Finding And Working With A Lawyer
Here, you can learn how to find and retain a lawyer, how lawyers charge, what you can expect from your lawyer, what your lawyer can expect from you, and what to do if you are unhappy with your lawyer or dispute a fee.
TIP! Before you set out to find a lawyer, be sure that you are not already entitled to one appointed for you free of charge. If you have insurance that may cover a loss, such as automobile insurance, a homeowner's policy, or worker's compensation, the insurance company normally appoints and pays a lawyer to act on your behalf. If you are sued in a matter that involves an organization you work for or participate in, such as a church or school, that organization may have insurance that will pay a lawyer to defend you.
- Lawyer Referral and Information Service. The State Bar of Nevada's Lawyer Referral and Information Service ("LRIS") can be a resource when you need to find an attorney. When a caller contacts LRIS, an LRIS assistant will ask the caller a series of questions. The LRIS assistants are not attorneys and cannot provide legal advice. The caller will be given the name and telephone number of an attorney who accepts cases in the area of law that addresses the caller's problem. The caller and attorney will receive a confirmation of the referral in the mail. If the attorney is not able to assist the referred caller with the legal problem, the caller may contact LRIS again for another referral. A maximum of six referrals per legal issue may be requested.
An attorney who is a member of LRIS may charge no more than $45 for an initial consultation. There is no consultation fee in a contingency fee case. If the client chooses to hire the attorney after the initial consultation, the attorney will negotiate the fee with the client.
There is no charge to use LRIS. You can call LRIS at 702-382-0504 or toll-free within Nevada at 1-800-789-LRIS (5747). Click to visit the LRIS website to learn more. You may also qualify for a reduced-fee attorney through LRIS. Click to visit our Free and Low-Cost Legal Help page to learn more.
- Friends and relatives. Friends and relatives who have used a particular lawyer are often the best source of referrals because they have personal experience with that lawyer and can tell you whether they were satisfied.
- Other lawyers. Ask a lawyer you know. You may know a lawyer, but that lawyer does not handle the type of case you have. Still, lawyers know other lawyers and are familiar with their areas of specialty and whether they are competent.
- Other professionals. Other professionals – such as real estate agents, accountants, and stock brokers – who have occasion to deal with lawyers professionally can be a good source of referrals for a lawyer with the expertise to handle your type of problem.
- Legal directories. Legal directories – such as Martindale-Hubbell, West Legal Directory, and others – are available in some local public libraries and your local law library. Directories typically describe the types of cases and problems a lawyer handles and may even give the lawyer a rating or grade.
Once you have identified one or more lawyers you may want to hire, you should telephone each one and speak to the lawyer for five or ten minutes to determine whether he or she handles your type of problem. Give the lawyer a brief description of the problem and ask if the lawyer has experience with it. Find out whether the lawyer charges an hourly fee, a flat fee, or a contingent fee and what the hourly rate, flat fee, or contingent percentage is. Ask if the lawyer charges for an initial consultation and, if so, how much. Get a feel for whether you think you can get along with the lawyer. If you are satisfied so far, make an appointment.
This first phone conversation is also an opportunity for the lawyer to decide if your case is one he or she might want. If it is not, the lawyer can save you the trouble and expense of coming in. If the lawyer tells you he or she is unable to represent you, ask for a referral to another lawyer who handles your type of matter.
Some of the questions you might want to ask the lawyer in your initial consultation are:
- Where are you licensed to practice law?
- What type of legal experience do you have?
- How many cases or matters of this type have you handled?
- What percentage of your practice is in this area of the law?
- How would you approach resolving my problem?
- What can I expect to happen over the next few weeks, few months, and until the conclusion of the matter?
- How long do you estimate it will take to conclude this matter?
- Will you send me copies of correspondence and court filings?
- Are there deadlines I should know about?
Based on the answers to these questions, you need to decide whether this lawyer is the one for you. Before making any decision, you should talk to the attorney about fees. Always make sure you understand the fees before you decide to hire a lawyer!
Many people are reluctant to see a lawyer because they are afraid legal services are expensive. Actually, in many cases, fees are moderate in comparison with the benefits gained or the losses avoided. It sometimes turns out to be more expensive in the long run not to see a lawyer.
When you first contact a lawyer's office to make an appointment, ask what the lawyer charges for an initial consultation. When you consult the lawyer in person, ask at the outset about fees. It is in the best interest of both the lawyer and the client to have a clear understanding of the fee for the lawyer's services in advance so there will be no misunderstanding later.
There are three ways lawyers typically charge for legal services:
- Hourly. In civil cases, the lawyer might charge an hourly fee. The lawyer will keep time sheets describing the time spent on your case and will bill you on a monthly basis. The lawyer may require you to pay a "retainer."
FYI! A "retainer" is the initial fee paid by a client to a lawyer to begin representation. Your lawyer is required to place the retainer in a special account called a "trust account," against which the fees for your legal matter will be billed until it is completed. If the retainer is not enough, the attorney may ask for additional money. Likewise, unused funds at the end of the matter should be returned to you.
- Contingency. In certain cases, lawyers charge a contingency fee, which involves an agreement with the client in advance that the lawyer will get, as a fee, a percentage of the amount recovered in the case after certain expenses are deducted. The lawyer is paid only if the client wins the case. In most cases, the client will be responsible for court costs (filing fees, witness fees, court reporter fees, and the like) regardless of the court decision. Contingency arrangements are most commonly seen in personal injury cases.
TIP! In Nevada, a contingent fee agreement must be in writing and signed by the client. The agreement must state the method by which the lawyer's fee is to be determined, including the percentage of the recovery and whether expenses are to be deducted before or after the contingent fee is calculated, and whether the client is liable for expenses regardless of the outcome. Ask your lawyer to explain what expenses will be charged and when those costs are to be paid.
- Flat fee. In some situations, the lawyer may have a set fee for the service to be provided, regardless of the time involved. Flat fees are commonly used in defense of criminal charges, routine matters, and the preparation of simple wills, deeds, and other documents.
No two situations are alike, and a lawyer will consider many factors in arriving at a fair fee, including the time likely involved, the novelty and difficulty of the problem, the amount of responsibility assumed by the attorney, customary fees in the area, and various other factors.
As a client, you have certain rights. They include the following:
- Confidentiality. Your conversations with your lawyer and any documents or information you give your lawyer are required to be kept private. Your lawyer should not discuss your private business with anyone outside of the lawyer's firm.
- Competence. You have a right to expect your lawyer to handle your matter competently. This does not mean he or she will know all the answers. It means your lawyer should know where to find the answer and should devote the attention to your matter that it deserves.
- Honesty. You should expect your lawyer to tell you the truth and to handle any funds of yours in a completely trustworthy manner.
- Loyalty. Your lawyer should not have any conflicts of interest that would cause his or her loyalty to be divided between you and another person with an interest in the outcome of your matter.
- Information. You have a right to be kept informed of the progress of your matter and to have your questions answered.
- Responsiveness. Your phone calls should be answered in a timely fashion.
Your lawyer also expects certain things from you in order to handle your case most effectively. They include:
- Honesty. You should provide your lawyer with full and complete information about your matter, including, especially, information that may be bad for your case. Remember that the lawyer must keep this information confidential. Your lawyer cannot represent you well if you hold back or lie about the facts.
- Cooperation. You and your lawyer must work together as a team. You cannot simply turn your problems over and expect him or her to call you when it is resolved. Gather the documents the lawyer asks for, fill out the forms, write down what happened, gather names and addresses of witnesses, and try to follow your lawyer's instructions and advice. Clients who cooperate with their lawyers generally get better results than those who do not. If you fail to cooperate, your lawyer may withdraw from your case.
- Payment of fees. If you have agreed to pay fees or costs, your lawyer expects you to comply with your agreements. If you do not, your lawyer may withdraw from your case.
As the client, you have an absolute right to fire your lawyer at any time, with or without cause. Before you make that decision, though, see if you and your lawyer can resolve whatever problems you are having. Have a frank discussion with your lawyer and explain your point of view. Ask the lawyer to explain anything you do not understand. You should receive satisfactory answers to your questions. If the problem was the result of a misunderstanding, perhaps the lawyer-client relationship can be saved.
If you are still not satisfied after talking the problem out with your lawyer, you may want to consider changing lawyers. If an important court date, such as a trial or pretrial conference, is coming up soon, changing lawyers may be very risky and difficult. So it is better to try and resolve problems early and not wait. Otherwise, as a practical matter, you may not be able to change lawyers. If you are substituting a new lawyer for your former lawyer, your new lawyer should take care of any necessary paperwork to accomplish the change. If you want to fire your attorney and retain a new attorney later on or represent yourself, you may need to get permission from the court. (EDCR 7.40; JCRLV 30.)
If you are having a dispute with your attorney over the fees being charged, the State Bar of Nevada’s Fee Dispute Arbitration Program is an informal, free program designed to resolve fee disputes of $250 or more between attorneys and their clients. Fee Dispute Committee members volunteer as impartial arbitrators and determine what the reasonable fees should be for the legal services performed. Fee disputes of $5,000 or less are first assigned to a mediator to help resolve the dispute. If mediation fails, parties have the option of moving forward with arbitration.
Click to visit the State Bar of Nevada website to learn more about the Fee Dispute Arbitration Program and how to file a fee dispute application.