Monday, August 15, 2011

Should a back-up lawyer be needed?

Know how some doctors recommend that a patient get a second opinion? What would your doctor say, if you told him you wanted a second opinion? Would he be insulted?

When you have a lawyer, should you need a second opinion? Should you get one? Will a lawyer even give you a second opinion, if he knows that you already have engaged a lawyer on your legal matter? Some won't.

Typically, when you have a legal problem and first approach a lawyer, he (or she) will listen to your problem and tell you whether or not he can or wants to represent you. The very first thing a lawyer should do, before hearing anything about the potential case, is determine whether he has a conflict-of-interest; i.e., has he represented the other party or does he know him so well that he should not take on your matter?

If there is no conflict-of-interest, then you will want to know if the "meter" starts running when you begin to explain your case. Some lawyers will start charging right then; some will allow a short, informal discussion without giving legal advice, so that they and you can decide whether to proceed.

If you want legal advice at that first meeting, you should expect to pay for it. There is no reason for a lawyer to give away free legal advice.

Then, if you decide to retain the attorney, he ought to send you a Letter of Engagement, spelling out what he will and will not do, and how much he will charge you. He may spell out the hourly rates for his work and for that of an associate attorney, a paralegal and a legal secretary. Charges for photocopies and transportation may be defined. If your lawyer presented a pre-formatted agreement, take it home to read, where you won't feel rushed. If you agree with it, sign it and return it. Keep a copy of it. If you do sign it in the lawyer's office, take a copy of the signed document with you.

Ask your lawyer how often you will get updates on your case and how you will get them. If you phone him for an update, will you incur hourly-rate charges for the update? Ask, so that you don't get surprised. Ask him how he bills. Does he bill in quarter-hours or in tenths of an hour? Does he bill for telephone consultations? (There is no reason he should not - you should just know ahead of time about it.)

It is important to understand what work will be done and on what timetable. If you are suing someone, ask how long the case is likely to take (you'll get an estimate only) and whether he is taking it on a contingency fee basis.

Here's the sticky part. If you think nothing is happening on your case, you must ask. Do not let the Statute of Limitations expire. Your lawsuit must get filed within a period of time set by State law. Know what that time period is. Flag it in your calendar or planner or whatever electronic device you use for reminders. Set the alert for three-four months ahead.

If you think your lawyer is dragging his heels, demand information and answers. And here is where you may need a second opinion. If you do, go and get it. Don't let the Statute of Limitations expire. Otherwise, you might find yourself suing your own lawyer, because you can no longer go after the person who caused your loss in the first place.

This is where a telephone service for legal advice can come in very handy. I know of a good service for $17/month. It's a great deal for people who want a lot of legal advice but who don't need to sit down in front of a lawyer for a face-to-face meeting. If your lawyer charges you $300/hour, that $5/minute. (Just asking how his week-end was might cost you $20.)

1 comment:

Whitmore2 said...

My lawyer told me that he wouldn't take the case to trial but that he could get me a deal. So at least I got something for my $350/hr charge.