Need to hire a lawyer? Wondering how to go about it?

We asked the Federal Trade Commission to help us with some basic information.

We know: How to Hire A Lawyer

Where do I start when I want to hire a lawyer?

Identify the problem you need help with. Lawyers specialize. Do you want a civil attorney who handles divorce matters, someone who can help you with a tax problem or a lawyer to help you with a criminal problem?

One good way to find an attorney is to ask people you know if they have experience with someone. Also, many local bar associations have a referral service that will help you locate the kind of attorney you need, and give you names and numbers. Often, you can speak with someone for 30 minutes for a set price to see if you like them.

What do I say when I first talk to a lawyer?

Try to interview more than one lawyer if you can. Sometimes you can talk to them briefly over the phone for free or have a short initial meeting for a reduced price. State your problem briefly and clearly. Be sure to ask about the lawyer’s experience, your chances for success, who will do the work, how long it might take for the problem to be resolved and about the lawyer’s fees.

Once I’ve decided on a lawyer, then what?

Find out what the lawyer will need from you, such as information and papers. Discuss the lawyer’s strategy. Make sure you agree with it. Feel free to ask questions and make suggestions. Find out how often the lawyer intends to update you on the case. Talk about fees, how much the case could cost and what services (copying, phone calls, research) you will be paying for. Try to get the fees and costs in writing. Discuss options for payment (see below).

What are some typical payment arrangements?

To save money, you may want to ask if the work for your case can be handled by a paralegal or a junior lawyer. Also, you may ask to perform some services, such as copying, and delivering documents yourself.

Here are some of the typical payment arrangements:

  • Contingency Fee. This means that your lawyer gets a percentage of whatever money you receive when the case is resolved. Remember, if you make no money, you may still owe money for court fees, copying, and hiring of witnesses. (The size of the contingency fee is always negotiable and should reflect the amount of work that will be done by the lawyer.)
  • Flat Fee. The lawyer gets a set amount for a particular service, such as writing a will. If you use this method, find out exactly what’s included in the service.
  • Hourly Rate. The lawyer gets a set amount per hour, so the bill depends on how long the job takes. If you use this method, ask for a written estimate.
  • Retainer. This is an upfront fee you pay as if it were a down payment on the work. The lawyer may still charge an hourly rate. Once the retainer is used up, you may have to pay more. Once you’ve given a lawyer a retainer, ask for statements to monitor how and how much of your money is being spent.
  • Public Legal Services. Depending on your income, you may qualify for low cost or free legal services provided by public and private agencies. Check in the yellow pages or call a public service referral line for more information.

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