You should choose a lawyer as you would a doctor, dentist,
accountant or anyone who provides services. The fact that you are
seeking a professional as opposed to a product should make no
difference in your approach. Comparison shop. Check the credentials
of different attorneys. Discuss fees with them candidly. And,
whatever you do, don't forget to talk with them about the wisdom of
retaining legal counsel. For example, does it make sense to spend
$500 in legal fees and court costs to recover a $100 bad
How do you look for a lawyer? The first and obvious step is to define the nature of your legal problem. You will be wasting your time as well as an attorney's if you bring a simple real estate transaction to a criminal defense specialist.
Once you have defined the problem, there are a number of ways to find a lawyer to help you with it.
Most people seeking a lawyer begin by asking advice from a personal acquaintance or someone whose opinion they value, such as their banker, minister, relative, or another lawyer. Other common referral sources are employers, law school teachers and administrators, labor unions, consumer groups, public interest organizations, and women's associations.
Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory
You also can find some answers in the public library in the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, which for more than 100 years has published as complete a roster as possible of the members of the bar in the United States and Canada. The directory gives brief biological sketches of many lawyers and describes the legal areas in which law firms practice.
From 1908 to 1977 lawyers were forbidden to advertise their services. This prohibition came about through fear of "puffery" and the belief that even the best executed advertising could be unintentionally false, misleading or deceptive because of the complex nature of legal services. A 1977 ruling of the United States Supreme Court (Bates v. State Bar of Arizona) changed the rules to a degree. Lawyers are now permitted to advertise certain information in newspapers, Yellow Pages, and on radio and television. You can follow certain steps when you contact a lawyer whose advertisement you read or heard. Don't take the ad literally; ask the lawyer for references and check his or her experience with your type of case. Ask the lawyer about the services advertised and what they include, for example, a "simple will," or a "simple divorce." Don't hesitate to discuss fees, what services they cover, and whether there will be any extra charges. Finally, keep a copy of the ad so that you can check to see whether the lawyer is performing as advertised.
Legal Aid and Defender Offices
In numerous cities Legal Aid and Defender offices assist without cost, or at a nominal fee, persons who cannot pay a lawyer. Advice is given by Legal Aid in three main areas of legal work: small money claims for wages; disputes between the client and a lender, installment seller or landlord; and domestic relations matters. Defender offices handle criminal cases.
Legal services offices in Mississippi can assist persons in civil matters who cannot afford a lawyer. If you live in south Mississippi you may contact Mississippi Center for Legal Services http://www.mslegalservices.org/ or if you live in north Mississippi you may contact North Mississippi Rural legal Services http://www.nmrls.com/
Small Claims Court
In Mississippi these courts are called "Justice Courts" and they offer citizens the chance to resolve minor disputes without the need for lawyers. Justice Courts have jurisdiction over small claims civil cases involving amounts of $3,500 or less, misdemeanor criminal cases and any traffic offense that occurs outside a municipality. Justice Court judges may conduct bond hearings and preliminary hearings in felony criminal cases and may issue search warrants. However, you should file suit only after you have exhausted other avenues for redress, for example, writing directly to the person or company involved in your complaint or discussing the matter with the Better Business Bureau.
General practice lawyers handle a wide variety of legal
problems. When problems are beyond their competence, they will
refer you to a specialist who has concentrated his or her practice
in such areas as litigation; criminal law; taxation; workmen's
compensation; labor relations; real property, probate and trust
law; patents; and so forth.
Obviously, the nature of your legal problem will help to define the type of lawyer you will want to retain.
In choosing a lawyer, keep in mind competence as well as accessibility and price. Since you are hiring a lawyer to perform services for you, don't be embarrassed or reluctant to ask the attorney about his or her qualifications, experience and continuing education.
Some lawyers make only a small charge, if any, for the first
consultation. All attorneys should advise you concerning probable
future costs after the first visit.
Fees charged by a lawyer for the performance of legal services are usually based on the following considerations:
• Time and labor required, the novelty and difficulty of the questions raised, and the skill needed to perform the required legal services. Remember: you can help keep costs down by having all your facts and documentation together when you see a lawyer.
• The likelihood that the acceptance of your case will preclude other employment by the lawyer.
• The fee customarily charged in the locality for similar legal services.
• Amount of damages sought and the results achieved.
• Time limitations imposed by the client or by circumstances.
• Nature and length of the professional relationship.
• Experience, reputation, and ability of the lawyer performing the work.
Lawyers are entitled to receive reimbursement for expenses incurred in connection with your case - travel costs, meals away from the office, telephone calls, postage, and fees prescribed by law to pay the court on your behalf.
To minimize misunderstandings about fees, ask an attorney in advance what the service will cost. Every case is different and, therefore, a lawyer may not be able to quote you a specific sum, but can give you an estimate.
If the fee quoted or estimated appears to you to be too high, then check with other lawyers to see what they would charge.
You may discuss the matter of fees with your lawyer at any time.
There are four principal methods for compensating a lawyer, though
others may be agreed on. They are: (1) retainer; (2) contingent
fee; (3) specific job; (4) hourly rate. In some cases lawyer fees
are set by the court.
Individuals or a business may employ a lawyer on a retainer basis, a down payment toward the fee for specified legal services. In return for the retainer the attorney will work for you on any matter for which you may need his or her services. Additional costs may be added to the final bill for services involving extra time and effort on the part of your lawyer. Always request that your lawyer give you a receipt for the advance on the fee.
Another fee arrangement used in certain noncriminal types of cases, especially in accident and negligence cases, is called a contingent fee. Such a fee is contingent upon the lawyer obtaining monetary recovery for you. If no award is made, compensation may not be required. If an award is made, the fee will be a percentage of the recovery. Court costs and out-of-pocket expenses are normally a responsibility of the client. Costs and expenses of litigation may be taken from the amount awarded or settled upon.
One of the most common methods employed by lawyers for charging fees is for the specific job (divorce, wills, purchase or sale of property, title examination, etc.). There are some types of cases in which your attorney can tell in advance approximately what the charges will be; in many other instances he or she honestly can't. Thus charges for a will can range from $50 or less to more than $500, depending upon the complexity of your estate.
Sometimes the lawyer will base his or her charges on a fixed dollar amount for each hour spent on your behalf. This is called hourly rate. Don't hesitate to ask your lawyer his or her rate and for an estimate of how many hours will be spent on your case.
Once you have selected a lawyer, there are several steps you can
follow to help your lawyer work for you and to satisfy yourself
concerning the quality of legal services being provided.
Here are some:
• Be honest with your lawyer; tell the truth. An attorney can't be expected to give you well-reasoned legal advice if the information you provide is faulty.
• Tell your lawyer every fact that is relevant to the situation, even if it doesn't appear to be in your favor.
• Have your lawyer analyze your case and give you both the positive and the negative aspects.
• Take your lawyer's advice; it isn't given off-the-cuff. Don't waste your money or your lawyer's time if you don't have confidence in his or her special knowledge and skills.
• Don't expect your attorney to give a simple answer to a complex question. Many legal problems cannot be explained simply. Be sure too that you understand the technical language contained in wills, contracts, leases, etc. Don't however, challenge your lawyer over every sentence on the page.
• Keep your lawyer fully informed on any new developments that might affect your case.
• Don't badger your lawyer. Respect your attorney's time. Avoid phoning repeatedly about petty matters. When you arrange an appointment, keep it. Remember a lawyer has other clients who require attention too.
• Feel as free to talk over matters with your attorney as you would with your minister or doctor. There are, of course, limits to confidentiality, such as the expressed intent to commit a crime.
• Ask your lawyer to keep you informed about the progress of your suit or legal problem. Remember he or she is retained to work for you.
• Be skeptical of attorneys promising certain results. Airtight cases just don't exist.
• Request copies of all letters and documents prepared on your behalf.
• Don't sign any document or paper until you understand the full import of what you are signing.