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Questions to ask your attorney:

This list is intended to provide initial guidance to you if you are considering hiring a lawyer.  The list is not exhaustive and there will be other questions specific to your legal matter that you should ask the lawyer.

Here is a checklist of basic questions to ask before you hire a lawyer:

  • How long have you been practicing in this field or area of law?
  • What experience do you have handling legal matters like mine?
  • Do you have time with your caseload to help me with my case and how long do you think my case will last?
  • Will you be responsible for my case or will it be assigned to another lawyer or a paralegal at your firm?
  • Are there other ways for solving my legal problem?
  • What is the likely outcome in my case?
  • How will we stay in touch as the case proceeds (email or phone) and when can you be reached?
  • Will you consult with me before making major decisions about the case and keep me up-to-date on significant developments in the case?

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.  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.

 

For other Frequently Asked Questions click here.

 

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