Hiring an Attorney: You Are Only As Good As Your Attorney
“What should I consider when hiring an attorney?”
Sometimes prospective clients call and make appointments to meet with me at my office to discuss their cases. But some people call on the phone and hire me without seeing me in person. Often I am hired to handle personal injury and criminal cases where the client resides outside of Key West, Florida (or the country) and I may never meet them! The first thing I do is listen to their recitation of the facts and ask questions. Then I evaluate the case and give my opinion of whether we can accomplish their objectives (or not). But the fundamental thing to remember is that you are only as good as your attorney. This applies to criminal, personal injury (PI) and family law cases.
The following are some things to think about when you are getting ready to hire an attorney:
“What are you looking for in an attorney?”
You want an attorney who cares about you and your case. You do not want an attorney who is going to put your file in the cabinet and forget about it until it is time to do something. You want an attorney who is conscientious and knowledgeable about your field of law such as criminal, PI and family law cases.
“Is your lawyer qualified to handle your case?”
Look for a qualified, competent trial attorney and office staff but also look to see if you like the person and the persons you will be having to work with in your case. When I say, “work with” – you are an indispensable part of the equation because you have certain obligations in your case. For instance, I tell all prospective PI clients that you will have to make yourself physically available in Key West at least 3 times during this case: for a deposition, mediation (prior to trial) and at trial. If you are not willing or able to do this then I cannot take your case. You may be in a relationship with your attorney for a long time! If you don’t like your attorney then the litigation process is not going to be pleasant. Then you can follow up on their website and see their qualifications or ask the attorney further questions. For instance, if asked about my qualifications, I would disclose that in December I will have been an attorney for 30 years and I have extensive trial experience in all three fields – criminal, PI and family law.
“What are you seeking?”
In PI cases, some people are not interested in protracted litigation but instead are seeking a quick, painless resolution of their case. Your lawyer should be able to evaluate your case and give you an idea of how long your case will take. In a criminal case, your case could involve a plea, motions, depositions, a trial, or a nolle pross (dismissal). In a personal injury case, it could be an immediate settlement or very lengthy litigation. In a family law case, it could be case management conference appearances, mediation, or a lengthy hearing or trial. You might just want your lawyer to just write a letter on your behalf. You need to have some idea of what you want to achieve so that you and your lawyer can be on the same page. If you do not know what you want then you should trust your lawyer to guide and advise you in your case.
“Why is this taking so long?”
Lawsuits take time and cost money. But Florida has streamlined the criminal and family law processes by requiring monthly docket soundings in criminal cases and case management conferences in the family area. If you file a PI case, then your lawyer will conduct discovery before the case is ripe for trial. This can take months or years.
“When do I pay my attorney?’
In a PI case, you can sign a contingent fee contract with your attorney and pay them at the conclusion of the matter. In a criminal case,it is likely your attorney will charge an hourly fee which should be spelled out in your written fee agreement. The fee contract will probably contemplate whether a plea or trial is anticipated. Yes, trials are more expensive! And as to family law cases, it depends on whether you able to resolve the matter by agreement, at mediation or if you have to resort to court action to have the judge resolve the matter.
“Why is this so complicated?”
The legal system is confounding at times but it is the best resolution process we have in the United States. Attorneys ask the Court to apply the law to your case. In Florida, like other States, we have statutes and case law. The Florida legislature create Statutes or codified law. Appellate and Supreme Court decisions are examples of case law which are published opinions. Your lawyer may cite statutes and/or case law to the Court in support of your case. Or we cite Federal Statutes, Appellate and Supreme Court cases. The judicial system is a complicated process but your attorney should competent to navigate through the system for you.
So remember – “You are only as good as your attorney!”