Attorney Adrian M. Madrone has teamed up with Law Professor Julie A. Helling’s acclaimed Internet Podcast Series Justice On Trial. In this episode, Adrian discussed how attorneys are paid, what to do if you cannot afford an attorney and how to find the right attorney for your case.
Provided below is a transcript:
How to Find an Attorney
How to find an attorney. If you need legal representation, it is important to know how to find an attorney who meets your needs. There are a number of things to think about when starting your search.
How are Attorneys Paid?
The first important question to answer is: are you planning to pay the attorney out of your own pocket? If you are going to hire a private attorney, be aware that attorney fees can be structured in a few different ways.
Some attorneys bill hourly for their time. This means the attorney will quote you an hourly rate, and usually take a lump sum deposit up front to work against. This is often referred to as a retainer. An attorney doing hourly billing may be able to estimate the amount of time they expect to take, but will likely also tell you that if things get more complicated, the bill could increase substantially. Hourly billing is common in business practice and in family law.
Apart from hourly billing, some attorneys handle cases on a flat rate or flat fee basis. Flat rates are common in private criminal defense and for attorneys handling traffic tickets. A flat fee means you are given an up-front price quote based on the work to be done. Flat rate attorneys may require full payment of their fee up front, or they may allow payment plans.
Finally, some attorneys take cases on a contingency fee. This is common in personal injury cases. A contingency fee is one where the attorney agrees to handle the case without payment up front, but instead gets paid by taking a percentage of any settlement or award that comes at the end of the case. So, hourly billing, flat fees, and contingency fees are common ways you can expect to pay the attorney you hire.
What If You Can’t Afford an Attorney?
If you cannot afford to pay for an attorney, there are ways to get legal representation at low or no cost.
First, if you are charged with a crime, you are legally entitled to a court-appointed attorney (also known as a public defender). You may also be entitled to a court-appointed attorney if your children are being removed from your care by Child Protective Services. For other types of legal cases, you are generally not entitled to court-appointed counsel.
Civil Legal Aid Groups
Some communities have civil legal aid groups to help with non-criminal issues like public benefits, housing, civil rights issues, or other needs. In Washington State, Columbia Legal Services and Northwest Justice Project are the two largest civil legal aid providers. One thing to be aware of though is that these types of civil legal aid organizations often do not have the resources to meet all the needs out there. So these organizations will not be able to take on every case.
If a legal aid organization cannot help, you may be able to find an attorney or group who would be willing to represent you pro bono. (Pro bono is short for the Latin phrase Pro Bono Publico, meaning for the public good.) Some communities have organizations that help coordinate pro bono services (for example, in Whatcom County, Washington…a group called Law Advocates coordinates pro bono representation with local private attorneys). There may also be other organizations (like the American Civil Liberties Union) that do occasional pro bono representation in specific types of cases. In general, finding pro bono legal aid may require a fair amount of leg work, and it can get frustrating at times.
Choosing the Right Attorney for Your Case
Finally, once you have figured out how you are going to find an attorney, you will need to actually need to do some work to find the right attorney for your needs.
Generalist or Specialist
In some small communities, one single lawyer may handle many different kinds of cases, like family law, criminal defense, wills, etc. These attorneys are known as general practitioners. However, in larger towns and cities, attorneys will focus their work in more specialized practice areas. So if you live in a larger community, you first need to figure out what practice area would apply to your case. So, if you are charged with a crime, you are going to be looking for an attorney who focuses their practice on criminal defense. If you are getting divorced, you want an attorney who does family law.
Doing research on the internet is now the most common way of finding an attorney in your area who works in the practice area you need. Attorney websites should tell you what types of cases they handle. There are also third-party websites that do attorney listings and sometimes even reviews from former clients. Avvo.com (spell) is one well-known attorney listing website.
Preparing to Meet Your Attorney for the First Time
Once you have a list of possible attorneys, you will want to call their offices and inquire about initial consultations.
Establish the Consultation
Some attorneys do free consultation appointments, while others charge for those meetings. Some attorneys will also get busy enough that they will not accept new clients for periods of time. You will want to contact a few attorney offices to get this information. Once you have an appointment with a prospective attorney, you will want to be prepared for your first meeting.
Bring Paperwork and Questions
Bring any paperwork or information about your case to the first appointment. In the initial consultation, the attorney will typically want to hear all the details about your situation, and may be able to give an initial assessment of the work they might do for you. You may also want to inquire about the attorney’s experience with similar types of cases, or other professional qualifications. All of this information will help you assess if this is the right attorney for you.
Trust Your Instinct
Also, don’t forget to trust your instinct. Remember that you may be working closely with this attorney for some time, and you are going to be placing a great deal of trust in this person to handle your case properly. If you don’t feel a sense of connection and confidence in your first meeting, keep looking for an attorney who will be a better fit for you.
Contact an Attorney
Finding the right attorney can take some work. But having a knowledgeable, hardworking attorney on your side can make a huge difference in your life. This is attorney Adrian Madrone, and this ‘Know Your Rights’ segment has been brought to you by the Lustick, Kaiman & Madrone law firm, a full-service criminal defense firm in Bellingham, Washington.