Filing a claim can be complicated and time-consuming. But before you go online and review the myriad of resources available, or call and schedule an initial consultation, it may be a good idea to make a list of specific questions to ask, or at least take some time to think about what type of lawyer you really need. Here are the top questions you should ask yourself—and potential lawyers—before securing counsel.
Do I really need to hire a lawyer?
If you have been charged with a serious crime or you have suffered injuries that are severe and/or permanent, you will need to talk to a lawyer. You may also need to hire a lawyer if you are trying to adopt, have a complicated tax issue, or need expert advice for your business negotiations or partnership.
However, in some cases, you may be able to settle your own claim without legal help. For instance, if you have been involved in a minor car accident with minor injuries or minimal property damage, you may be able to negotiate a settlement claim directly with the insurance company.
What type of lawyer do I need?
Assuming that you do need legal assistance, the next step is to identify the type of lawyer you need. In many areas of law, you will need to find a lawyer who works in your jurisdiction or who is licensed to work in your state.
Even if the location of your lawyer does not matter, you will still need to identify a lawyer who is best able to handle your case. For instance, if you are filing bankruptcy, you will need a bankruptcy lawyer. If you have been charged with a crime, you will need a criminal defense attorney.
How much does the lawyer charge?
No two fee agreements are alike. Even if the lawyer agrees to work on a contingent fee basis, it is still important and necessary to get the fee agreement in writing. Make sure that you understand any additional costs that the lawyer might charge including court costs, copying fees, expert witness fees, costs for an investigator, and hotel and travel costs.
Ask the lawyer if they are willing to negotiate. Good attorneys may have more work than they are able to do, and may be unwilling to reduce their fees. In some cases, however, if you are paying an hourly rate, they may be willing to work with you.
What can be done if I'm unhappy with their services?
If you hire a lawyer, you have the right to terminate the contract, but they may be entitled to a percentage of any compensation that you receive for your claim. Before signing a legal contract, make sure that the details of the contract specifically outline what will happen if the relationship is terminated.
Are they willing to take a case to court?
Certain lawyers may be more willing than others to take your case to trial. In most cases, however, a lawyer should be willing to go to trial to get the best possible outcome for your claim.
Finding the best lawyer means that you need an experienced lawyer who is not intimidated by opposing counsel. This can be especially true for attorneys who are working on a contingent fee basis and who may be incentivized to settle the case quickly to avoid a trial. Make sure that you have a shrewd lawyer who is willing to negotiate but who does not settle too quickly simply to avoid taking a case to court.
Does my lawyer have the same goals and expectations as I do?
Before hiring a lawyer, it is important to ensure that you and your lawyer have the same goals and expectations. Do you agree on how long the case should take? How often should they contact you with updates? How much information you would like about developments in the case? Don't be hesitant about interviewing several different lawyers and finding the best one for you. You will be working closely with them until your case concludes. Finding a lawyer who is concerned about your case and who understands your needs will increase your chances of getting the results you want.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of my case?
It is important to find a lawyer who can give you an accurate and honest assessment of your case, including both the strengths and the weaknesses. If the lawyer has promised that your case is a "slam dunk," or guarantees a win, it is time to talk to another lawyer. Legal matters are complicated, and a lawyer may not be able to tell you exactly how much money you will win or how long the case will take to settle, especially during the initial evaluation.
Who will be working on my case?
Many claimants meet with a lawyer and are initially impressed by their expertise and professionalism, only to find out later that their case will be handled by a much less experienced paralegal or associate. Before you sign a legal agreement, make sure that you know who will be working on your case.
In some cases, however, having some work done by associates who charge lower fees may be beneficial. Regardless, it is important to ask who will be working on your case. Additionally, if you want a certain lawyer to handle the complex aspects of your legal case, ask for that and make sure it is possible before signing the contract.