Insider’s Guide to Hiring an Attorney

I don’t know about you, but ever since we began this compulsory social distancing journey, my screen time consumption has increased dramatically! And between reading newsworthy articles, bingeing Netflix, and surfing social media, I have noticed an emergence of a new trend.

“Crowdsourcing” legal advice

First and foremost, I am seeing an uptick in “crowdsourcing” information and decisionmaking. You know what I’m talking about–public pleas for advice or comments on otherwise intimate personal situations and life-altering decisions. Don’t get me wrong about crowdsourcing–it’s useful for finding a  Costco well-stocked on paper goods. But, IMHO, crowdsourcing is NOT appropriate for seeking legal advice, or making life-altering decisions, for that matter.

For starters, social media is not ephemeral–once you ring that bell of sharing the intimate details of your personal situation–it’s out there for the foreseeable future. Consider, also, that anything you say in the public domain could become “Exhibit A” in the future.

It’s also important to understand that legal advice and assistance is individualized. Other people’s experiences with the legal system are based on their facts and personal circumstances. Not yours.

And when it comes to problems that invoke complex laws and factual situations, why wouldn’t you call an attorney? Crowdsourcing legal advice is like crowdsourcing advice on replacing the brake system in your car. Would you drive down IH-35 at 65 mph on a DIY brake system you put together from comments on a Facebook post or a reddit thread? Yikes, not me!

Do you really need an attorney?

If you aren’t sure, there’s no need to crowdsource that question. Just ask yourself a few simple questions: (1) Is this situation implicating my right to live my life freely, or independently of another’s interference? or (2) Is my right to own, possess, or transfer property being disrupted or questioned somehow? If you answered yes to those questions, then the answer is yes, you likely need an attorney’s assistance.

An attorney not only explains the law to you and your rights under those laws (something you could maybe research on the Internet), but they can also share their experience and knowledge about how the laws apply to your personal situation. Litigation attorneys, in particular, have regular and frequent experience with the tribunals in which they practice law. Do you personally know how your local judge would view your complaint?

How to Choose the Right Attorney For You

Not all attorneys are the same. When searching for legal assistance, look for an attorney whose practice is relevant to your legal matter.

For example, if your matter involves a divorce or child custody matter, then you would want to consult a “family law attorney”. But if your matter involves a death in the family and you want to know how to transfer the deceased family member’s money and property, you will need to consult with a “probate attorney”. Although a probate attorney does deal with families, they are not “family law” attorneys.

You can search for attorneys by practice areas on the state bar’s website. In Texas, some attorneys may even be “board certified”. This means they took an extra exam measuring their knowledge of a particular area of law, and this certification allows them to publicly advertise themselves as specialists in that field of law. Board certification, however, is not required to practice in a particular area of law.

Understanding Attorney’s Fees

Attorney’s fees aren’t cheap and understanding how attorneys charge their fee is an important consideration in hiring an attorney. The fee quoted should immediately indicate the type of assistance you will receive.

But don’t expect to get something for nothing. The oft-advertised “free consultation” is not what you might think. Oftentimes, attorneys will use this “free” consultation to assess you and determine whether they even want to take your case. Expect to receive very little legal advice or guidance during a “free consultation”. Such “free” calls or meetings may even be a waste of your own time.

If your goal, instead, is to receive legal advice or guidance on making a decision about a course of action to pursue, then expect to pay a fee.  And when you call the attorney’s office for an initial appointment, be sure to reserve an hour of time and request the attorney’s rate for that hour. Knowing that rate will also give you a basis for discussing estimated fees with the attorney by asking pointed questions about the time it would take to resolve your particular matter. And if your case is especially complex, consider meeting with more than one attorney. Knowing how each attorney would approach your case will help you understand not only what to expect, but identify variations in costs.

Instead of an hourly rate, some attorneys may charge a flat fee or a contingency fee to resolve your legal matter. A contingency fee is when the attorney does not get paid unless they “win” your case–usually cases with outcomes involving a money award. Attorneys who take contingency fee cases often take these cases on volume and generally utilize non-attorney staff to manage their caseloads. You may experience more interactions with staff than the attorney during the pendency of your contingency fee case.

With a flat fee you immediately know what your total investment will be. However, most attorneys limit flat fees to “simple” or straightforward legal matters. In a flat fee arrangement, the attorney will often take a universal approach to your legal matter and offer simple outcomes. With a flat fee you should also expect little room for individual preference or customization of the outcome.

An attorney’s value is their knowledge, skill, and expertise in the practice of law, which takes years to achieve. When you need a solution to a legal problem, there is no comparable DIY alternative to hiring an attorney.

Adriane S. Grace is an attorney in Frisco, Texas. If you are interested in hiring an attorney in the areas of estate planning, probate law, guardianship law, or social security law in the Frisco, Prosper, Allen, McKinney, Richardson, Dallas, Carrollton, The Colony, or Denton area, please complete the contact form to request a meeting.

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