Hiring a Lawyer

Consumers' Guide to Legal Help
Hiring a Lawyer

Can I hire a lawyer through a "prepaid" or other kind of legal services plan?
Can you hire a lawyer over the internet?
How do you know if a lawyer is licensed?
What does it mean when a lawyer is bidding for a case?
Do I have to hire a lawyer if I have a legal problem?
What should I do when I hire a lawyer?
What is a lawyer referral service?

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Can you hire a lawyer over the internet?
Through some Web sites you can hire a lawyer -- who may be a great distance away -- to either handle your entire case, or just to give you advice or prepare some forms for you. You should be careful and check references, especially when dealing with for-profit vendors over the Web. There are many online directories of lawyers, and services that match clients and lawyers. Many of these are for-profit enterprises. Some earn revenue from fees charged to clients, others support themselves by offering books, forms or other information for sale to the public, and still others charge lawyers a fee to participate. Remember that lawyers are licensed to practice on a state-by-state basis. If you are hiring a lawyer, make sure that he or she is licensed in the appropriate state. You can make sure the person really is a lawyer by contacting the state agency that licenses lawyers (see below "How do you know if a lawyer is licensed?").

How do you know if a lawyer is licensed?
Lawyers are licensed by a state agency in each state. You should contact the appropriate state agency to find out if a person has a law license and is permitted to practice in a particular state. Please see the ABA Directory of State Bar Admission Offices for more information.

Do I have to hire a lawyer if I have a legal problem?
You don't always need to hire a lawyer for every legal issue. Many people solve their legal disagreement with someone else without using lawyers and the courts. This is called Mediation or Dispute Resolution.

You can also try to handle a legal matter yourself. People without legal training may be able to handle some simple legal matters themselves -- this is called proceeding "pro se" or "pro per." Taking on a legal matter yourself can be risky, however. Each step may involve tax or other consequences that you may not think about. Doing it yourself also requires a lot of time and energy to learn the proper procedures and law. But sometimes people feel that they can't afford legal representation or they just want to do it themselves. For more information on handling a legal matter yourself, see the Helping Yourself section of this Web site.

What should I do when I hire a lawyer?
Before you agree to hire a lawyer, you should ask the lawyer for details about how he or she will calculate fees, what expenses you will be responsible for in addition to fees, an estimate of the total fees and expenses, and how long the legal matter will likely take to complete. If any of these are not clear to you, this is something you should try to discuss as soon as you realize that there could be a misunderstanding. At the same time, you should realize that a lawyer cannot usually predict exactly how many hours of work will be involved -- especially if the case involves a dispute with another party.

Even with the best preparation, misunderstandings and disagreements can develop between clients and lawyers. If you don't understand something your lawyer has done, or you feel that he or she has not acted in your best interests, you should talk about this with him or her as soon as possible.

What is a lawyer referral service?
Many state and local bar associations offer public service-oriented lawyer referral services. These services will interview clients and help identify the problems a lawyer could help them with. If a lawyer can help with your problem, the service will provide you with a referral to a lawyer. If the problem does not require a lawyer, the service will provide information on other organizations in your community that may be able to help. Most of these lawyer referral services use the telephone to conduct interviews and make referrals.

Meets ABA Standards for Lawyer ReferralThe ABA sets high standards for quality lawyer referral services. Those that meet our standards use a special logo that says "Meets ABA Standards for Lawyer Referral", like the one pictured here. These services are identified as lawyer referral services. To search our site for a lawyer referral service in your state, please select a state from the Find Legal Help home page or select a state from the drop-down menu on the left.

Updated: 04/16/2008

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