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General Legal Information

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Working with a Lawyer

Ask about cost

If your situation will require more work beyond the first consultation, remember to ask for the lawyer's fees in writing. You do not have to hire the lawyer after the initial consultation. Feel free to find a lawyer with whom you are comfortable. You have hired a lawyer when you agree to allow that lawyer to do more work for you.

Be prepared.

When you call the lawyer for an appointment, ask what papers you should bring to the first consultation. Be ready to give the lawyer all background information relating to the situation. You may also wish to prepare questions to ask the lawyer.

Be efficient.

If you do hire a lawyer, don't make unnecessary phone calls to the lawyer. Most lawyers charge for the time spent on phone calls with clients. Keep a written list of all items you want to check with your lawyer and cover them in one phone call or ask them at your next scheduled appointment.

Know what you sign.

Before you sign a document, ask your lawyer to fully explain it. Keep records. File any material you received from your lawyer in one place. Your file is often the best way to answer your questions about the case. Don't hesitate to ask for copies of all letters and documents involving your case. You should keep the fee agreement in your file.

Legal Fees

Attorneys' fees are based on several factors such as the complexity of the matter and the amount of time spent serving the client. There are, essentially six kinds of fees: first, there is the retainer fee; second, the contingency fee; third, a fixed fee; fourth, an hourly rate; and fifth, a fee set by the court and sixth, a fee set by statute.

A retainer is a down payment in advance. It may be charged by an attorney to handle a particular case, and will be applied as a credit on subsequent billings.

A contingency fee is frequently used in lawsuits involving money damages. The attorney agrees to accept a percentage of the award as a fee. An additional percentage may be charged if the case is retried or appealed to a higher court. If there is no award, the attorney receives no payment, but the client may be charged for such expenses as filing costs, investigations, and fees paid to witnesses. If the client wins, these charges are deducted from the award.

A fixed fee is a set amount charged for services such as drafting a simple will or handling an uncomplicated real estate transaction.

Most attorneys have established hourly or unit rates for their services. There are no uniform, profession-wide figures and rates may vary widely depending on factors such as the attorney's experience and reputation. In addition to the hourly or unit rate, the client will be charged for any direct, out-of-pocket expenses the attorney incurs.

A fee can be set by the court for such legal services as handling an estate. When reviewing the attorney's application for fees, the judge will consider the amount of work required, it's complexity, the skill required and the lawyer's usual rates.

The type of fee charged is usually controlled by the type of case. For example, in some divorce cases where both parties agree on matters of settlement, the attorney may be able to set a fixed fee. But when the parties do not agree, the attorney may only be able to indicate what the minimum will be, charging for additional time expended beyond the original estimate.

Here are some suggestions for reducing the cost of legal services:

  1. When meeting with an attorney regarding a problem, bring along any documents that might be pertinent. Also, prepare a written statement of the problem and the solution you desire.
  2. Discuss the fee with your lawyer during the initial meeting.
  3. Present all the information you have, even though some of it may seem unfavorable to your case.
  4. Instead of making frequent phone calls or visits, ask the attorney to inform you of developments as they arise.
  5. Finally, in evaluating the cost, remember that much of an attorney's professional services are rendered when the client is not present.