We've all heard horror stories from the courtroom... Your lawyer fails to appear, he does not object when it is most critical, and he or she loses your major case on your behalf. The list could go on forever. From the trenches of the nation's largest governmental court system, here are a few insider tips (in no specific order).
1. Attorney fees are entirely negotiable
If you walk into your lawyer's office willing to pay whatever fee he tells you, that's fantastic! If you are more price-conscious, however, all lawyers' fees are generally negotiable. That is not to say that an attorney will always be willing to lower the fees he or she charges you, but an attorney may be willing to listen to a request to lower their rate (especially if you have a good case). The majority of contingency fee structures are fairly standard, but hourly rates, printing costs, and other fees can all be bargained.
2. You do not always require the services of a lawyer
Part of this is self-evident: with the Internet world and the existence of sites like LegalZoom.com, many duties previously reserved only for lawyers can now be completed while sitting on the bed binge-watching Netflix. Landlord-tenant agreements, incorporation forms, wills, simple contracts, and a variety of other documents can be completed by simply filling out a few blanks. However, the other side of the coin is often left unsaid: sometimes a lawyer isn't what you need. Perhaps it is less expensive for you to resolve the issue yourself rather than hire a lawyer. Maybe you just have to swallow your pride, tuck your tail between your legs, and walk away since the other person may not have enough money to sue you. Perhaps the amount of fine you'd have to pay or the amount of prison time you'd have to serve is set by law, and an attorney won't be able to get you out of it. In any case, if you walk into a law office willing to pay the lawyer to do the job, they will almost certainly not turn you down, even if you could do it yourself.
3. Lawyers despise giving out free advice
While law school is not the same as a medical school in other ways, it is just as expensive. Lawyers hope to make a living practising law to pay for their expensive education. That is, they expect to be compensated handsomely for providing legal advice. This does not preclude friends, family, and/or strangers from seeking free legal advice or representation. Because lawyers do not have a specified skill set like electricians, handymen, or veterinarians, a person may believe that requesting a free legal opinion is not a problem for the attorney. Surprisingly, unlike other professionals, regardless of occupation, lawyers are not expected to be compensated by the person seeking assistance. You would never ask a plumber friend to come over and install plumbing for free, so why would you ask an attorney friend to draft a letter or review a contract without compensating them for their time? The role of an attorney is to provide legal advice. Doing so for free jeopardizes his ability to earn a living. Attorneys can provide free legal services, but they prefer to do so on their terms. Don't get me wrong: attorneys appreciate the fact that you care enough about their opinions to ask them questions.
4. Attorneys are not always the best people to refer you to.
So you ask the lawyer who handled your divorce to recommend a tax attorney for you. They refer you to Ezekiel Smith for example, not because he is the go-to tax attorney, but because your attorney and Ezekiel Smith went to law school together and still golf on the weekends. Ezekiel Smith may practice tax law, but he may not be the best expert, the cheapest, or the best value. When you ask your lawyer who the best is, he will tell you Ezekielsmith. However, consult with other attorneys. If the same name keeps appearing, their friend may be the best. However, the odds are they are most likely going to mention different names.
5. Often, it is preferable to settle or quit
People have disagreements because that is the nature of life. Sometimes those disagreements are so upsetting, or so costly, that you hire a lawyer. While this can be emotionally satisfying, as previously discussed, it can also be financially disastrous. It is frequently preferable to make a compromise. Give in a little. Settle. The money you may lose in the long run by not fighting to the bitter end is usually offset by lower attorney's fees and greater peace of mind.
That being said, please keep in mind that I stated that you can do simple tasks on your own. You can apply a bandage to a cut, but you can't operate on yourself. If your legal issues are serious, hiring a lawyer is a good idea.