FindLaw's Guide to Hiring a Lawyer not only helps you determine when you should hire a lawyer, but also helps you choose the right lawyer, understand legal fees, contingency fees, and retainer agreements, and get some peace of mind. While lawyers can seem expensive, not having legal counsel to provide valuable legal advice and legal services when you need it can be far more costly.
Practice Areas of Law
Lawyers do not need to specialize in one type of law during law school, but once they begin working, they typically 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 wide variety of personal injury legal matters. Some attorneys don't undertake litigation at all but serve more transactional or advisory roles, such as estate planning. For example, many in-house business attorneys, while qualified to represent clients in court, rarely step foot in a courtroom.
Some well-known areas of legal practice areas include the following:
Within these larger practice areas, attorneys may choose to 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 even specialize in custody disputes.
Types of Law Firms
Lawyers also differ in the way their respective firms are structured, ranging in size from single-attorney practices to large, multi-state (or even multinational) firms with thousands of attorneys on staff. In the middle are small firms, which employ between two and 10 lawyers and are sometimes called "boutique" firms. They offer the attention provided by single-attorney firms, but with enough depth to take on a broader range of legal topics. Additionally, certain firms focus on litigation (resolving legal issues in court), while others are solely committed to transactional work (filing documents, advising clients, drafting contracts, etc.). Large firms usually do some of both.
The type of firm you choose will depend on the needs of your case. A single attorney, perhaps working solo, is capable of setting up a living will and trust. But a large company going through a major acquisition will hire a large firm with deep resources and specialized staff attorneys.
Some legal issues do not require the help of an attorney. But for those that do, choosing the right attorney and understanding the process can make all the difference.
Initial Consultation or First Meeting
Many law firms provide free initial consultations for their prospective clients to get to know their cases and allow the clients to ask questions. Usually, during these initial consultations or first meetings, the lawyer will ask intake questions and receive background information on the client's needs. They may also go over payment options, such as presenting a fee agreement for the prospective client to review containing explanations on how their contingency fee rules or hourly rates work.
Keep in mind that, even if you haven't signed a representation or retainer agreement yet, any information you tell a prospective attorney is protected by the attorney-client privilege. Even if you choose to hire a different attorney, any prospective attorneys you discussed your legal matters with are confidential between you and those attorneys. This is because all lawyers are bound by the ethical rules of professional responsibility.
The first time you meet with your attorney, you will be asked to describe your legal problems and how you need legal help. You will want to be upfront with the legal aid you are seeking. Prospective attorneys can then be honest about how they can or can't help you moving forward.
Aligning with Your Attorney
The best lawyer for you will be the one with aligns with your wants and needs as a client. Aside from ensuring your attorney is in good standing with your state's bar association, you will want to make sure they are the right fit for you. Review all representation agreements thoroughly and make sure that you and your attorney are on the same page with your expectations such as payment plans, communication methods, and timelines.