Despite general discussion that the legal field is “not what it used to be” there are still plenty of people in the United States that need attorneys.
Despite the wealth generated by the United States within the last 50 years, more than 35 million Americans are still living below the poverty level, and another 10 million have incomes that are less than 25 percent higher than that level. As a result, roughly one in five U.S. citizens is eligible for federally funded legal services because they cannot afford an attorney. However, only 20 percent of the legal needs of the poor are being met.
Most people do not want to consult with an attorney. However, if a legal issue arises, here is what you must do, regardless of income and social status.
1) See an attorney when the issue arises.
The biggest issue facing people-especially those with modest means-is when they refuse to speak with an attorney. Perhaps they are worried about cost, or maybe they don’t believe the issue is serious enough. Or, perhaps they have a general distrust of lawyers and feel they will be pressured into giving the lawyer money for what is perceived to be a nuisance problem.
Many attorneys offer free consultations. Also remember that everything you tell the attorney will stay confidential. In addition, it is always better to correct an issue early on, rather than allowing it to spiral out of control. Many people finally turn to an attorney when the matter has become a serious problem, and the person needs to spend thousands of dollars when the original issue could have been handled for far less. As attorneys, we tend to put out fires and the bigger the fire, the more money that lawyer will charge.
2) Get a referral from a trusted friend.
Law is a business and most cases are generated through referrals. With this being said, you will be best served if you ask a friend about an attorney they can recommend (even if that friend is a lawyer!) Remember that attorneys usually specialize in an area of law. If your friend is a lawyer and does not specialize in that area of expertise, the friend-who will know a plethora of attorneys-will be happy to make a recommendation for you.
3) Ask the attorney what the fees are.
Unless you are able to obtain legal aid representation, all attorneys cost money. The cost goes into the attorney’s time they put into your case and the amount of time they spend in court. Depending on your issue, court may not be required, but drafting paperwork is usually the norm across all practice areas.
During your consultation, do not be afraid to ask the lawyer what his or her fees are. When the attorney quotes you, do not be afraid to bring up financial concerns if money is an issue. Some attorneys will not lower their fees, but others will be accommodating.
4) Collect all important documentation beforehand.
Even before you retain an attorney, you should ask what important documentation you should be bringing with you. Even if you retain the lawyer, you will still need to gather information and assist the attorney with any witness lists that may be appropriate. In other legal matters, you may need to bring paperwork with you so the lawyer can review it and act accordingly.
5) Feel free to ask around
If you are still unsure about the attorney you are seeing, you are always allowed to get a second opinion or retain another attorney. As stated previously, many attorneys offer free consultations and will be happy to speak with you about your issue.
If you are happy with the level of service, then by all means retain the attorney on your legal matter. Just know that all attorneys will require a retainer fee up front, unless the matter is handled on a contingency fee, which means the lawyer will only collect a fee if you win your case. With many practice areas, however, lawyers will usually charge a flat fee, an hourly fee or a combination of both.