Get a lawyer
From Mefi Wiki
There is a great deal of legal information available online and many examples of individuals on Ask MetaFilter asking questions about legal issues. A common response to those questions is "get a lawyer." This page contains information you may find helpful if you ask a question and receive the response "get a lawyer." The reasoning behind this response is that if a legal problem is complex or involves a large sum of money, it is most likely unwise to attempt to handle the matter using only advice one finds on the internet, without a lawyer.
However, many questions confront an individual who needs to consult with an attorney, including: How do you find an attorney that practices in the area you need help with? How can you tell whether an attorney is qualified or not? How much does it cost? Do attorneys in this field work on contingency? Are there ways to consult an attorney when you don't have a lot of money? The sections below attempt to help answer those questions.
At this time all information is U.S.-specific.
Basic information about attorneys.
An attorney is an individual admitted to the practice of law by the highest court of the state or states she practices in. An attorney may file legal pleadings and argue cases in court, provide legal advice to clients and draft important legal instruments such as wills, trusts, deeds and contracts.
Contrary to the media image of attorneys, a great deal of litigation and regulatory legal work is spent conducting research and drafting documents, such as legal briefs, contracts, wills and trusts.
Finding an attorney who practices in the area you need assistance in.
One of the best ways to find a good, honest attorney is to ask friends and acquaintances if they have used or know of an attorney who specializes in the area you need. If they don't, ask them for recommendations for a good, honest attorney in any area of specialization, then call that attorney and ask if they know of someone who can help in your particular situation. Many, perhaps even most, people find attorneys through just this kind of networking.
What is an "area of specialization"? Oftentimes attorneys will have one or two areas which their practice focuses on, such as personal injury, criminal law, contract law, patent law, etc. When attempting to find an attorney, it is important to contact an attorney with experience dealing with the type of issue you are facing.
The American Bar Association has a directory of contact information for each state's bar association referral service. These services usually allow you to search not only based on your location, but also based on the practice area of the attorneys.
Finding a qualified attorney.
In instances when a personal recommendation is not available, there are many online attorney ranking services, all of which are to be taken with a grain of salt. One such service is Avvo which is a free website that claims to offer rating and profiling of over 85% of US lawyers. These profiles include client reviews, peer reviews and attorney disciplinary records. Avvo also offers a question and answer forum where people can ask real attorneys – anonymously if desired – any legal question and receive personalized answers.
Once you have a list of attorneys who practice in the area you need assistance in, sit down and write a short (2-3 paragraph) narrative of what happened. Write a 2-3 sentence explanation of what outcome you want. Write a short list of immediate questions to ask (Do you handle these cases? What is your fee? Do you have payment plans? If you can't help, do you know someone who can?). Set aside a couple hours and start making calls.
When you call an attorney's office, you will most likely get an intake person on the phone, not the attorney. The intake person will want your 2-3 paragraph brief explanation of what happened; your 2-3 sentence of hoped for outcome; your phone number and possibly an email address. The intake person may or may not be able to answer your questions and may or may not ask you to fax or email any legal documents that have already been served upon you. The intake person will probably ask you some questions. The intake person will then either say "We do not handle this sort of case" at which point you ask for a referral; or will say "The attorney will return your phone call within X hours or X days." It's possible the intake person will set up an appointment for you to visit the office. If not, you will set that up when you talk to the attorney. In most instances you will not be charged for this intake phone call or the intake appointment.
At the intake appointment with the attorney, he or she will ask you very pointed questions. He or she will give you an assessment of what sort of battle you are facing, what your likely outcomes are, how long it's likely to take. He or she will show you an engagement letter, outlying the terms of your hiring the attorney, including fee and expenses. You will either agree to hire that attorney or not. If you don't like the attorney, talk to someone else. You can always call back and say, "hey, we met last week and I did not hire you, but after checking around I think you're the best guy for the job, are you available to take the case."
You should speak to more than one attorney before you hire one. You should not hire an attorney who treats you rudely or with disrespect in an intake interview. You should not hire an attorney who does not promptly respond to a request for information about his or her services. If more than one attorney tells you to go to a different county or tells you to drop it, you should take that advice.
Once you've hired an attorney, you should expect regular updates on the case. You should also expect prompt return calls from the office if not necessarily the attorney. You should respect the attorney's time, as your time should also be respected, and if your attorney asks for information or documents from you, don't delay in providing them.
If you really feel your attorney is not responsive, not respectful, or not advocating for you, tell him or her. If you do not get an adequate response to that concern, start the process over, being sure to tell the new attorneys you call that you will be asking them to substitute into litigation already in progress.
Legal representation on a contingency fee basis.
A contingency fee is "[a] fee charged for a lawyer's services only if the lawsuit is successful or is favorably settled out of court...Contingent fees are usually calculated as a percentage of the client's net recovery."
In some types of cases attorneys are willing to handle matters on a "contingency basis". In such a case you do not pay legal fees unless and until you win, and then the lawyer receives a percentage of your recovery as his or her fee. If you lose your case, there would be no legal fee at all for the lawyer.
A contingency fee arrangement is a method that allows many individuals who have been injured or seeking damages, such as those resulting from an auto accident or a medical malpractice case, to obtain legal representation even if they do not have money to pay a lawyer at the outset of a case.
As a general rule, accident and personal injury litigation is frequently handled on a contingency basis, commercial disputes rarely are.
Most jurisdictions in the United States prohibit working for a contingency fee in family law or criminal cases, as made clear in Rule 1.5(d) of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct of the American Bar Association.
Low or no cost avenues for receiving legal assistance.
LawHelp helps low and moderate income people find free legal aid programs in their communities, and answers to questions about their legal rights.
You also may be able to obtain free or low-cost legal services through a legal services office, or through a clinical program at a law school in your state. To find contact information for a law school's clinical program, find a law school near you and google its name and "clinical program."
Often, even if you do not qualify for those programs, they can refer you to attorneys who take cases like yours at a reduced rate.
Many lawyers also offer free first consultations over the phone as a way to bring business to their door, and will spend time going over your situation and options, without charge, to help you decide if you need to hire a lawyer. Ask friends and acquaintances for recommendations and mention those names - and your desire for a free first consult - when you call.