Questions you might ask your potential attorney


Entering into an attorney client relationship is an important process. Knowing what to ask a prospective attorney is an essential element of the process. Below are some sample questions to keep in mind when considering who should represent you.

  • What is your experience in this area of law?
  • If you do not practice in this area of law, could you recommend a lawyer who does?
  • Would you provide me with references?
  • What are your rates and how often will you bill me?
  • Approximately how long will it take to resolve my case?
  • How will you keep me informed of progress?
  • How can I contact you?
  • Who can I talk to if you are unavailable?
  • Who else in the office will be working on my case?
  • What are my alternatives in resolving the case?
  • Do you recommend mediation or arbitration?
  • What can I do to help the case?




Common Situations for which a lawyer should definitely be consulted are:


  • You are being sued.
  • You have been involved in an accident resulting in personal injury or property damage.
  • You are planning to purchase a home or other real property.
  • You are starting, selling, or closing down a business.




Types of Fees and Expenses


There are several types of lawyers' fees depending on the type of case. Flat Fees: These are typically used for routine services such as wills, deeds, adoptions, and uncontested divorces. If complications develop that require additional work, an additional fee may be required. Hourly Fees: Before agreeing to an hourly fee, have the lawyer estimate how many hours your case may take. Then, make sure you are notified periodically of how many hours the lawyer has put into your case and the amount of the total. Since hourly rates for work done by junior associates, law students, and paralegals are less, make sure the lawyer explains who will be working on the case and that an appropriate hourly rate is set. Contingent Percentage Fees: The attorney is paid a "contingent" fee only if he or she is successful in recovering money. All contingent fee arrangements must be in writing. Many attorneys take personal injury cases, collection cases, and employment-related injury cases on a contingency fee basis. This allows a client without much money to pursue a claim that would be out of reach if she or she had to pay an hourly fee. Retainer Fees: There are two kinds of "retainers": Those paid as a down payment at the beginning of a case, and those paid monthly or annually (usually by a business) to insure the continuous availability of a lawyer or firm for ongoing, routine legal needs. Costs and Expenses: Some costs and expenses will be charged regardless of the billing method such as court filing fees, service fees for delivering documents, witness fees, phone calls, etc. These expenses are not part of the legal fees and are often simply called "costs." You must pay the costs and expenses that relate directly to your case, regardless of the fee arrangement you have with your lawyer. Your lawyer will usually pay these costs as they are incurred, and you will be billed for them at regular intervals or at the close of the case




Responsibilities of Lawyers and Clients


Lawyers
Every lawyer's actions are controlled by personal judgment, experience, the law, and court rules. Michigan lawyers are also bound by the Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct. If a lawyer's conduct falls below the standards stet forth in the Rules of Professional Conduct, the Michigan State Bar can discipline him or her.
A lawyer is also bound by the civil and criminal laws of the land, but because of the special position of trust and confidence in a lawyer/client relationship, lawyers may also be punished for things which are not illegal--such as telling others confidential information about a client or having a conflict of interest with a client. A number of strict rules and common sense guidelines define these responsibilities.

  • Competence. Every lawyer must aim to provide high quality work following the client's decisions. A lawyer should advise a client of possible actions, even strongly urge a course of action, then acting according to the client's choice of action--even if the lawyer would have picked a different route.
  • Diligence. Every lawyer has a duty to act carefully and as quickly as possible in handling a client's legal problem.
  • Communication. A lawyer has a duty to communicate effectively with a client.
  • Fees. The amount the lawyer charges for legal work must be "reasonable" in relation to the services provided.
  • Confidentiality. A lawyer may not tell anyone else what a client reveals about a case (with certain exceptions for potentially dangerous situations). This is called "attorney/client privilege."
  • Conflicts of Interest. The Rules of Professional Conduct require a lawyer to be loyal to a client. That means that a lawyer cannot represent two clients who are on opposite sides in the same or two related lawsuits unless both clients give permission. For example, a lawyer cannot represent a client whose interests conflict with the lawyer's interest such as drafting a will for a client who is leaving the lawyer property in the will.
  • Keeping a client's property. If a lawyer holds a client's money or property, it must be kept safely and separately from the lawyer's own funds or property. A lawyer must provide an accounting of your property or money upon your request.
Clients A good lawyer/client relationship involves cooperation on both sides. As a client, you should do all you can to make sure you get the best possible legal help. To do so, you must hold up your end of the responsibilities.
  • Be honest. Tell all the facts, good and bad, to your lawyer.
  • Notify your lawyer of changes. Tell the lawyer promptly about any change or new information that may affect your case. This includes letting your lawyer know if and why you are unhappy with his or her work.
  • Ask for clarification. If you have any questions or are confused about something in your case, ask your lawyer for an explanation.
  • Be realistic. There are two sides to every dispute. A lawyer can only handle your legal affairs. Also, keep in mind that most legal matters cannot be resolved overnight; give the system time to work.
  • Pay. A client has a duty to promptly pay a fair and reasonable price for legal services. When a client fails to pay, the lawyer may have the right to stop working further on the case. Still, the lawyer must then do whatever is reasonably possible to prevent the client's case of being harmed.




What to look for in an effective lawyer


We wish to thank the Honorable Larry M. Boyle, U.S. District Chief Magistrate Judge for granting use permission to re-print the following portion of his book, The Traits, Qualities and Characteristics of Highly Effective Lawyers. The Honorable Larry M. Boyle, U.S. Chief Magistrate Judge for the District of Idaho, has made the following observations concerning his opinion of effective attorneys. Judge Boyle's observations are based on his years in private practice and as a judge. Integrity and Honesty A forthright, trustworthy, and reasonable lawyer is a great asset to a client. Any departure from these principles cannot be excused or justified as zealous advocacy. Once a judge or lawyer has been initially mislead by another attorney, confidence and trust is lost or damaged. Once trust and respect has been lost, it is often difficult to restore. When trust and respect are present counsel are able to work cooperatively, are generally in a better position to reach a fair, balanced resolution of a dispute at substantially less financial and emotional cost to the client, and, as a result, are far more likely to resolve a dispute without necessary court intervention. Clients should expect their attorneys to be honest in dealing with them and with the court. Competence Competency is built upon a foundation of quality education, training, mentoring, thoroughness, preparation, experience, punctuality, and continuing development of skills and abilities. Competency is not always measured by financial success. Competency is a developed trait, and when combined with intelligence, integrity, and honesty, will surely lead to trust, effectiveness, respect, and success. Clients should expect their legal counsel to be highly competent. Preparation an effective attorney is always well prepared. A prepared attorney always researches controlling law and gathers facts before making demands on other parties or commencing an action. Moreover, a prepared attorney studies and reviews a client's file, affidavits, submissions, and briefs several days before the scheduled court proceeding and then again the day or afternoon before the court appearance. A prepared attorney always seeks resolution in a cost-effective manner that is mutually beneficial to both parties while strongly advocating his and her client's position. Clients should expect their legal counsel to be well prepared. Professionalism & Civility A professional attorney is both courteous and civil with opposing counsel, his or her client, and the court. A professional attorney communicates with opposing counsel on a regular, frequent basis to keep the case or transaction moving. The "meanest SOB" or the "bulldog" is not necessarily the most effective attorney. Oftentimes such tactics do not advance the client's interest. Similarly, courts are not impressed with attorneys who waste the court's time with matters that could be reasonably settled. In addition, a professional attorney communicates with clients on a regular basis to report on the status and any new developments in the client's case. Furthermore, a professional attorney responds to a client's telephone calls and requests in a timely manner. A professional attorney always listens to and learns from the client's questions and concerns. Clients should expect their attorneys to be professional and civil in handling their legal matter.





Frequently Asked Questions