If you have a legal issue, you need a lawyer. If you've been arrested, you have the right to an attorney. When dealing with family law matters or eviction, you know a good lawyer is essential. But there are many other situations when legal advice is important for business or personal issues. Read on to learn some of the areas of law where the right lawyer is a must.
Knowing When You Need a Lawyer
Some types of cases that call for legal assistance are obvious. Criminal cases, personal injury lawsuits, and child custody cases clearly require an attorney's help. You should consult an attorney or legal aid group in many other areas. For example:
- Business contracts: Whether you are starting a new business or have been in operation for years, you should have an attorney review any legal documents.
- Estate planning: Wills, trusts, end-of-life planning, and powers of attorney all require an attorney's assistance to ensure everything is done the way you want. Any errors could mean stress, squabbles, or even a loss of financial or housing security for your loved ones.
- Real estate: Buying and selling property is not as easy as it used to be. A lawyer can review the deed, mortgage, and title transfer with you and translate the jargon.
When You May Not Need a Lawyer
Sometimes, you don't need professional assistance. Your legal problem may not call for an attorney right away. You can resolve some things with a phone call or by paying your fine. If all you have is a parking ticket, the attorney fees will be much higher than any money you save by beating the citation.
If you're unsure whether you need a lawyer, you can go to the self-help clinic at your local courthouse. Most courthouses have legal aid clinics online and at the courthouse itself that can give you legal information and forms to help you decide if you need a lawyer. They can't give you legal advice but can let you know whether your case needs an attorney.
For instance, small claims cases involve sums under $10,000 depending on the jurisdiction, and attorneys do not represent parties. You can file the case yourself. You would not need an attorney for this type of case.
Finding the Right Attorney
If your legal matters need legal assistance, your next step is finding the right lawyer for the job. A lawyer referral service like FindLaw's Hire a Lawyer Guide is a good place to start. Lawyer referral services categorize attorneys by practice area and size of office, so you can narrow your search once you know what kind of attorney you need.
Once you have a list of attorneys to contact, there are some questions you should ask when you go in for your first meeting.
- Do I have a case? If you see an attorney for possible litigation, they should advise you of all possible outcomes, including the chance you might lose.
- What type of fee agreement will you use? Lawyers charge differently for different cases. Personal injury cases are usually taken on a contingency fee basis. Small cases may be handled with a flat fee. The attorney should be willing to discuss this upfront.
- Who will be handling my case? Unless the attorney is a sole practitioner, several attorneys may be in the office. An associate or paralegal may handle most of your case under a senior attorney's oversight in large firms. This affects the lawyer's fees as well as your case, so be sure you understand what's going on.
The most important thing in finding the right lawyer is the attorney-client relationship. You should feel comfortable talking with the attorney. If you can't trust the attorney or cannot communicate with them, they can't do a good job representing you.
Checking Up on Your Attorney
Individual state bar associations have attorney searches that allow clients to learn about attorneys in their states. Some local bar associations in large counties have similar attorney searches. These sites let you see what types of law an attorney practices, what law school they attended, and if they have faced any disciplinary action. An attorney in good standing with the bar can practice without restrictions.
Free Legal Services
You might need a lawyer but be unable to afford one. Lawyers are expensive. However, there is good news for people needing low-cost or no-cost legal aid. There are many low-cost legal services for those in need of help.
Qualifying for free legal aid can be difficult. Government-funded legal service providers are available for low-income individuals in these areas:
- Family law
- Landlord-tenant law (mainly evictions)
- Immigration law (asylum and refugees)
- Dependent care (children and dependent adults)
To qualify for these services, applicants must have incomes less than 125% of the poverty level in their area. However, applicants should check with the aid providers in their area. State legal aid resources are constantly changing, and you may find someone willing to work with you.
Other low-cost legal aid options for those who don't qualify for free aid include:
- Pro bono attorneys: The bar association requires all attorneys to donate a certain number of hours each year to free ("pro bono") work. They may provide their hours through legal clinics or the court.
- Law schools: Many law schools have free clinics staffed by law students overseen by attorneys. Depending on your legal needs, these clinics may provide excellent service in the area of law you require.
- Negotiate your fee agreement: Discuss your legal fees upfront with your attorney. Your attorney may be willing to work with you if you cannot pay a large retainer but can manage monthly payments. A large firm may refer you to a smaller firm with a lower hourly rate. Don't give up just because you can't afford the first attorney who quotes you a price.
You Don't Have to Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer's Help
Do you need legal help? The only one who can answer that is you. But you need to talk to an attorney for the right answer. Use FindLaw's attorney directory to locate a lawyer's office near you that can begin answering your questions today.