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“Potential clients should not hire an attorney until after they have had the opportunity to meet with the attorney in order to be assured that they can be comfortable about entrusting the attorney with their case.”
It is crucial that you ask the right questions, have a written retainer agreement and hire an attorney who has experience handling your type of case. You can greatly reduce the risk of ending up with the wrong attorney if you follow the following 12 suggestions:
1. What will it cost you to have the legal representation that you need? Every case is different. Therefore, it is important that your attorney identifies what he or she can and cannot control. Your attorney should clearly describe the best and worst scenarios. Your attorney should also be able provide you an estimate as to how long it will take to complete your case.
2. You should understand the benefits and problems with both flat fee and hourly fee billing. Flat fee billing should only be used when there is better than average certainty as to the time commitment needed for your case. Many civil and family cases are unpredictable. Therefore, you may want to engage your attorney on an hourly basis. Too often, an attorney offers a low flat fee that he or she privately assumes will be a fixed number of hours of work. What happens when more hours than originally anticipated are needed to bring a desired outcome?
3. If hourly billing is appropriate for your case, then how often will you be billed? And, will the bills provide you with enough detail so that you can understand how your money is being used?
4. Does the attorney have experience conducting trials and evidentiary hearings? You want an attorney who has experience proving matters in controversy. There are many attorneys who do not have enough experience in taking a case from beginning through evidentiary hearings and finally to trial. Those attorneys usually remain consistent by not seeing their cases through to final hearing or trial. When the opposing counsel knows that your attorney has a reputation for rarely, if ever, seeing a case through to the end, they are not motivated to push for an early reasonable settlement.
5. Do not pay any attorney full price until you understand everything involved with defending or prosecuting your case. Mr. Sherman only charges a small fee to investigate the case and handle the initial court appearances. Only when Mr. Sherman understands everything involved with your case will he have an office conference with you in order to explain all options and costs.
6. Availability: Can the attorney accept the case immediately? Will the attorney be able to devote the time you want to the case? This is particularly important if you prefer a lot of interaction with your attorney.
7. Flexibility: Can the attorney accommodate your schedule? Will you have your attorney’s cell phone number? It is crucial that you and your attorney stay in touch so that you can update each other about the progress of your case and developments.
8. Does your attorney have a reputation as a credible advocate, coming to court prepared and thorough when questioning a witness or arguing a legal issue? It is difficult to get this question answered. However, other attorneys and past clients are the best sources. It also helps if you know any courtroom personnel (i.e. clerks or bailiffs) who can share their personal accounts about those attorneys who are prepared, thorough and present well in court.
9. What specific experience does the attorney have in handling cases like yours? You should be able to find out the percentage of the attorney’s cases that are similar to your type of case. The attorney you hire should have experience in litigating a case like yours through a final hearing or trial. Unfortunately many attorneys take on cases without having the necessary expertise that your case may require.
10. Has the attorney ever been disciplined by the Florida Bar? You can visit the Florida Bar Web page in order to find out important information about any Florida attorney, including whether that attorney has been disciplined in the past 10 years.
11. Does the attorney offer a free initial consultation? An initial consultation is important whether it is free or $100.00. An initial consultation should take as long as necessary to convey all the relevant facts about your case, and allow you the opportunity to ask the attorney ALL the questions necessary for determining if that attorney is right for you. An initial consultation allows you the opportunity to interview your potential attorney in order to see if he or she is right for you. You should use the initial consultation to provide the attorney with a concise but specific account of your case in order to get an accurate opinion about the strengths and weaknesses of your case. You should also bring a set of copies of all important documents relating to your case. Attorneys use facts and information about their client’s case and apply those facts and information to the existing law. An organized client who can provide their attorney with all the information (including any related records) about their case will save money and equip their attorney with the tools necessary for obtaining a favorable outcome.
12. Does the attorney consistently use written retainer agreements? Nothing can substitute for a written agreement that clearly establishes the attorney’s rates and frees, as well as any costs unrelated to your attorney’s time. The retainer agreement should also clearly set out the attorney’s and client’s rights and responsibilities. You should feel comfortable requesting a copy of the agreement before having to write out a retainer check.