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Questions to Ask Your Lawyer

Aug 17, 2007
When looking for a lawyer to handle a personal legal matter, you can usually find one by contacting the local bar association or an attorney referral service in your area. If those don't pan out, try the state bar association or word-of-mouth recommendations from satisfied friends, family members, or coworkers. After getting the names of two or three attorneys that specialize in the area for which you need assistance, make an appointment to "interview" each lawyer before you decide which one to retain as legal counsel. Some lawyers offer a free 30-minute consultation to discuss your case and see whether client and attorney suit each other. Here are some questions you may want to ask:

1. How long have you specialized in this type of law? If the attorney has recently switched from probate to criminal law, and you are accused of committing a crime, you may want to look for a more experienced attorney. On the other hand, perhaps this attorney has been assisting a partner with criminal cases, or has done extensive work in this area previously. Find out if there is enough evidence to warrant your trust in this particular attorney for handling your case.

2. What are your fees? Never retain an attorney who is vague about the cost of his or her services, or about the type of expenses you may have to pay. While it is natural to be unsure of an exact price for copying, telephone, and postage costs, the attorney should be able to give you a ballpark figure, as well as any potential costs for expert testimony, including depositions, interrogatories, or videotaping sessions and travel fees. Try to get an estimate in writing of at least the attorney's fee. Many charge by the hour or by the procedure, such as a $1,500 divorce. Others are required to collect a portion, like one-third, of any awards made in personal injury cases, for example.

3. What are the chances of success for my case? This will apply to issues of litigation where you are suing someone in court. You want to get a percentage, like 60 percent or 20 percent, of what the outcome is likely to be. For other types of cases, such as estate planning, you can change the question to relate to matters involving your anticipated estate plan with applicable taxes.

4. How often can I expect to hear from you? A competent attorney should be in regular contact with a client to provide status updates, even if there isn't much to report. A monthly phone call, email, or letter will help to allay worries and confirm hearing dates so that you don't get disconnected from the legal process for months at a time.

5. What is the likely course of my case? Your attorney should be able to give you a clear outline of what to expect. Some types of cases might require a few meetings with the attorney. Others might demand court appearances and deposition sessions. Sketch a timeline of projected activity so you can plan accordingly.

After comparing attorney responses to your questions, you may be in a better position to choose the attorney who will work most effectively to protect your interests.
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