Know When To Say When . . . You Need A Lawyer

Knowing when you need a lawyer can be extremely important.  There are countless different times you may need to consult with an attorney, even if just for advice on how to handle a situation.  The event triggering your need for an attorney’s assistance could be for a good reason, such as buying a business, or for a not so good reason, such as when you are being sued.  More times than not, an attorney can save you money and prevent potential your exposure.  Despite such need, people routinely ignore their legal needs.  This article will help you determine when you need to consider hiring an attorney, where to find the right attorney for your needs and what the legal services should cost.

Why You Might Need A Lawyer

Consider your lawyer like your doctor.  Sometimes you go to the doctor because you have a specific problem which needs to be addressed, such as the flu.  Other times, you go to the dentist in order to prevent problems before they occur, such as an annual check-up.  Examples of when you need to contact an attorney to address a specific problem would include being sued by someone, when you want to sue someone, you want a divorce, you intend to file bankruptcy or when you have been accused of committing a crime.  

Preventative legal advice can often save you time and money.  Basically, you want to stop problems before they start.  Such preventative legal assistance includes incorporating a business, drafting contracts or getting advise prior to taking certain actions.  Often times your preventative legal needs give you the largest benefit, as they prevent legal problems before they even start.

Can You Handle This Issue Without A Lawyer?  When you first determine that you have a legal or potential legal issue, you should first ask yourself if you can or desire to handle this matter without an attorney. Sometimes you know that, without a doubt, you need to hire an attorney to assist you.  Other times, you may be able to handle the issue on your own.  When you are in doubt as to whether you need to hire an attorney, the best question to ask yourself is “what is at stake.”  If you are being sued for a million dollars, you clearly need to contact an attorney.  On the other hand, if you are being sued in small claims court for five hundred dollars, you may want to consider representing yourself.  If you are not sure as to whether you need legal assistance, you should consult with an attorney, as there can sometimes be hidden dangers in representing yourself.

There are many business situations for which you may feel the need to contact an attorney.  People buy and sell items and property everyday without an attorney.  However, there are also situations everyday which involve attorneys in similar business situations.  Often times, with an attorney’s advice, people will better understand their rights and better secure their financial interests.  Again, you should take a look at what you have at stake, the party you are or will be dealing with, as well as your ability to handle the situation on your own.

How Quickly Should You Contact An Attorney?  Once you have decided that you need the assistance of an attorney, you should determine how urgent this matter is to you.  As a general rule, sooner is much better than later.  There are many situations when you can add to your problems by failing to promptly calling your attorney.  For example, if you have been sued, you will undoubtedly have a deadline by which you must file your response.  Usually that deadline is twenty to thirty days after you have been served with (or when you received) the lawsuit.  Failure to respond by that deadline could, and often will, result in the party suing you obtaining a default judgment.  A default judgment means that one party automatically wins because the other party failed to respond properly.  Basically, they will win because you did not answer on time.  In order to prevent such things from happening, you should do two things: (1) carefully read and evaluate the document or documents which have brought the need to contact your attorney, and (2) contact your attorney immediately upon discovering your need for your attorney.  Your attorney will then help you determine the urgency of the situation and what action you should take.

Finding The Right Attorney

Many people have an excellent relationship with their attorney.  Others may need assistance in locating an attorney suited to their needs.  There are many ways that you can find an attorney to assist or represent you, including:

1. Recommendations.  Talking to your friends and colleagues can be a very good way to find an attorney.  One of the largest fears people have about hiring an attorney revolves around the fear of being “taken” by the attorney.  If you can get a recommendation from a friend, relative or colleague who had a good experience with a particular attorney, it will increase your confidence in going to that attorney.  

2. Research.  In today’s internet world, researching a topic and finding attorneys has become easy.  Several on-line directories exist which can help you find an attorney in your area.  In addition, if you decide you need an attorney which specializes in a certain area, you should research to find an attorney qualified to assist you.

3.Lawyer Referral Services.  Many entities exist which help to refer you to an attorney which practices in the area for which you need assistance.  Your local bar association will generally have the ability to assist you by giving you the names and numbers of referral services in your area.

4.Referrals.  Often times you may know an attorney or have a relationship with an attorney, but that attorney may not be the right attorney for you because of geographic location or area of practice.  If the attorney you know is not the right person for you, that attorney may be able to refer you to an attorney which can properly represent you.

5.Advertisements.  Advertisements provide a way of an attorney to get his or her name in the public.  This can often provide an excellent way to locate an attorney.  If, in the advertisement, the attorney offers a special discount or price, be sure you are fully informed about the details of such offer.

Using A Specialist

Some lawyers specialize, while others are general practitioners.  General practitioners work in a wide range of areas.  Specialists practice in and concentrate on a special area of the law. Each type of attorney has its advantages.  If, for example, you use a general practitioner, you will probably be able to use that attorney for a wide variety of potential issues.  It is important to keep in mind, however, that general practitioners generally cannot be experts in any one area of the law.  On the other hand, a specialist generally concentrates most or all of his or her time on that particular area of the law, and therefore may have a better expertise in that particular area of the law than a general practitioner.  

Certain situations arise where you should seriously consider consulting a specialist.  Equine law presents one such situation, as many attorneys do not have much knowledge of horses.  Such knowledge can be extremely helpful in litigation or contract drafting.  Many things which are second nature to equestrians will prove difficult for someone with little or no experience with horses.  While equine law is based upon general legal principles, your attorney’s knowledge of the details of horses and equine law can provide you and your attorney with a distinct advantage in dealing with your problem.

The Cost Of An Attorney

Attorneys bill their clients for legal services in three general manners: (1) hourly rate, (2) flat fee, or (3) contingent fee.  You and the attorney should determine how the attorney will receive payment prior to commencing the relationship.  You should ensure that your agreement for payment of legal services is clearly identified early in your engagement.

Hourly Rate.  Many lawyers use the hourly rate approach to charging their clients.  In this situation, the attorney gets paid an agreed-upon hourly rate.  Usually, all out-of-pocket expenses, such as court costs, state registration fees and copying charges, will also be passed on to the client.  Because this fee arrangement does not put a limit on the potential bill, it may be beneficial for you to get an estimate from the attorney as to the number of hours he or she estimates a certain project to take.

Flat Fee.  In some cases, the attorney and client can come to an agreed-upon fee, which will include all of the attorney’s time and expenses.  One example of such arrangement is when a client asks an attorney to prepare a sales contract.  Generally, the attorney will charge a flat fee for such contract.  This provides the client with the ability to know the exact amount of the attorney’s fee.

Contingent Fee.  In certain litigation cases, the attorney will agree to take a portion of any potential judgment in exchange for the attorney’s time and expenses.  Attorneys will generally only take a case on a contingent fee basis if the attorney feels that there is a fairly high probability of winning a potentially large judgment. 


At some point in your life, you will probably need an attorney.  First, you must determine if indeed you do need legal assistance.  After carefully determining your need for assistance, you should contact an attorney. If you have a relationship with an attorney, that attorney will be an excellent starting point.  If you do not know an attorney, you should do your research to find an attorney that you feel will represent you to the best of your advantage.  Finally, work out your fee arrangement with your attorney in advance, to prevent problems down the road.


This article provides general coverage of its subject area.  It is provided free, with the understanding that the author, publisher and/or publication does not intend this article to be viewed as rendering legal advice or service.  If legal advice is sought or required, the services of a competent professional should be sought.  The publisher shall not be responsible for any damages resulting from any error, inaccuracy or omission contained in this publication.

© October, 2002.  All rights reserved.  This article may not be reprinted nor reproduced in any manner without prior written permission by the author.