How to Find a Lawyer
Why hire a lawyer?
Using the court or handling a legal matter without a lawyer is hard and risky. Even in what seems like a simple matter, you may inadvertently waive your rights, overlook an option or make a matter worse by going it alone. The law and the courts are full of unfamiliar terms, technical rules and complex procedures. A lawyer can help you protect yourself.
Types of lawyer services
With traditional representation, the lawyer represents you in every part of a case or situation. Most often, this is done on an hourly basis. One challenge is that it is often difficult for you or the lawyer to know what the total cost will be.
Single Task Representation
This is often called “unbundled” or “limited scope” representation. In this situation a lawyer will do a single project or part of a case for you. This may include things like preparing a deed or a will or helping you with court paperwork. A new approach this kind of representation is to divide duties between the lawyer and the client. This approach is still rare in Michigan.
This is a kind of single task representation involving one or more visits with a lawyer to have them understand the basics of your legal situation and give you advice about what to do. It is not uncommon to have several options for how to solve a legal problem. A lawyer can advise you about which option is right for you.
Types of Legal Fees
Most legal work, including traditional representation, single task representation or advice visits, is done on a hourly basis. You are charged per hour at the lawyer’s hourly rate for all the work done for you. This can include time spent talking with you in person or by phone, talking with the other lawyer, appearing in court including time waiting, preparing for court, drafting court or other documents, even thinking and planning. Often you are asked to pay a “retainer,” that is an amount paid up front to cover the hourly costs. After the initial retainer is gone you are expected to either pay an additional retainer or pay the balance monthly.
With a flat fee the lawyer agrees to provide an agreed service for a fixed amount. Such as prepare a Will, handle an uncontested divorce or file a bankruptcy for “X” dollars.
With a contingent fee, the lawyer is paid a percentage of the money recovered for the client. This is common for various kinds of injury cases.
How to find a lawyer
Use a Lawyer Referral Service
In Kent County, the Grand Rapids Bar Association Lawyers Referral and Information Service will connect you with a lawyer who will provide a 30 minute consultation for $25. To schedule an appointment call 616-855-0273.
Look for a Lawyer Online
You can search for lawyers online by including “lawyer,” “Grand Rapids,” and the area of law you need such as “divorce.” At the top of your search results will be companies who list lawyers and law firms. Lawyers often have to pay to have their names appear first on these lists. Go further and look at individual lawyer websites. Most websites include pictures, bios, and other information that may help you decide if this is someone you like and trust and is experienced in the legal area you need.
Use the Phone Book
There are still lawyer listings and ads in the phone book. Again, go the lawyer website to get more information.
Get Recommendations from Friends and Other Professionals
Someone who has actually worked with a lawyer directly can share their experience, whether they were happy with the service they received and what the costs were. Perhaps someone from your church, a friend or family member can make a recommendation.
You may see ads on television for lawyers. Often these lawyers are not located in West Michigan. Find a lawyer who practices near where you live or where your case is filed so you can have a lawyer who does not have to travel to represent you and is familiar with the local courts and court procedure.
How to Pick a Lawyer
Call and Ask Questions
Once you have a few names, call their offices. Ask if they will do a free initial conference. If it is not free, what does it cost? Ask if they are willing to give legal advice at a first visit? You want to know how much information you can expect to get before you commit to hiring the lawyer. If you only want an advice visit, be clear about that. You don’t want to pay for a meeting that is just a “hire me” pitch when what you came for was information and advice. You may have to give them your name and the name of the other party so they can make sure they don’t have a conflict. That is to make sure they have not talked to or represented the other party.
Meet with the Lawyer
Once you have shortened your list with phone calls, arrange a meeting with the person you liked most. Be clear about whether the meeting will be free or not. If you are going to hire someone to represent you, you want to make sure it is someone you like, respect and trust. Ask them about similar work they have done and what the results have been. Ask them what you can expect in your situation. Have an honest and direct conversation about the fees.
Signing a Fee Agreement
Most lawyers will require you to sign a fee agreement. A Fee Agreement should spell out what you are required to pay and when along with what legal services the attorney will provide. Take any Agreement home to consider and review it. Make sure you understand it and can afford the fees you have agreed to pay before you sign it.
What to Do When You Can’t Afford a Lawyer
Legal Aid of Western Michigan
Legal Aid of Western Michigan is a law firm for low income people. Staffed with highly skilled attorneys, Legal Aid provides full representation for the cases they take. To qualify for Legal Aid you must be low income and have a kind of case Legal Aid is able to take. Contact Legal Aid of Western Michigan at (616) 774-0672 or go to www.legalaidwestmich.org.
Pro Bono (Free) Legal Services
Many lawyers provide pro bono or free legal services. To connect with pro bono representation, you must be income qualified for Legal Aid and get a referral from the Legal Aid Pro Bono Program to a local attorney. Contact Legal Aid of Western Michigan at (616) 774-0672 or go to www.legalaidwestmich.org. You can also ask attorneys if they are able to represent you for free or at a lower rate.
Get Help at the Legal Assistance Center
The Legal Assistance Center located on the 5th Floor of the Kent County Courthouse offers free legal help including the opportunity to ask questions, get information, forms and guidance to help you represent yourself. The LAC does not provide legal representation or give legal advice. It is designed to help you help yourself. Walk in Tuesday to Friday 8:30 am to 5 pm, call 616-632-6000 or go to www.legalassistancecenter.org
Use Michigan Legal Help
The online self help resource website Michigan Legal Help offers informational articles, toolkits that include form generating interviews and online chat services. The forms offered by Michigan Legal Help are designed to be accepted by any court in Michigan. Michigan Legal Help will also help you find lawyer referral services and other referral sources across the state. Go to michiganlegalhelp.org.