Attorneys are often approached by people with challenging situations and in need of immediate help. In this article, Attorney Andrew Adams explains when to hire an attorney and why you should try to hire an attorney before you absolutely need one.
As attorneys, we are often approached by people in difficult situations who need immediate help. Many times, these situations are practically unavoidable, e.g., someone’s grandpa died without a will and an aunt is challenging the distributions; someone’s mom gave me them a share of the company’s stock, but now her business partner is trying to sell the company; or a supplier did not provide everything someone ordered. In those situations, we will meet you where you are and do what we can to help. That is part of our duty and our job as attorneys.
Do I need to hire an attorney?
Sometimes, bad situations are avoidable. Attorneys are often more effective if people come to us in a preventative capacity, kind of like medical doctors. To avoid my previous examples: talk to an attorney about putting together a will so your estate plan is clear and easy to manage for whoever must handle it after you pass. Have an attorney review the company bylaws before you sign them to make sure control of the business is clear to you. If you regularly use old contract forms for your business, consider having them reviewed and revised, or overhauled entirely, to better fit your business and make sure sales go the way you expect or that you have remedies if they do not. Any of the above should help avoid legal trouble, or if legal trouble arises, should make the way through a bit simpler. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
To further illustrate this point, a well-written contract may require several hours of an attorney’s time to create a first draft. Completing the draft of said contract could result in an invoice of a few thousand dollars by the time the attorney has made the client’s requested changes and the final product has been proofread by the attorney’s assistant. However, a well-written contract is more likely to provide the means to keep the parties out of court. One contested hearing in court can cost several thousand dollars in attorney fees, regardless of the outcome to the client. That court hearing or an order by the court that the poorly written contract is unenforceable can quickly prove the value of a well-written contract. There is no way around it: attorney fees are expensive. Needing to go to court only makes the fees harder to avoid because an attorney is so much more necessary to guide you through. The best way to avoid them is to get ahead of them. If you think you may need one, contact a firm and ask! The worst that can happen is you are told they cannot help, and in most cases, you will be referred to another firm which might be able to help.
Process of hiring an attorney
The process of hiring an attorney is relatively simple but does require a bit of work from the hiring party. First, call the law firm of your choice with some basic facts about your case to get things going. You should be asked about who will be involved in the case. That information is necessary to perform a conflict check. A conflict check is a search performed which ensures the law firm does not represent anyone who would be opposed to you doing whatever it is you want to do.
Second, you may have an initial consult scheduled with an attorney to see if the law firm can help you. Many times, these consults are free, but they may cost the equivalent of an hour or so of the attorney’s fee. Attorneys are not allowed to charge you any fees unless you agree in advance to pay the fees, so you should never be surprised by an initial consult fee after the consultation.
Third, if the law firm agrees to help you, and you want to hire the firm, they should provide you with an engagement agreement which will lay out the terms of the relationship. An engagement agreement should contain fee information, contact details, and other basic information about what the law firm expects in the relationship. If you have any questions, make sure to have someone from the law firm or another attorney explain the engagement agreement to you.
Finally, if you sign the engagement agreement, you may also be required to pay a retainer fee. A retainer fee is money you give to a law firm which the firm holds for you, in trust, in order to be certain, the firm will be paid for any work performed. For example, if you pay a retainer fee of $1000 and the attorney you hired only works for one hour at $200 per hour, you will still have $800 in your trust account. If no more work is performed, that $800 will be returned to you. Usually, the more complicated something seems, the more likely a law firm will require a higher retainer. Law firms do this because more complicated matters generally require more work up front by more experienced attorneys.
Hiring an attorney may seem like a big step, but speaking with an attorney now might help avoid some serious turmoil later on. Even so, if everything falls apart unexpectedly, we are just as willing to help you pick up the pieces and start putting them back together.
An attorney can usually help as much or more on the front end of a problem than we can on the back end. If you think an attorney might be helpful for your Wisconsin-based concerns, please consider contacting West & Dunn, LLC, for a free consultation. You can do so by calling 608-535-6420 or by sending a message through our Contact Us page. You may not know where to start, but starting the process is about as simple as calling our firm. We can help you with the rest.