How do I find the right attorney?
There is no easy answer to this question, but here are some hints:
1. Ask a friend or some other person in whom you have confidence for a recommendation, particularly if they have had a similar problem.
2. If you know a lawyer, ask him or her for a recommendation.
3. Most local attorney associations maintain lawyer reference services which can be of help. They do not all work in the same manner, but generally list the names of lawyers who have asked to be placed on the panel and will give you the name of such a lawyer upon request. Some panels merely list lawyers in alphabetical order and simply give the caller the next lawyer on the list. Others, however, have attempted to qualify the lawyers insofar as the areas in which they practice and will give you a lawyer who at least deems himself competent to handle that particular type of case about which you may be calling. You can ask the panel how they make their determination. All reference panels assure that the lawyer given to you will charge only a minimal fee for the first consultation.
4. Check the yellow pages of your telephone book under "Attorneys." If you follow this procedure you may want to talk to more than one attorney. Under a State Bar pilot program, lawyers have been certified as specialists in the following areas of law: Appellate; Criminal; Estate Planning, Trust and Probate; Family; Immigration and Nationality; Personal and Small Business Bankruptcy; Taxation; and Workers’ Compensation. The yellow pages of your phone book would list the specialty with the attorney's name.
5. You may want to check the law lists available at your local law library. These lists generally provide background information on the attorneys listed. Don't be afraid to contact an attorney because of cost. Many lawyers will give you, for little or no charge, a consultation as to whether or not you need an attorney. When you visit an attorney, ask yourself: How do I like this person? Does the attorney seem to know what he or she is talking about? Does he or she seem concerned with me and my problem? When in doubt, don’t hesitate to talk to more than one attorney. This is an important decision, treat it as such. Remember, you are the consumer, the attorney is not doing you a favor by taking your case. On the other hand, the attorney is a professional and if you hire a lawyer you should be prepared to consider the advice carefully.
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What about the fees?
"A lawyer’s time and advice are his stock in trade."
Attorneys set fees in various ways. One method is to charge by the hour. This rate is based upon his or her office overhead and other costs of doing business, plus an amount which will reasonably compensate for the attorney’s time. The entire charge is lumped under the attorney’s time. Fees on an hourly basis generally range from about $80.00 per hour to over $200.00 per hour depending upon several things, including the attorney’s experience, skill, overhead, and other factors. Some attorneys will also charge a flat fee, one price for the entire handling of a case. The amount of the fee does not insure a first class job. In the final analysis, quality of service should be your prime concern.
Is cost the only consideration?
No! Most important is the significance and the complexity of your problem. If it is a so-called "routine" problem, you might be better off shopping for the lowest price, though what is "routine" is difficult to define. The more complex your problem, the more skill is required, so that you should weigh considerations other than prices.
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What if I can’t pay per hour to talk to an attorney and have him or her handle my case?
When a person or business acts wrongfully and injures an innocent person, the victim is given the right to sue the wrongdoer for fair compensation. Historically, only the wealthy were involved in lawsuits because lawyers charged fees for all services rendered, whether the case was won or lost. As a result, most people were unable to exercise their rights in courts and therefore suffered silently. More recently lawyers who represented these victims began drafting employment contracts which allowed the victim to obtain legal services without cost unless the suit was won, and then only on an agreed percentage of the recovery. This was the birth of the contingency fee. The now common contingency fee contract thus became the consumers’ key to the courthouse. It is used to some extent in every state in the United States and is approved by the American Bar Association. It is no longer restricted to personal injury cases, but is used in cases of business fraud, collection debts, and contractual disputes. The contingency fee principle has elevated the individual to the same legal level as the wealthiest corporation. This principle is not confined to lawyers and their clients. Many businesses pay their employees on a commission basis. Insurance companies usually pay their sales people on a percentage of the premiums collected. Stockbrokers charge fees based upon the dollar amount of their transactions. Real estate people charge a percentage of sale only if the sale is made. There are many such examples of the workings of a fair contingency system at work in our society.
How does the contingency fee work?
If an attorney takes a case on a contingency fee, the attorney only gets paid if the case is won. If the case is lost, the attorney gets no fee. In addition, the attorney will often agree to advance the costs of the suit for the client. These include filing fees, deposition transaction and reporting fees, investigators, photography and expert witness fees. These costs sometimes must be repaid to the attorney at the end of the case. By using a contingency fee arrangement, the injured victim is able to afford as qualified a lawyer as would be available if he or she could pay an hourly fee.
What kind of percentage is fair and reasonable?
Contingency fees may vary between 25% and 40% of the client’s recovery. The percentage in some cases is controlled by statute. Some of the matters which affect the size of the percentages are the complexity of the case, the experience of the attorney, the expense of the case, and other factors. Some attorneys charge a different percentage at different stages in the handling of the case. No matter what kind of fee arrangement you make with an attorney, the attorney is entitled only to a reasonable fee. What is reasonable depends on many things. The fee is, of course, subject to individual negotiation. If you feel that a suggested fee is too high and, having discussed it with the lawyer, are not satisfied with the explanation, then get an additional opinion from a second qualified attorney. As previously mentioned, the lowest percentage may not be the best for a competent, well-qualified lawyer who could probably obtain a result which would more than make up for the difference in a lower fee charged by a less competent or trained practitioner.
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Should there be an attorney-client agreement in writing?
Yes! For your mutual protection and in order to avoid any misunderstandings, have the lawyer put the agreement in writing. Always read the contract before signing it. If you don’t understand it ask someone you trust to explain it to you. Make sure the contract states the terms of your agreement and does not contain blank spaces. Obtain a copy for you records. If the contract is on a contingency fee basis, state law requires that at the time the contract is entered into, the attorney shall provide you with a duplicate copy signed by both you and the attorney.
What should I do if an investigator or attorney contacts me?
The Ohio Supreme Court requires a checklist be mailed to legal consumers. Lawyers who use the mail to solicit accident victims as possible clients will be required to include an informational checklist approved by the Ohio Supreme Court. The new rule applies to solicitations mailed within 30 days of an accident.
The Court adopted a written checklist called "Understanding Your Rights" that provides basic legal information to accident victims and their families before they hire an attorney. The requirement, which is an amendment to the Code of Professional Responsibility, is effective Jan. 1, 2000.
Currently, attorneys are prohibited from soliciting potential clients by telephone or in person. Direct mail solicitation is allowed if the letter is marked "advertising only."
The guidelines give accident victims information about their legal rights, hiring an attorney and how to compare different legal services. Understanding Your Rights includes information regarding:
- the importance of maintaining records relating to an accident,
- the time limits to file insurance claims,
- the differing interests victims may have with insurance companies involved,
- the right to check a lawyer’s qualifications, and
- the cost of legal services.
"Because we cannot control contact by insurance companies, medical providers, car repair shops and a host of other groups, some of us on the Supreme Court decided that to impose a no-contact rule for lawyers only was not a prudent choice".
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