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What to Know About Hiring an Attorney for the First Time

Millennial Magazine - hiring an attorney

If you’ve never hired an attorney before and you’ve found yourself in a position where you’re going to have to, it’s overwhelming. Hiring an attorney can be intimidating, and you may be in a less than ideal situation requiring you to do so.

For example, maybe you were hurt in an accident, and you need to recover damages.

Other reasons people hire attorneys include dealing with divorce or custody issues, estate planning, or because they’re starting a business.

You could be hiring someone under less-than-happy circumstances aside from perhaps starting a business or working with a real estate attorney to buy a house. Regardless of the situation, an attorney can be a great asset for you if you take the time to hire someone skilled who will be able to help you when you probably need it most.

The following are things to know about hiring an attorney for the first time.

Know Which Type of Lawyer You Need

If you’ve never worked with an attorney before, knowing the type you need is a good first step.

Do a little research on the legal issue you’re facing if you’re unsure who to talk to. That’ll at least give you a beginning point and narrow down your options somewhat.

  • There are general practice lawyers, but you might need someone specializing in one area.
  • A civil litigation lawyer or personal injury attorney may be who you need to talk to.
  • Family lawyers deal with child custody, divorce, and spousal support issues. They can also help you with prenuptial agreements.
  • If you’re starting a business, you might need to talk to an intellectual property lawyer who can help you with patents, copyrights, and trademarks.
  • A contract lawyer focuses on issues stemming from contracts of all types. Maybe you don’t know whether you should sign one, or you’ve already signed one, and you’re dealing with something that’s gone wrong.

Ask Around

If you do a quick online search, even when you know which type of attorney you need, you’ll find what seems like endless choices.

Ask your friends and family first if you’re comfortable doing so. They might have people they’ve worked with in the past, and they can recommend you.

If you don’t want to ask friends, family, or co-workers, or no one has any recommendations, you can check with the state and local bar associations where you live, or you can consult with a lawyer referral service.

Interview a Few Options

After you’ve done your research and have a shortlist of potential attorneys, plan to interview them.

  • Before your initial meeting, which is a consultation, find out if you have to pay. Most attorneys offer a free consultation, but not always.
  • To prepare for this meeting, you should have a short summary of the situation you’re dealing with. Keep it brief and write it down if you’re worried, you’ll forget something important.
  • During your initial meeting, talk to the candidates about their experience with your type of case and their process for getting your desired outcome.
  • An attorney can’t and shouldn’t guarantee an outcome, but they can talk to you about the likelihood of your case going your way.
  • This is your time to talk about exactly who will work on your case, who your point of contact will primarily be, and what the cost might be.
  • An attorney, during your consultation, should give you an idea of how long resolving your case could take too.

Style and Personal Interaction

You have to be comfortable with the lawyer you choose because you need to be fully honest with them. If you aren’t honest with your attorney or open with them, it will be hard for them to get the best outcome for you.

That means you need to think not only about skills like experience, but you also need to find someone you personally like or can see yourself working with.

Attorneys all have their own style. You might prefer a very direct, aggressive attorney. On the other hand, you could prefer someone who comes off as more gentle and empathetic. There’s no wrong approach, but you need to think about what you prefer so that you’re in a comfortable situation.

Ignoring your attorney’s personality is actually a big mistake people make when they first hire someone.

Remember that just because a lawyer tells you what you want to hear doesn’t mean they’re the right person for the  job. It could mean just the opposite. You want to feel like an attorney, no matter their approach or personality is, being direct and honest with you.

Understand Fees and Payment Arrangements

If you’ve never hired a lawyer, you may not know how their fees work.

The type of lawyer they are has a lot to do with this.

Some lawyers will charge a flat fee, particularly if they’re doing something relatively straightforward. A lawyer might charge a flat fee by creating a will or a prenuptial agreement.

In other cases, an attorney will charge by the hour. If a lawyer charges an hourly rate, they may ask for a retainer upfront. The retainer is like a deposit, and they’ll use that for expenses and fees. Then, once they’ve billed you for the entirety of your retainer, you might pay them by the hour.

An experienced lawyer will likely have a higher hourly fee, but it may take fewer hours to complete a task.

Then, there are contingency fees. Contingency fees are often used in personal injury cases.

If you hire a lawyer who works on a contingency, their fees are a set percentage of the money you win in your case. You’re also going to have to pay expenses related to your case. Your lawyer takes on a level of risk with a contingency fee arrangement because they don’t get paid if you don’t win.

Final Thoughts

Above are some of the biggest things to remember before hiring an attorney. Of course, it’s more complex, but these are things to keep in mind as you get started. A lawyer is an investment, but if you take your time to hire the right person, it’s usually a worthwhile investment.

What do you think?

Written by Marni E. Goldberg

Marni E. Goldberg is a journalist covering the financial market and graduate of Wharton School of Business. She loves cooking, travelling in her spare time, and spending quality time with her family.

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