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About MSBA

Frequently Asked Questions About Attorneys

If I have a legal problem, why should I hire an MSBA attorney?

When should I go to an attorney?

How should I go about choosing an attorney?

How will I determine whether I want to hire an attorney?

How do attorneys charge for their services?

How do I prepare for my first meeting with the attorney?

What can I expect after I hire the attorney?

What if I have a problem with my attorney?



If I have a legal problem, why should I hire an MSBA attorney?

Contacting an attorney listed on the MSBA attorney referral directory can help you determine the best course of action for your specific need. MSBA attorneys belong to an organization that helps them stay current on changes in the law, provides professional development opportunities, gives them access to their colleagues across the state that they can turn to for advice and assistance, and offers practice tools that help make them more efficient. 

When should I consult an attorney?

There are numerous reasons why you should consider consulting with an attorney. The attorney referral service can help you decide what options are available.

You should consider consulting an attorney when:

  • You are planning to enter into a verbal or written contract with major financial consequences.
  • You are involved in an accident involving personal injury or damage to property.
  • You are seeking to collect an account from another person, or someone is seeking to collect an account from you which you do not believe you owe or you question.
  • You need an opinion about the title to real estate.
  • You want to plan your estate and make a will.
  • You are creating or dissolving a business.
  • You are settling an estate.
  • You are involved in a family situation such as adoption, divorce, or child support.
  • Your rights as a consumer or employee are abused.
  • You have been arrested for a crime or served with legal papers in a civil lawsuit.
  • You are filing for bankruptcy.

How should I go about choosing an attorney?

It is important that you feel comfortable enough to tell him/her honestly and completely, all personal facts necessary to resolve your problem. A neighbor, relative, friend, employer, will not be able to tell you which particular attorney is best for you. You must judge that for yourself. Most attorneys will allow you to talk with them before making a final decision. If you do not know an attorney, use the MSBA attorney referral directory to find a referral for competent legal representation.

To consult someone who is not an attorney about a legal problem is risky and often costly.

How will I determine whether I want to hire an attorney?

Most attorneys will briefly meet with you in order to get acquainted. During (or soon after) the first meeting, you can decide whether you want to hire the attorney. Before making the decision to hire an attorney, you may want to ask certain questions to aid in your evaluation.

How do attorneys charge for their services?
Attorneys charge for their services in different ways.  The type of fee arrangement that you make with your attorney will have a significant impact on how much you will pay for the services.  Be familiar with the different methods so you can better evaluate the estimated time and cost of the services a particular attorney offers you.  With all fee structures, confirm with the attorney what will and will not be included.

  • Consultation Fee
    Some attorneys charge a fixed or hourly fee for the first meeting where you and the attorney determine if he or she can assist you.  Others offer a free initial consultation.  Consultations can be in-person or over the phone.  Be sure to check whether you will be charged for this initial meeting.
  • Contingency Fee
    The attorney's fee is based on a percentage of the amount awarded in the case.  If you lose the case, the attorney does not get a fee, but you will still have to pay expenses.  However, even if you don't pay the attorney a fee, you will likely be responsible for additional expenses he or she incurred when representing you, such as court costs or document preparation and copying costs.  Contingency fees are most common in cases someone is being sued for money such as personal injury or property damage cases.  Attorneys may be prohibited from making contingency fee arrangements in certain kinds of cases such as criminal and child custody matters.
  • Flat Fee
    A flat fee is a specific, total fee that is decided up front, before the attorney provides any service.  A flat fee is usually offered only if your case is simple or routine, such as drafting a will, bankruptcy filing, or uncontested divorce.  Flat fees often limit attorney's services, so be sure to confirm what services are included in your flat fee arrangement.
  • Hourly Rate
    The attorney will charge you for each hour (or portion of an hour) that the attorney works on your case.  An attorney with more experience in a field may charge more for his or her services, but that attorney may need to spend less time on an issue than an attorney less familiar with the field.  Different attorneys within a firm may also charge more or less according to their expertise level and years of experience.  It's a good idea to find out ahead of time how the hourly rate will be calculated and what is included.
  • Retainer Fee
    Think of a retainer fee as a "down payment" against which future costs are billed. The cost of services is deducted from that account as they accrue. In some states, retainer fees can be non-refundable, even if the attorney doesn't deduct the complete cost of his or her services. Some states, however, require refund of any amount of the unused retainer.  A retainer fee can also mean that the attorney is "on call" to handle your legal problems over a period of time.  Since this type of fee arrangement can mean several different things, be sure to ask the attorney to clarify the details of any retainer fee he or she may require you to pay.
  • Statutory Fee
    In certain situations, a statute or a court may set the fee that you pay your attorney.  Typical proceedings involving a statutory fee might include probate or bankruptcy proceedings.

How do I prepare for my first meeting with the attorney?
The more prepared you are, the less time it will take for the attorney to understand and help you resolve your legal issue. This could result in savings to you.

  • Get organized. Prepare a written account or detailed notes outlining your legal problem or questions. The attorney must know all the details in order to decide what is important to your case.
  • Be honest. An honest account about your problem, including information that may be favorable or unfavorable, is very important. Only if you are completely candid can a attorney properly advise you. Remember that there are strict rules that require a attorney to keep your information confidential.
  • Talk about how much this will cost you. Your attorney will be ready to discuss fees during your first meeting. You should be ready to do the same. You can and should negotiate fees and discuss payment plans with your attorney. Get your agreement in writing and keep a copy for your file. Most disputes about fees happen because there is no written record of an agreement.
  • Ask your attorney questions. In order for your attorney to serve you better, you must understand all aspects of your case and the legal process. But remember, you are paying for your attorney's time. It is more cost effective to ask several questions at once. If you call your attorney every single time you have a question, you may be charged for each call.
  • Read all documents carefully before signing. Before you sign a document, ask your attorney to fully explain to you what exactly it is that you are signing. If you do not understand what the document is about that you are being asked to sign, ask your attorney to explain it to you again.
  • Keep your own files. Don't hesitate to ask for copies of all letters and documents prepared on your case. You should also keep the written fee agreement between you and your attorney in the file.
  • Listen to your attorney. Give careful and thoughtful consideration to what your attorney advises. The attorney's judgments are based on legal training and experience. Remember that attorneys cannot work magic. No attorney wins every case, and sometimes the best legal advice may not be what you want to hear. Your attorney will provide advice that has your best legal interests in mind.

What can I expect after I hire the attorney?

Once you’ve hired an attorney, substantial and frequent contact with you is generally not needed. The fee that the attorney quotes usually assumes nominal contact. However, if you decide that you would like to meet with your attorney to discuss the status of your case or new developments, call and make an appointment.

Be sure to ask if there will be an additional charge for the office visit. In some cases, letters are the most economic and efficient method of handling questions

What if I have a problem with my attorney?

If you have a problem with your attorney, you should first discuss it with him or her. Try to work out any problems. If the problems cannot be resolved, it is your right to fire your attorney and to hire someone else to represent you.

If the situation occurs before your legal problem is settled, you should expect to pay a portion of the fee to the attorney for time already spent. The attorney has an obligation to return your file.

If you believe your attorney has not acted in your best interests and has thereby done something illegal or unethical, you may wish to file a grievance against your attorney. In such circumstances, contact the Minnesota Attorneys Professional Responsibility Board at (651) 296-3952 or (800) 657-3601.

The MSBA presents this information as a service to the public and it is NOT intended to be legal advice.