There will be times in your life when you'll need to have legal representation. Having the right lawyer can help you resolve a dispute with neighbors, end a marriage, enforce your rights in the workplace, or even avoid prison time. It makes sense to get a lawyer when life gets legal, whether it's a DUI charge or adoption. A lawyer is not necessary for all legal procedures, which is why FindLaw provides free legal information and do-it-yourself resources.
FindLaw's Guide to Hiring a Lawyer not only helps you determine when you should hire a lawyer, but it also helps you choose the right lawyer, understand legal fees, contingency fees, and retainer agreements, and get peace of mind. Lawyers can seem expensive, but not having legal counsel to provide legal advice and legal services can be far more costly.
Practice Areas of Law
Lawyers do not specialize in one type of law during law school. Once they begin working, they often specialize in one type of law or a few related practice areas. For example, one lawyer may only work on criminal cases, while another may handle a variety of personal injury legal matters. Some attorneys don't undertake litigation but serve transactional or advisory roles, such as estate planning. While qualified to represent clients in court, many in-house business attorneys rarely set foot in a courtroom.
Some well-known legal practice areas include the following:
Within these larger practice areas, attorneys may focus on one or more specific types of cases. A criminal defense attorney, for instance, may specialize in defending clients against DUI charges. A family law attorney may handle primarily divorce cases or custody disputes. A lawyer referral service sorts attorneys by practice areas so potential clients can find them easily.
Types of Law Firms
Another way to find a lawyer is through an established law firm. Law firms are often sorted by size, ranging from local solo practitioners to large, multi-state (or even multinational) firms with thousands of attorneys on staff. Small firms may employ between two and 10 lawyers. A small firm may have several types of lawyers on staff. If they focus on a single area of law, they may call themselves a "boutique" firm. Small firms offer the attention provided by single-attorney firms but with enough depth to cover a broader range of legal topics.
A law firm may focus on litigation (resolving legal issues in court) or handle transactional work. Probate and real estate firms are mostly transactional, while family and criminal law firms spend more time in court.
A self-help clinic may not have any attorneys on staff. These clinics offer legal information and help fill out and file legal documents. Some legal issues don't need an attorney's help, so you can save a lot of money by doing the paperwork yourself. These clinics may have a paralegal or legal assistant to answer questions, but you complete the forms and pay the filing fees yourself.
Many law firms provide free or reduced-rate initial consultations for prospective clients. At these first meetings, the attorney or paralegal asks about the case and answers any legal questions. The attorney may review fee agreements and discuss payment options with the client. Most attorney fee agreements work in one of three ways:
- Flat fees are charged for legal services or small cases. Lawyers charge flat fees for traffic tickets, basic wills, or summary dissolutions.
- Contingency fee agreements are usually signed for personal injury or other tort cases. In a contingency case, the attorney is not paid until the case settles. The lawyer's fee is part of the award or settlement.
- Hourly fees are charged for most other legal work. The hourly rate depends on the size of the firm and who does the work. You can expect regular billing for hourly fees. With an hourly fee agreement, you may pay a retainer fee to begin representation.
The first time you meet with an attorney and discuss your case, you establish an attorney-client relationship. Any information you disclose to the attorney is privileged, even if you do not hire the attorney for your legal matter. This protection is known as attorney-client privilege. It prevents any attorneys you talk to from discussing your legal matter with other individuals, including other attorneys.
You Don't Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer's Help
If you have a legal problem, don't try to solve it alone. When you need legal help, meeting a lawyer near you is the first step to resolving your issue. Visit FindLaw's attorney directory for legal advice in your area.