What are the qualifications of a lawyer?
Lawyers are college-educated professionals who have received a degree from an accredited law school and have passed the bar exam in their state. The bar exam requires them to demonstrate their knowledge across many areas of law. They also need to pass certain moral fitness requirements, which include background checks.
What can a lawyer do for me?
A lawyer can conduct legal research on your behalf and help prepare your case for trial if needed. This may involve collecting evidence, retaining witnesses, writing briefs, and arguing for you before a judge. If they are assisting you with a transaction, they can help you negotiate the deal in a way that protects your interests. Your lawyer should advise you on your rights and obligations, communicate with you clearly and promptly, and meet appropriate ethical standards. In addition to representing you zealously, they must follow applicable rules of court and respect judges and adversaries.
Most lawyers in the U.S. follow the client-centered model of representation, which means that the client has control over most or all of the major decisions in their case. The lawyer will devise strategies for reaching the client’s goals, but they cannot substitute their goals for those of the client. An example might be a personal injury case in which the attorney wants to settle, but the client wants to go to trial. Even if the attorney thinks that taking a settlement would be smarter, they cannot do this against the client’s wishes if the client rejects their suggestion.
What is legal advice?
Legal advice involves applying legal knowledge and judgment to a certain situation. It consists of telling someone what to do rather than simply telling them how to do it, so it creates obligations for the person giving advice. For example, telling you which forms you need to complete to get government benefits is probably not legal advice, while telling you whether you are likely to qualify for benefits is. Only a licensed attorney can offer legal advice, just as only an attorney can represent you in court (unless you represent yourself).
This website and other free online legal websites do not provide legal advice, nor does an attorney’s own website. These are merely sources of legal information, similar to something that you might see on TV or read in a newspaper. The value of legal advice is that it is tailored to your specific situation.
Can I get free legal help?
If you have been arrested for a crime, you have a right to a free attorney from the public defender’s office. (This may not be the best option for your defense, however, and you should strongly consider hiring a private attorney if possible.) You do not have a right to a free attorney in other types of legal proceedings, but you may be able to find free or low-cost legal help through a legal aid organization or a social justice organization like the ACLU. Legal clinics at law schools and law firms that handle some cases “pro bono” also may provide free representation.
Whether you qualify for free legal help may depend on whether your income is less than 125 percent of the federal poverty level, which is the standard used by most legal aid organizations and pro bono departments of law firms. Otherwise, you may still qualify if you belong to a certain group to which an organization is dedicated, such as immigrants or victims of domestic violence. Or you may be able to get free legal help if your case raises an issue that has a broad impact on society, such as a civil rights claim. A social justice organization may want to take this type of case to help shape the direction of the law.
How much will my lawyer cost?
The cost of a lawyer will depend on the type of task that they are handling for you and on the fee structure that they are using. In some cases, a lawyer may charge a flat fee to handle a certain routine task, or they may charge a fee only if you win, which will be a percentage of the money that you receive from the case. Most commonly, though, they will charge according to the time that they spend on the case. You should be aware that your case may involve expenses beyond attorney fees, such as filing costs and travel expenses.
How do I find a lawyer?
Visiting this page will give you many tips on finding a lawyer. In general, you can consult friends or family members, explore lawyer directories online, contact your state bar association or a legal aid organization for a referral, or simply search on Google for lawyers in your area who handle your type of case.
How do I choose which lawyer is right for me?
You should take a look at this page for specific advice on choosing the right lawyer for you. You will want to make sure that they are experienced in the area of law that your matter involves, and you will need to find someone who communicates well with you and is a good personality fit. The fees that they charge must be affordable. Your attorney should not have serious red flags involving disciplinary proceedings or other misconduct on their record. If they have support staff who will be assisting you, you will want to make sure that you are confident in their abilities.
Are there alternatives to lawyers for handling a legal problem?
Yes, but you should be aware that this can be risky, even though it may be more cost-efficient. Only lawyers are allowed to practice law. If your situation is relatively simple, you may be able to get the help that you need from a paralegal, or you may get enough information from a free initial consultation with a lawyer to handle the rest of the process yourself. You may also be able to work with students at a legal clinic at a law school, who will be supervised by a practicing attorney.
In many cases, you can resolve a dispute by resorting to mediation. This process involves a neutral third party talking with your opponent and you in an effort to reach an outcome that is acceptable to both of you. The mediator does not have the power to force you to accept a certain outcome, and you can always go to court if the mediation does not succeed. Certain areas of law, such as family law, may offer other methods of alternative dispute resolution that are specific to that context.
Can I hire a lawyer from another state?
You may be able to hire a lawyer from another state, although this may require some research by the lawyer or you. Attorneys theoretically need to meet the bar admission requirements of any state in which they practice. However, there are situations, known as “pro hac vice” appearances, in which an attorney can appear in a certain case in a different state where they are not licensed. Specific requirements apply to pro hac vice appearances. Another option for out-of-state lawyers with some experience is to seek permission from a state’s highest court to practice in that state.
If you hire a lawyer from another state, you may find that their travel costs mount quickly. It may be more effective and cost-efficient to try to find a lawyer in your own state. Perhaps the out-of-state lawyer can give you a referral.
How do I know if I have a good case?
You will need to research the applicable law and court decisions in your state to determine if you have a good case. You may be able to do this on your own, or you may need to hire a lawyer to handle the research if the situation is complex. You should not assume that you can sue someone because they did something that was wrong, unfair, or morally questionable. This does not necessarily mean that they violated the law or your legal rights.
You should also recognize that whether you have a strong case and whether an attorney wants to bring your case may be two different questions. If the amount of money at stake is relatively small, an attorney may not want to devote their resources to bringing the case, even if you are likely to win. Common examples are when a business violates wage and hour laws that protect its employees or when a business violates laws meant to protect consumers. In these situations, you may be able to join similarly situated people in a class action, which makes the case more financially worthwhile for an attorney.