Frequently Asked Questions

WHAT IS AN ATTORNEY?

An attorney (also called lawyer, counsel, counselor, solicitor, or barrister) is a professionally trained and licensed individual who assists people with legal problems, often times preparing legal documents or representing people before courts and government agencies.

WHAT IF I CANNOT AFFORD AN ATTORNEY?

Generally, you will not know whether or not you can afford a lawyer until you have called a lawyer's office or had an initial consultation with a lawyer. Don't immediately assume that it will be too expensive until you have explored the options before you.

CAN I USE ONLINE FORMS TO REPRESENT MYSELF?

Beware - trying to handle legal problems if you are not an attorney can be risky. Everyone's legal issue is unique and forms may not always take that into consideration. While there are many resources available to individuals like mediation or small claims court, consulting with an attorney BEFORE trying to represent yourself is the best course of action. For instance, in Tennessee, the only individuals who can draft legal documents for other people or give legal advice are lawyers licensed to practice law in Tennessee. Any non-lawyer who drafts legal documents, gives legal advice, or gives the impression that they are an attorney when they are not may be guilty of the unauthorized practice of law.

WHAT SHOULD I CONSIDER WHEN HIRING AN ATTORNEY?

The attorney's areas of practice and prior experience are important. Also feel free to ask the attorney questions that will help you understand his/her experience in similar matters. Think of it as a job interview. You will want to discuss fees the attorneys will charge. How will fees be generated - on a flat fee, contingent fee, or hourly fee basis? If the fees are billed, what is that process? How much time does the attorney estimate it will take to resolve your matter? Remember, you should be comfortable with the attorney.

WHAT IS MY ATTORNEY'S DUTY TO ME?

Your attorney's principal duty is to see that you are given the benefit of all your legal rights. An attorney is sworn to conduct cases in an orderly way that will assure that they may be decided upon their merits. Your attorney may not make an agreement or incur any obligations that might substantially prejudice your interest, without your prior approval.

WHAT IS MY DUTY TO MY ATTORNEY?

You should give your attorney all the facts concerning your case and make a full and fair disclosure of the entire situation. In order to serve you well, your attorney must know not only the favorable facts but also those that may be unfavorable.

HOW ARE FEES CHARGED BY THE ATTORNEY?

Cost is an important factor to many individuals who are looking to hire an attorney. The fees which are charged by the attorney can depend upon many things. You should sign a contract agreement when authorizing an attorney to work for you. It should specify how you will pay (hourly rates, contingency fees, flat fees, or retainers) and the cost will vary based upon the specific legal service (research, drafting of documents, filing fees, court hearings, traveling). Read your contract carefully and keep a copy for yourself.

  • Flat Fees: The attorney provides a specific service for a specified set fee.
  • Contingency Fees: The attorney is paid only when money is collected for you, usually a percentage of the amount recovered. However, you will be expected to pay some cost "up front" such as filing fees, court cost and cost of discovery.
  • Retainers and Hourly Fees: The attorney often will ask for a retainer, or advance payment, before working for you. Some retainers will be "non-refundable" should you change your mind about proceeding with legal action. You should be aware of that and also understand if the hours billed will be billed from the retainer or in addition to the retainer. Your should receive an itemized statement listing services provided and fees charges.

WHAT DOCUMENTS SHOULD I TAKE WITH ME TO THE FIRST MEETING?

Be as organized as possible. If you have a complicated problem you may want to place different papers in different labeled folders to make documents easy to find. Make copies of papers that are important to your case. In most cases you will not be leaving your original documents with the attorney. Write down your questions before your visit. Here is a handy checklist of basic questions:

  • What is your experience in this field?
  • Have you handled matters like mine before?
  • What are the possible outcomes of my case?
  • What are my alternatives in resolving the matter?
  • Approximately how long will it take to resolve?
  • What are your rates and how often will you bill me?
  • What kind of approach will you take to resolve the matter?
  • Who else in the office will be working on my case?

 


Michigan Legal Group - Our Lawyers Fight for You!