For many general legal services, such as residential real estate transactions, simple wills and other day-today legal issues, general practice lawyers are likely to provide you with the best service at the most reasonable price. If the matter is more complex, however, you should seek the counsel of a lawyer who acts as a specialist and focuses on a certain area of law.
“If you have a more complex issue, like a patent matter, a business to pass on to your loved ones or a complex commercial transaction, then you’re likely to need someone who works primarily in that specific area of the law,” says William P. Hampton, co-chairman of the Executive Committee at Secrest Wardle.
Smart Business spoke with Hampton, a former Oakland County Circuit Court judge, who is frequently asked for recommendations of the names of attorneys for businesses and individuals who are in need of potential legal representation, how to understand costs and fees and what types of results can be expected.
How should one go about determining if he or she needs legal representation?
A good way to determine whether you have a legal problem or need legal assistance is to ask a lawyer. Without speaking with a lawyer, you may not know if you need help. To make this important step easier, many lawyers will initially discuss and determine whether you have a legal problem without charging a fee. Once you have decided which lawyer to call, you should ask the lawyer whether he or she charges a fee for the initial consultation and, if so, how much. This meeting is very important to understanding whether you need legal representation.
What information should be obtained when meeting with a prospective lawyer?
Ask the lawyer how much time will be needed for the initial consultation and set aside an appropriate amount of time in your schedule. Familiarize yourself with all of the facts available about your legal matter before the meeting. For instance, if you want your will drafted, put together a general inventory of your assets and specific items that you wish to leave to your beneficiaries as well as a list of the full names and addresses of those beneficiaries. Ask the lawyer in advance what documents you should bring with you and gather any other relevant documents that you think may be helpful.
What questions should be asked?
It is important to discuss with your lawyer how much experience he or she has in dealing with cases similar to yours. If your lawyer doubts his or her competence to handle the matter then be sure to ask for a referral to other lawyers who are familiar with cases such as yours. Also, ask about the outcome of the other cases that the lawyer has handled.
Be perfectly candid during the meeting about all aspects of your matter and avoid withholding any information regardless of whether or not you believe it will help or hurt your matter. Make sure your lawyer covers both practical solutions to the problems as well as all of your options under the law. Do not try to convince the lawyer of the merits of your position by exaggerating the facts. If you know, make sure you tell the lawyer the position taken by a potential adverse party.
How are legal fees typically calculated?
You should understand from the first meeting how much your lawyer will charge to handle your case. Costs are different from fees. Note that you are usually responsible for court costs, filing fees, etc.
An important step to more accurately estimate the cost of legal representation is to make sure your lawyer fully identifies and explains the legal problems you face. Your lawyer should then give you some idea of the amount of legal fees as well as expenses for the action that he or she is going to handle for you. Whether you are charged on an hourly basis or a contingent fee basis, the reason for the fee should be fully explained to you in writing.
How can one get a sense of how long the matter will take?
Ask your lawyer how long it has taken him or her to bring cases similar to yours to a conclusion in the past. You should inquire if your case involves issues more complex than his or her previous cases and whether or not that will affect the expected time to bring this case to a conclusion. Also, ask your lawyer what he or she believes to be the best-case as opposed to the worst-case scenario with regard to the amount of time that he or she expects the case will take.
WILLIAM P. HAMPTON is co-chairman of the Executive Committee at Secrest Wardle. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (248) 539-2826 .