Hiring the Right Lawyer

Do I Need a Lawyer?

A lawyer can help people fix current legal problems and prevent future ones. There are many situations where hiring an attorney is in your best interests, and these situations usually include major events or changes, specifically:

  • Marriage and Divorce
  • Housing Disputes
  • Custody Disputes, Adoption, Child Support
  • Deaths and Wills
  • Buying and Selling Property
  • Expungements
  • Contract Disputes (Oral or Written)

Some types of legal matters do not necessarily involve going to court, but you still should consult a lawyer who is knowledgeable about handling your issue. Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth many dollars and anxious hours of cure. Once you have determined that you need professional legal help, get it promptly.

Finding a Lawyer

Areas of Law

Many lawyers specialize in a particular area of the law. Be sure you know what area of law your issue falls under and search for an attorney that has relevant experience. There are many ways to begin searching for a lawyer, including:

Recommendations:

Begin by asking family members, friends, coworkers, employers, and professionals such as bankers, ministers, doctors, teachers, and social workers.  Even if a lawyer that has been recommended to you does not have experience with the issue you’re dealing with, they may have a colleague that does!

Lawyer Referral Services:

The Indiana State Bar Association has created an online lawyer directory to help you find a lawyer in your area who handles your type of case.  zeekbeek.com/inbar/

Indianapolis Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service – provides a lawyer referral service for the community free of charge at: http://lawyerfinder.indybar.org/lawyer-finder/ .  They can also provide lawyer referrals for languages other than English: Call 317-269-2222.

Please note that while the search engine is a free service, fees vary from attorney to attorney.

Lake County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service – Call 219-738-1905.

Allen County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service – Call 260-423-2358.

St. Joseph County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service – Call 574-235-9657.

Advertisements:

Newspapers, Yellow Pages, and other media advertisements can also be useful tools to find an attorney. Be sure to take notes on the advertisement and ask for clarification if you do decide on a consultation. Be sure to ask detailed questions about fees and areas of practice (see: What to Ask/Expect).

Prepaid Legal Service Plans:

Prepaid legal plans include coverage for most common legal matters, including consumer protection, identity theft defense, foreclosure defense, estate planning, traffic offenses, document preparation and more. Check to see if your employer, labor union, or credit union provides or has access to the service you’re seeking.

Hiring a Lawyer

Where to Start:

Before you choose a lawyer, consider interviewing several different ones. Make a list of the questions you have before talking to a lawyer. Some lawyers or their legal assistants may give you information over the phone. Other lawyers may want to meet briefly with you for a consultation. Good preparation for meetings and discussions with your lawyer will help keep your costs down and ensure that your lawyer can provide you with the best representation. You should prepare for your meeting with a lawyer and ask in advance if the lawyer charges a fee for the initial consultation.

What to Ask/Expect:

When consulting with an attorney for the first time, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Be prepared to describe your problem in a brief, clear summary. Ask the various lawyers about their experience, their fees, what your options might be, your chances of success, who will do the work, and when the problem might be resolved. Some starter questions could include:

  • How long have you been practicing and in what areas?
  • What’s your current caseload?
  • How many cases or trials do you handle in an average year?
  • What information will you need me to provide at the initial interview?
  • How will you handle my case?
  • How long will it take to resolve my legal issue?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of my case?
  • What are the possible outcomes of my case?

Fees and Expenses:

Once you decide to hire a lawyer, be sure you understand their fees and expenses. Honest and open discussions about fees will avoid misunderstandings. Start by asking questions such as:

  • Do you charge for an initial consultation?
  • How are your fees determined?
  • Do you charge by the hour, and if so, what is your hourly rate?
  • How will I be billed?
  • How are expenses handled?
  • What payment methods do you offer?
  • Is it possible to recover attorney fees from the other side?

Attorney fees can be determined many different ways and are dependent on both the type of case and attorney preference. Common fees and expenses include:

Contingency Fees
This means that the lawyer will only receive compensation if you win your lawsuit and are awarded money. The lawyer should tell you exactly how much of your award, usually as a percentage, he or she will expect for the fee.

Percentage Fees
This means that you will pay the lawyer a specific percentage of the disputed property, regardless of whether you win or lose the case.

Flat Fees
This will be the total cost of all services, a common fee arrangement for uncomplicated legal tasks such as simple wills or bankruptcy.

Hourly Rates
This will vary depending on the lawyer’s experience and the complexity of the case. For example, an uncontested divorce can be expected to cost less than a divorce that involves disputes over property and child custody.

Retainer
This is money that you will have to pay in advance before the lawyer will begin work on your case. There are different types of retainer fees but typically a lawyer will deposit your funds in a trust account and withdraw the funds from the retainer fee as he or she performs work on your case. The lawyer will typically ask for additional funds as the case progresses.

You should request and receive a written fee agreement from your lawyer that describes services and types/amounts of fees you will be expected to pay. Carefully read and analyze this document before signing it. Your lawyer may charge you extra for copying documents, courier services, court filing fees, or research services. Be sure you understand what you will be charged for and how much.

You may want to ask your lawyer if a junior lawyer or paralegal can perform some of the work to lower your costs. You also may want to ask if there are tasks you could perform yourself to save time and money. For example, you might be able to copy, pick up or deliver certain documents.

Hiring an Attorney:

After preliminary consultations, you can decide to hire a lawyer or continue searching. Consider how comfortable you are working closely with this attorney, if they have the proper skills and experience to handle your case, if you understand their approach and explanation of your case, and if their fee is reasonable.

What You Can Expect From Your Attorney:

  1. Honesty: You should expect your lawyer to be honest about your legal problem, your prospects for success, the time it will take, and the expenses involved.
  2. Confidentiality: Your conversations with your lawyer and any documents  or information you give your lawyer are required to be kept private.
  3. Competence: You have a right to expect your lawyer to handle your matter competently. This does not mean he or she will know all the answers. It means your lawyer should know where to go to find the answers and devote the attention to your matter that it deserves.
  4. Information: You have a right to be kept informed of the progress of your matter and to have your questions answered. You should not hesitate to ask your lawyer questions and you should expect to have your questions answered.
  5. Responsiveness: Your phone calls and questions should be answered in a timely fashion.

What Your Attorney Can Expect From You:

  1. Honesty: Just as you have a right to expect honesty, so does your lawyer. You should provide your lawyer with full and complete information about your matter, including, especially, information that may be bad for your case.
    Remember that the lawyer must keep this information confidential.
  2. Cooperation: You and your lawyer must work together as a team. You cannot simply turn your problems over and expect him or her to call you when it is resolved.Gather the documents the lawyer asks for, fill out the forms, write down what happened, gather the names and addresses of witnesses, and aim to follow the lawyer’s advice.
  3. Payment of Fees. If you have agreed to pay fees or costs, comply with your agreement.
  4. Understanding: Understand that your lawyer has many other clients and they are equally deserving of the lawyer’s time and efforts and understand that no lawyer can guarantee the results you may want in a case.
  5. Patience: most legal matters are rarely “open and shut” cases. They require time and research and patience.

Concluding Your Matter

When your matter is over your lawyer will keep your file for a period of time. Before destroying your file, your lawyer must notify you and give you an opportunity to have any “client property” returned to you. Client property includes any document or thing you provided to the lawyer as well as any original documents such as deeds, wills, trusts, etc. The lawyer may charge a reasonable fee for copying or accessing files.