Whitney Hughes, Director of the Allegheny County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service, frequently appears on the “Legal Briefs” segment of Pittsburgh Today Live on KDKA-TV. Following is a transcript from a KDKA appearance.
Consulting a Lawyer
There are so many options now to find legal help- many of which are on-line and it’s easy to be intimidated and overwhelmed. Keep several things in mind:
Style of a website is nice, but make sure it has substance as well
An attorney/firm’s website may not always be representative of what they do – they may highlight family law practice because that is the type of business they are seeking
Google is a fantastic tool, but it can be overwhelming – keep in mind that attorneys and firms can pay for higher Google rankings
Finding Someone To Represent You: Looking Online
Talking to a lawyer can be intimidating. When you are searching for an attorney to represent you in any matter, there are some important things to keep in mind.
Finding Someone The Old Fashioned Way
- Ask for recommendations from neighbors, friend and family, etc.
- Call the bar association (Lawyer Referral Service)
- Schedule a consultation with the attorney / find out if there is a fee to do so
- Find out how long they've been practicing, what kind of experience they have
- Be up front with them about exactly what you need them to do
- Find out what their fees are up front
- Ask if they carry malpractice insurance
Tips for Speaking with an Attorney
Keep it Simple: Who, What, When, Where
These are common rules that apply to many situations and dealing with a lawyer is no different.
Identify yourself. This will give an attorney the heads up if there are any potential conflicts and they should not be speaking with you.
Tell the attorney what you want them to do (ie; representing you at a hearing, making out a will; suing someone for damages). This is the actual heart of the matter so make sure you are specific.
If you have been served with court papers or have a deadline approaching let them know. An attorney needs to know right away if time is a factor and work needs to be done immediately.
It may seem silly, but let the attorney know where you are from and where any potential legal action may take place. Some attorneys may not practice in another jurisdiction and it’s much better to find that out in advance.
Don't Elaborate and Don't Get Overly Emotional
While the situation you are currently in may be very upsetting and you may be either or the verge of yelling or bursting into tears at any moment, it helps no one if the attorney has carved out an hour for you and you spend 45 minutes of it rehashing how someone has wronged, humiliated, disrespected or hurt you, or sobbing. Clear your head and make sure you are able to speak about a matter rationally before talking to the lawyer. Make sure you also clearly state what is happening now and what you want the attorney to do.
Ask Basic Questions About Their Experiences, Expectations and Costs
Asking an open-ended question like, “So what do you think my chances are?” and “You can win this right?” may end up getting you answers you don’t understand. Ask simple short, basic questions such as :
How long have you been practicing?
Have you handled cases like this before?
How do you structure your fees?
Do you carry liability insurance?
If the Attorney Tells You Something You Don't Understand, Stop Them and Ask for Clarification
If you don’t understand something, but you just skip over it and assume you’ll figure it out later – don’t. It’s far better to make sure you completely understand something before moving on to the next step, otherwise you and the attorney may have very different views of what is or will be happening.
If You're Having Trouble Finding Someone to Accept Your Case – It May Just Not Be A Good Case
There may be very good legal reasons why attorneys are not willing to accept your case. You may be past a filing deadline, the amount you are trying to recover may be too small to justify expending money on attorney’s fees or the person you are trying to sue may not have enough money to pay any amount you may be awarded. While you may want your case handled just on principle alone – attorneys are not willing to do that. They must be sure that a case is not only legitimate, but worth pursuing and expending their time and your money on.
Once You've Become a Client Remember, TIME IS MONEY
Attorneys do charge for their time. Continuous calling will end up costing you money.
The Allegheny County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service can help you find an attorney equipped to handle this specific type of case. To speak with an attorney or for more information, call 412-261-5555 or click here.