way is to read the information available in the Leading Lawyers Network archive.


How can I verify a lawyer's claims regarding experience and reputation?

There really isn't any good way to verify the claims. The only ones who can really verify a lawyer's reputation are judges and other lawyers. You could interview previous clients, judges the lawyer has appeared before, and other lawyers, but the time involved just in discovering who they are would make the exercise futile. A better way is rely on Leading Lawyers Network, which has done the work for you by identifying those lawyers with the finest experience and reputation.


What can I do if I am unhappy with my lawyer?

Your lawyer works for you. You can fire the lawyer if you are unhappy with his or her performance just as you could fire anyone who works for you.


This IS NOT intended to be legal advice or in any way replace the advice and judgment of a licensed lawyer. Every case and situation is unique and only a licensed lawyer can offer legal advice which is appropriate for your situation