Hiring a Lawyer

When should I go see a lawyer?

Even though you may have to pay to go and meet with a lawyer to find out about your rights or your liabilities, it is always better to meet with a lawyer and get advice before you get into a legal dispute or go into court. You should consult with a lawyer when:

  • Planning to enter into a verbal or written contract or agreement that has financial consequences;
  • Thinking about trying to get out of a verbal or written contract or agreement that is still in effect;
  • Thinking about opening, closing, or making changes to your own business;
  • You are involved in an accident involving either an injury to yourself or another person or damage to property;
  • You are involved in a court matter such as a criminal case, a civil lawsuit, or a domestic controversy such as paternity, child support, or divorce;
  • Drafting a Will or plan for the support of someone after your death;
  • You are considering filing for bankruptcy protection; or
  • You want to learn about your legal position/options on any given matter.

How do I find a lawyer to represent me?

There are many ways to go about finding a lawyer. By talking to friends and family, you are likely to find someone who has hired a lawyer with whom they were pleased. The Virginia Lawyer Referral Service, provided through the Virginia State Bar, can give you the name of a lawyer who practices in your area in the field of law in which you need help. Lawyers in this service have agreed to consult with those referred for up to one half hour for a prepaid fee of $35 to the VLRS for administrative costs. If more time is needed, the lawyer and client can agree on terms of continued representation. You can get more information on the Virginia Lawyer Referral Service at https://vlrs.community.lawyer/ or you can call them directly at (800) 552-7977 (toll-free Statewide and Nationwide), (804) 775-0808 (metro Richmond), or via email at [email protected]. (Please do not send personal information regarding your case via email). Some local bar associations (groups of lawyers practicing in your area) have similar referral services. You can look online to locate contact information about the local bar association. Your local courts, the internet, and radio and television ads are also sources of information you can turn to when looking for an attorney.

How do I decide which lawyer to hire?

Some lawyers have a general practice, which means they deal with many types of legal issues. You will also find lawyers who specialize their practice in one field of law. The nature of your legal problem and the amount in controversy may have an impact on the lawyer you want to hire to do the job. Most lawyers will readily answer questions about their legal training and experience, and there are several directories on the internet and in your local law library that rate lawyers.

How do lawyers charge for their services?

There are several common fee arrangements offered by lawyers. Regarding the initial meeting, some lawyers charge their standard hourly rate, some charge a reduced rate, and some offer free initial consultations. During the initial meeting, do not be shy about asking how you will be charged for legal services if you decide to hire that lawyer. Depending on the kind of case you have, you may be charged an up-front flat fee (common in criminal cases), or you may be billed on an hourly basis. When attorneys bill on an hourly basis, they often ask for an upfront deposit known as an advanced fee or retainer fee. This money is held in a trust account for you by the lawyer and the time billed by the lawyer is paid from that account. In some cases — such as a personal injury case — your lawyer may charge a contingency fee, which is a percentage of any money you recover in the case. Don’t forget to discuss and review what other legal fees and costs might be charged by your lawyer while he or she is representing you. These additional fees can include filing fees paid to a court, photocopying charges, and fees paid to process servers or expert witnesses. You should not hesitate to ask for a written fee agreement from any attorney you hire so that you are clear about how you will be charged. It is preferable to have a written agreement with any attorney you hire.

Is the relationship of a lawyer and client confidential?

With a few exceptions, your lawyer has an ethical obligation to keep secret any information you give him or her as a client. Therefore, you should feel free to tell your lawyer all the facts in your case — even if you think those facts make you look bad, or they are not favorable to you. However, your lawyer may in very limited circumstances be required by law or by court order to discuss information you have confided (for example, if you tell your lawyer you intend to commit a crime in the future).

What if I believe that my lawyer is not handling my case properly?

You should first raise all questions or concerns about the handling of your case with your lawyer. If you and your lawyer still cannot resolve your differences, you have several options: consider hiring a new lawyer; filing a complaint with the Virginia State Bar; mediating or arbitrating a fee dispute; or suing for malpractice.

The Virginia State Bar (VSB) provides all individuals with the opportunity to file complaints about lawyers whom they believe have failed to meet the rules of ethical conduct. To receive a complaint form from the VSB Intake Department, call (804) 775-0570 (Richmond), (866) 548-0873 (toll free), or visit the VSB website.

If you are having a dispute with your lawyer over the fee you have been charged, the VSB provides voluntary mediation and/or binding arbitration services to work out these issues. For more information, call (804) 775-9423, or for a copy of the rules and regulations regarding fee mediation and/or arbitration, visit the VSB website. The VSB’s website (www.vsb.org) provides public information concerning lawyers licensed in Virginia.

If you feel your attorney has committed malpractice, you may sue your attorney for damages to recover your losses.

So You’re 18 is presented by the Virginia State Bar Conference of Local and Specialty Bar Associations.
For print copies of So You're 18 contact (804) 775-0521 or [email protected].