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Hiring a Lawyer: Finding a Trusted Adviser


“Never leave that till tomorrow, which you can do today” – Benjamin Franklin

Last week you learned about being your own attorney. Well, if that is not for you, then you are going to need to select a lawyer to address your legal needs. Venturing into the world of finding a lawyer may seem daunting. You may not know who to call. Should you reach for the phone book? The newspaper? The computer? If you need a lawyer, or think you might, you should start your search promptly. If you delay this, you run risks and create unnecessary stress. For example, if you are a Colorado resident and are served with a lawsuit, you have twenty days to answer. If you start searching for an attorney right away, you will have a choice of available attorneys. You can conduct a couple of interviews and hire a lawyer who has a few days to assist you in preparing a timely response.

The following should be considered to ensure that you do not just hire a lawyer, but that you engage someone who will quickly become: a trusted adviser.

1. Seek a referral. The best place to start is to talk with your family, friends, and colleagues about lawyers they recommend. These people can tell you about their experiences and whether they were satisfied with their attorneys. While your parents’ estate planning lawyer may not be able to defend you against the crime of which you have been accused, good lawyers will usually point you in the direction of other good lawyers.

2. Arrange for a meeting. Meet with the lawyer you are considering hiring to get a feel of whether you will be able to work with that lawyer. Be aware that many lawyers charge for an initial consultation, so to make the most of your time be prepared to present a brief, clear summary of your legal issue. A good lawyer will explain your options and the legal procedures you will encounter at your initial consultation.

3. Look for a good fit. Make sure the lawyer you are considering hiring has experience in handling your specific legal issue. Most lawyers concentrate in one or more areas of law. It is also important that your lawyer has knowledge of the judge or legal environment you are facing. Finally, you should consider the lawyer’s personality and approach to the case. You do not need to become friends with your lawyer, but your lawyer should be someone that you can work with. At the minimum, you should ensure that your trusted adviser listens to you, answers your questions, and respects your wishes as to the direction that the case goes.

4. Learn how you will be charged. Lawyers may charge an hourly fee, a one-time flat fee, or a fee based upon a percentage of the amount awarded to you at the end of the case. The fee depends on the type of case and the attorney’s practice. Ask the attorney about how small fees, such a copying, faxing, and filing are assessed. Usually a retainer, or advance payment, is required and your attorney should explain how that money will be handled. Learn whether the lawyer works alone or has a paralegal and administrative support staff. Paralegals and support staff can sometimes complete tasks at a lower rate, which will likely save you money in the long run.

5. The Three As: Availability, Affability, and Ability. How quickly you can secure an appointment for an initial consultation should tell you something about your lawyer’s availability. Your trusted adviser should return your phone calls and e-mails within a reasonable time. Your lawyer should be a person you can trust to be honest with you through difficult times. Your lawyer should have the experience to provide you with current legal advice, as well as what to expect from the judge who may decide the outcome of your case.

The bottom line is that your lawyer should be a trusted adviser, especially in tough times. You will be able to rely on your lawyer as a source of advice and support. Because your relationship with your lawyer is trust-based, taking the time to select a lawyer that will be candid and honest with you will pay off in the end. In closing, an old adage comes to mind – “They that will not be counseled, cannot be helped.”

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Originally published in The Steamboat Local

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“So you wanna be your own lawyer?”

You are the captain of your own ship; the creator of your own destiny.  Why not navigate the legal system as a pro se litigant? (Pronounced “pro-say” pro se is Latin for “on one’s own behalf”)  Read on and I will direct you to a resource available to you that can provide basic knowledge of some skills you will need to have in order to succeed in Court.

Without the right navigational system, (radar, sonar, Google Maps, Rand McNally, GPS), you are bound to get lost.  Court is the same–without the right “map,” you could find that you are on the wrong route.  The sense of panic a lost traveler encounters when they misplace their passport is the same feeling a confused pro se party can encounter when tossed by the currents of the judicial system.

What is meant to preserve civility and prevent chaos often makes pro se parties feel disheartened, disadvantaged and distraught.  Without forewarning, you could find yourself in the eye of a tumultuous hurricane, and I am not talking about the delicious grenadine spiked libation.  You need a life preserver, some basic information.

What you need as a pro se litigant is a base knowledge of the rules of evidence, the rules of court procedure, and the law.  What evidence is relevant? What procedure applies?  Civil? Small Claims? Traffic?  What is the law?

Court is where you go to fight a legal issue with your opponent.  Court is adversarial.  However, for this battle you will need to leave your joust at home, your horse in the barn and really think through your plan of attack to persuade the judge to your point of view.

Fortunately, for the pro se litigant, the Colorado Bar Association offers free information online.  This website provides guidance to the pro se litigant by offering basic tools that you will need to present an effective case.

So, you visit the website, read the literature; outline your script; watch twenty episodes of Law & Order, and prepare a three-ring binder of information to present to the judge.  You have read rules until your brain hurts.  You’re ready.

You proceed to the courthouse and make your way to the right court room.  If all goes well, the judge is there, your opponent is there, and your case is called on schedule. The judge sounds friendly, asks if you’re ready to proceed, and your mind goes blank.  (Right about now would be a convenient time for an electricity outage or a fire alarm drill.)

However, because you have prepared for this adventure, you regain composure, make your opening statement and present your side of the story to the Judge.  You make it through your day in court unscathed.  The success or failure of your mission, in the end, will depend on how well you have prepared, and when it comes down to it, the Judge will tell you whether or not your mission was accomplished.  In parting, my general advice is to cultivate your own sensibility and strategy toward fairness and always read the fine print.  To borrow words from a mentor: Don’t bring a knife to a gun-fight.  Good Luck and Carpe Diem.

Originally published in The Steamboat Local

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