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A Guide for Finding Legal Help

People involved in litigation and court proceedings often face complex legal procedures and rules for the first time. Due to the complexity of litigation, many types of cases require an attorney's legal expertise to prevail.

Even if you hire an attorney to help you with your lawsuit, it may help to understand what to expect before you enter the courtroom. FindLaw's Litigation Help section provides information to help you understand the litigation process and get help with your case.

This section includes information about different types of legal representation available to litigants. It also answers some frequently asked questions about lawsuits and provides other information and resources related to litigation.

Do I Need to Hire an Attorney?

No, litigants do not have to retain an attorney for legal representation. In some circumstances, such as a corporation filing a claim in certain small claims courts, a litigant may have to hire an attorney. Otherwise, you can represent yourself in a legal dispute.

Depending on the complexity of your case, you may find that you can represent yourself instead of hiring an attorney. For example, most states have designed their small claims courts to offer litigants a quick and inexpensive way to resolve their disputes without hiring an attorney.

Although you can represent yourself in a lawsuit, that doesn't mean you should. An attorney can provide important legal advice throughout the litigation process. Their legal aid may make the difference between winning and losing your case. They can also lessen the stress you experience as you progress through the legal system and prepare for an upcoming trial.

Litigants may also hire an attorney for limited-scope representation, also called unbundled representation. This means the litigant hires the attorney for a specific part of the litigation process rather than the entire case. For example, the litigant could hire an attorney for help during the case's trial or discovery phase.

An alternative to hiring an attorney is hiring a legal coach. A legal coach offers behind-the-scenes help to self-represented litigants. For example, the legal coach may offer advice about specific legal issues in a case when the self-represented litigant requests more information. The legal coach may also inform the litigant about how to present their case to the court.

Reasons To Hire an Attorney

While not every legal matter requires that you hire an attorney, there are situations where the benefits of hiring a lawyer outweigh the downsides. This section describes why parties to certain legal disputes may decide to hire an attorney.

Civil Cases

Civil cases involve disputes between private parties. For example, suppose you paid a roofing company to replace your roof but they refused to perform the work. In that situation, you could file a civil case against the company to recover your money and for the cost of hiring a different roofer.

If you plan to sue someone, hiring an attorney is often a good idea. Attorneys have the education and experience to file court documents and handle other legal matters. 

A lawyer knows how to conduct discovery and when expert witnesses will help your case. They know the specific rules and procedures governing the legal process, such as filing deadlines, rules of evidence, and how to introduce evidence at trial.

Suppose you received a demand letter or notice of a lawsuit filed against you. Hiring an attorney can be a huge plus. Like the plaintiff (the person who files the lawsuit), the defendant may benefit from hiring an attorney to defend them in a civil case. If a defendant does not respond to the plaintiff's complaint, there's a good chance they'll lose the case by default. 

If someone has sued you, consider contacting a civil litigation attorney to help with your defense.

Criminal Cases

Suppose law enforcement arrests you, and the government charges you with a crime. In most situations, a criminal defendant benefits from hiring a criminal defense attorney. If a criminal defendant cannot afford a lawyer, they may request that the court assign them one free of charge.

Criminal cases require criminal defendants to know the law, the rules of evidence, and complex court procedures. A criminal defense attorney can help. They know how to challenge the prosecution's evidence at trial. Their legal aid in disputing how the government obtained its evidence may make the difference between an acquittal or a conviction.

Experienced criminal defense attorneys can also assist their clients before the trial, such as during plea bargain negotiations. A plea bargain is an agreement between the criminal defendant and the prosecution. It involves the defendant pleading guilty to lesser charges in exchange for a more lenient sentence. 

Since approximately 98% of federal criminal cases are resolved through plea bargains, having skilled legal advice is a good idea before attempting to admit guilt for a lesser sentence.

If the government has charged you with a crime, visit FindLaw's section on criminal law for more information.

Other Legal Matters

Even if you don't have active litigation, hiring an attorney when you engage in activities that may have legal implications can be beneficial. If you and your neighbor decide to draft a contract or start a business together, an attorney can provide legal advice to save you money should legal issues arise.

Legal Coaches Explained

In most cases, a lawyer represents their client for the entirety of the lawsuit. However, an attorney and client may instead decide to enter into a limited representation arrangement. As noted above, if the attorney only represents you in a limited aspect of the case, they are a limited representation attorney.

Suppose the attorney and client agree that the attorney will not fully represent them. Instead, the attorney will provide legal consultation to the client when they request it. In this situation, the attorney is a legal coach.

A legal coach, also called a lawyer coach, is a good option for those who can't afford attorney fees associated with full representation but who need limited legal services.

Legal coaches provide the following types of services:

  • Information about a case's strengths and weaknesses
  • Advice on how to highlight the strengths of your case and how to diminish the opposing party's strengths
  • Legal research help
  • Litigation advice
  • Preparing and reviewing legal documents
  • Mediation or litigation coaching
  • Advice on whether a settlement offer is fair or reasonable

The amount of consultation a legal coach provides depends on the agreement between the client and the coach. If the client decides they want to hire an attorney to represent them fully, the legal coach can take them on as a full client.

Which Type of Legal Representation Is Right For You?

Choosing between the different types of legal representation available will impact your case. When deciding how to proceed in a legal dispute, keep the following in mind:

  • If you proceed without representation, you are responsible for staying abreast of the requirements of your criminal or civil case.
  • If you hire an attorney, they will take care of your case's various procedural, filing, and other litigation requirements.
  • If you hire a legal coach, you are responsible for the technical requirements of your case. You'll have access to a trusted source of information when you need help.

Things to consider when deciding whether to represent yourself or hire legal representation include the following:

  • Whether you can afford to pay an attorney's hourly rate or retainer
  • Your case's complexity and whether the case presents legal and/or factual issues
  • How comfortable you feel conducting legal research and writing
  • Whether you and the other party would consider settling your dispute before you file or respond to the case
  • Whether legal aid organizations near you offer free or inexpensive self-help resources or other types of legal information
  • Whether you can file your claim in a local small claims court instead of a higher state court. For example, some states' small claims courts may hear someone's legal problems relating to an eviction, while others have special housing courts for those disputes. Most states have designed their small claims courts to allow non-legal professionals to quickly and inexpensively litigate their legal disputes.
  • The consequences you may face if you lose your case. For example, if you face life imprisonment if the jury returns a guilty verdict in a criminal case, you may want to hire a criminal defense attorney.

For more information about whether you should obtain legal counsel, consider searching for your state's American Bar Association website.

Hiring a Litigation Attorney

Most attorneys will provide a free consultation to discuss your pending legal matter. If you have a pending legal dispute or someone has sued you, consider contacting a civil litigation attorney. They can evaluate your case, discuss its strengths and weaknesses, and tell you more about their fee structure.

If the government has charged you with a crime, contact a criminal defense attorney to discuss your possible defenses to your criminal charges.

Learn About Litigation Help

  • Lawyer Coach: An Option for Limited Legal Assistance: This article explains why you might consider hiring a lawyer coach to help you with your case or to avoid liability. It covers mediation coaching, litigation advice, and even full representation.
  • Small Claims Courts and Links: This article links to FindLaw's articles about each state's small claims court rules and procedures. It also provides several links providing general information about litigation.
  • Litigation FAQ: This article answers frequently asked questions (FAQ) about the litigation process. For example, it answers questions about things to consider before filing a lawsuit, how to file it, and whether to request a bench or jury trial.
  • Top 10 Reasons to Hire a Lawyer: This article provides the top 10 reasons you may want to hire a lawyer to help you with your case or legal matter, such as the inherent complexity of the law and attorneys' expertise in filing court forms.

Learn About Litigation Help

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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