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5 Things to Know Before Hiring a Lawyer

Updated on October 3, 2013


Hiring a lawyer is one of the most important decisions a person can make when dealing with a complicated legal situation. Most will only hire a lawyer once or twice in their lifetime. Below are five things you should know before making the serious step of hiring a lawyer.

Understand Attorney Fees and Costs
Understand Attorney Fees and Costs | Source

ONE: Understand the Rates and Costs

Make sure you understand how much and when the lawyer will be paid. Lawyers work under one of three types of basic fee structures. They either get paid hourly, on a contingency, or by a flat fee. In addition to attorney fees, you also need to be aware of costs your lawyer may incur on your behalf and pass on to you.

Hourly Fees

Hourly fees should be the least complicated fee arrangement. Your lawyer charges a certain amount per hour and you pay them based on how many hours they work. However, most places allow lawyers to charge minimum amounts for tasks even if the task takes much less time. The lawyer is usually required to disclose this information in a written fee agreement. The most common example of this is phone calls. Most lawyers charge a minimum of six minutes, or 1/10th of an hour, no matter how short the call is. If you talk for one minute you are getting charged for six minutes. The same is often true for voicemails.

Contingency Fees

With a contingency fee the lawyer only gets paid if you do. This type of agreement is most often used in personal injury cases. The lawyer takes a percentage, typically between 25% and 40%, of any recovery you get. Contingency fees are limited to certain types of cases.

Flat Fees

These fees are designed to give both the client and lawyer certainty. The lawyer agrees to do a specific task for a specific amount of money. Most flat fee agreements give the lawyer an "escape clause" if the work gets too complicated. Chapter 7 bankruptcies are often done on a flat fee basis.

TWO: How is the Customer Service?

Realize that when you hire a lawyer you are hiring the entire office. How did the receptionist treat you? How was your experience getting an appointment? If you were not 100% happy with the office staff before you hire the lawyer, you are unlikely to like them more after paying a bunch of money. Make sure you feel the staff treats you with respect and comes across professionally. If they don't, avoid future problems and hire a different lawyer. Realize that members of the office staff are gatekeepers for the lawyer's time. Make sure you are confident they will pass your messages through to the lawyer. If a lawyer is too busy to make sure his or her staff are providing great customer service, they may be too busy to properly handle your case.

Look For Great Customer Service

You Will Deal More With the Staff Than With the Lawyer
You Will Deal More With the Staff Than With the Lawyer | Source

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THREE: Make Sure Your Goals and Your Lawyer’s Goals are the Same

When you are meeting with lawyers in anticipation of hiring one, find a lawyer who listens to you and knows what your goals are. Ask a lawyer directly what the goals of the case are. You are hiring them. Do not let their formal dress or education intimidate you. You are the boss, make sure you are happy with who you hire. If the lawyer cannot tell you what the goals of the case are, or of their answer does not match your goals, find another lawyer.

Part of hiring a lawyer requires you to do your homework and to be flexible. You need to have thought about what your goals are for the case before spending the time and money in hiring a lawyer. The more specific your goals the better chance you have of finding a good match in an attorney. If a lawyer tells you your goals are unrealistic, get a second opinion. If you more than one lawyer is telling you your goals for the case are not possible or practical, they are doing you a favor. You will need to revaluate your goals.

FOUR: Understand The Strategy

Wining a legal case is about more than just the end goal. Ask the lawyer you want to hire what their strategy for accomplishing the goals will be. This one question can tell you a lot about the lawyer and his or her understanding of your case. If they are competent they should be able to at least outline a plan of action during an initial consultation. They may not have all the answers, but they should have a basic strategy. The strategy will also let you know if they are aggressive or more inclined to settle. Their strategy and personality should match your goals; otherwise the relationship will constantly be strained.

Know Your Lawyer's Experience Level

Not everyone benefits from having the most experienced attorney
Not everyone benefits from having the most experienced attorney | Source

FIVE: Know Your Lawyer’s Experience Level

Every case, every lawyer, and every client are unique. Having a successful outcome and a successful attorney-client relationship requires all three variables to be in balance. Clients often think they want the most experienced lawyer to handle their case. However, more experience translates into more expensive. While your case is interesting and novel to you, it may not require the finest and most expensive legal minds of the 21st century to successfully resolve it. If you have a standard drunk driving case you don't need to pay $100,000 to get it taken care of. A criminal defense attorney with only a year of experience may be perfect for you. On the other hand if you truly have a complicated, one-of-a-kind legal problem, pay the extra money to get an experienced lawyer.

Hiring a lawyer is usually a gut decision. Clients hire professionals they feel comfortable with. Hiring the right lawyer can impact the rest of your life. Spend the time to do your research and get your questions answered before entering into any agreement.


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