Seeking legal counsel is usually the smart thing to do, but regardless of what kind of a situation you find yourself in, there are preparations to make before you elect to seek out a lawyer for your troubles. Knowing how and what to do before you meet up with your prospective legal professional can save you both a lot of time on the first meeting, while simultaneously improving both your chances and your understanding of the situation.
These are four smart steps anyone can take before finding themselves a lawyer to help on their issue. They can be completed in any order, as long as you feel confident in each of them before putting any words to paper, or pens to contracts.
Succinctly Explain Your Problem to Yourself
First things first, you will want to do the research to have a basic legal understanding of your own case. While it’s true that technically you could hire a lawyer, sit back and let them do everything, this is not going to be the cheapest or smartest way to handle your legal troubles, and will only open you up to further run-ins with the law in the future due to an incomplete understanding of it.
The challenge here is to be able to create a simple, concise and written explanation of your issue. Do the research you need to do to be able to give any lawyer a basic description of where you are legally and what kind of help you need from them.
While you may find yourself learning quite a lot in this step, tackling a legal matter alone is not recommended, especially if you have never seen someone go through all the motions up close and personal.
Hiring a lawyer is done not just out of a necessity for their knowledge in a given area of expertise, but also because lawyers have the experience and the connections needed to give you an edge. They can draw on years of casework to intuit and navigate your situation quickly and professionally, and they can pull in experts and contacts from different fields to help provide you with an advantage in court.
But it never hurts to have a proper understanding of your own case before going to a lawyer to ask for help. It will save you both time, and it can save you some money.
Understand How & Why Legal Fees Are Generated
It is important to understand where your money is being spent, and why you are paying what you are paying. Legal fees are not all that complicated – there are five simple types of fees to pay over the course of your relationship between you and your lawyer, and knowing how and why these fees are charged can help foster trust between you two, and it can give you a solid idea of how your lawyer treats clients.
First and foremost is the hourly rate. This is a number determined by the lawyer themselves based on what they feel their time is worth, and it is on you to determine whether you can handle that cost. These are also the most common type of fees
At the earliest consultation, be sure to ask your lawyer how long they expect to work for you in hours. Then, expect to leave quite a bit of breathing room on top of that number. An hourly rate is a quick, albeit not entirely accurate way to check for a lawyer’s overall experience – typically more experienced, in-demand lawyers can afford to charge higher fees.
Next is the retainer fee. Retainer fees are based on the hourly rate, and they are payments made to a special account to be deducted as certain services are completed. In the event that a service is not completed, the fee for that service can be refunded.
If a lawyer does not complete enough of their service to warrant taking the entirety of the retainer, they may only withdraw a certain amount, leaving the rest in the account for you to retrieve. A case usually involves multiple retainer fees, estimated by the lawyer based on how much work they think they will have to put into your case.
Another type of fee is the flat fee. A lawyer may elect to give you a flat fee if they know your case is going to take a specific amount of time, and will be over relatively quickly. Flat fees are typically reserved for cases with predictable outcomes and overall processes.
A contingent fee is a percentage of the final settlement given to the lawyer as payment for their services. There are cases wherein contingent fees are prohibited, and in the US, most jurisdictions prohibit contingent fees in criminal cases specifically, as well as certain types of family law.
Regardless of how you are billed for your lawyer’s services, be sure to understand what is and is not covered by the chosen payment plan, and have an overview of how much you are going to be paying once this is all over.
Research Where to Find Reputable Legal Guidance
This means not only doing your part to determine the right location from which to start looking, but it also means considering what it is you are looking for. Lawyers are best found locally, but depending on where you live, you may find that your options for legal counsel are immense. Start with a criteria for your ideal legal professional, including a maximum budget and the specific area of expertise in which you need help.
Most law firms specialize in a few different areas of the law, but sorting through them based on what you need should still help you narrow down your choices. There is also the small business dilemma to consider – smaller law firms will usually take your case at a lower cost and with a more hands-on approach, and you are more likely to see lawyers deal with your case rather than paralegals.
Larger firms will have a much bigger caseload, meaning your case may be mostly handled and filed through newer staff or paralegals. Be sure to ask how your case will be handled, so you know what you are paying for.
Familiarize Yourself With Key Legal Terms
While you are not expected to speak in legal jargon, having a basic overview of the common key terms in a legal battle can help save you time in a consultation, and in the case itself. Go over a glossary of legal terms and commit some of these to heart – you may already know what most of these terms mean, and it is most definitely not necessary for you to memorize all of them.
These simple steps will help prepare you, arming you with the knowledge you need to feel more confident in your choices, and feel much less lost in all the jargon.