Ten Questions To Ask When Retaining an Attorney

At some point in your life, you may find it necessary to retain an attorney to assist you in a personal or business matter. The following guideline is a starting point and not necessarily all inclusive as to what questions you should ask when making the decision to retain the attorney.

1. Do you offer a free consultation or if not what does it cost?

Even if the attorney is a family member or a friend, his or her advice and counsel is their stock and trade. If you went to a doctor would you expect that he would not bill your insurance, or if you went to a friend who is a barber would you expect free services? Many attorneys will offer a free limited consultation and most attorneys will offer a free consultation if you have a personal injury problem. Typically, a consultation could cost about $150 – $200 dollars.

2. What attorney should I consult with?

This question goes along with the first one. If you have a family member or a friend who is an attorney (it seems that today everyone has one), tell them to see if they handle the type of matter or if they know someone. Ask a family member or a friend for a recommendation. You may be having a problem you know they had so ask them whether they would recommend the attorney they had. Attorneys have become more specialized; however you may find that you need a general practitioner to help you rather than a higher priced specialist. Many times the attorney will tell you when you need a specialist.

3. Can I handle this matter without an attorney?

There are some matters that you may not need to retain an attorney to handle. The consultation alone may be enough to help you figure out what to do. There are many cases before the magisterial District Justice that attorneys are not involved in, however, if the other side has an attorney you would be will advised to take your hired gun.

4. Is this the type of matter that you handle?

Don’t be shy about asking if your problem is the type of problem the attorney has handled before. An attorney who has had the experience with a certain matter may be more efficient and take less time ( that you are being charged for) than an attorney who has not had the experience.

5. Can you refer me to someone who has experience in this type of matter?

If the attorney you are consulting with does not have the experience with your particular matter, he or she would be a could source for a referral. They would know who does that type a matter and at the same time who is good at it. Many times a referring attorney will receive a “referral fee” for the referral. This fee is usually a percentage of the fee the attorney receives on the case or a portion of the hourly rate.

6. What are my chances of success?

It is not unusual for clients to ask what their chances of a successful outcome are in certain cases. Admittedly, Law is not Science but an experienced Lawyer will be able to tell you what your chances are – without guarantees. Sometimes it may be better to settle the matter and cut your losses without incurring attorney fees.

7. Can I recover my attorney fees?

Generally, you can not recover attorney fees even if you are successful unless you can show that the legal action brought against you was in bad faith, without probable cause and vexatious.

8. Will I receive a written fee agreement?

The rules of court require that attorneys provide their clients with written fee agreements. If you have a personal injury case your agreement should specify this.

9. How much will it cost to get started?

Generally for most cases, except personal injury matters, you will be required to advance a “retainer fee”. You will also have to advance court costs, which is usually the cost of filing the action. Attorneys will many times let you work out payments. Fees can be quoted in many fashions: Contingent Fee ( the attorney fee is contingent upon a successful recovery on account of the client) Contingent fees must be in writing, cannot be for criminal cases but are usually used in personal injury cases. Hourly Rate Fee- An attorneys hourly rate is usually a correlation with his or hers expertise and experience. The hourly rate can be anything the attorney quotes. Clients will be billed for every moment with the attorney. Phone calls, reading the mail, sending correspondence, etc. Flat Fee.

10. How long will it take?

There is no good answer for this question. Some matters i.e. small claims can be resolved within a month or two, major litigation could last years and some matters particularly domestic, custody etc. will last as long as you are willing to throw money at it.