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3 FindLaw Articles to Read Before Hiring a Lawyer

Let's be honest: practically no one enjoys the prospect of hiring a lawyer. Not even lawyers themselves. But, like a good auto mechanic, you're always glad they're around when you need one. The law, like an automatic transmission, is complicated and requires the know-how of a trained professional -- even though it can be frustrating to not understand what it is you're paying for. Life is full of risks; so it pays to understand the process of hiring a lawyer when you need help filing a successful injury claim, defending against a frivolous lawsuit, or staying out of prison.

Just like your car will need maintenance and repair throughout its lifetime, you most likely will need a lawyer at some point. FindLaw's extensive Guide to Hiring a Lawyer will help you determine whether you need counsel, how to choose the right lawyer, and how to make sense of attorney fees and agreements. Below, we discuss three essential articles from the section:

1. Do You Need a Lawyer?

Truth is, you don't always need a lawyer when confronted with a legal process or dispute. For instance, you may decide against using an attorney if you find yourself in small claims court or mediation. Meanwhile, certain legal processes -- such as writing a valid will -- can be achieved using do-it-yourself legal kits or with the help of a non attorney (such as a paralegal or form preparer). If your family's income is below a certain level, you may qualify for free or reduced-cost legal services at a community legal clinic.

But whether you need to hire a lawyer really depends on your particular situation. The cost of an attorney must be weighed against the costs of not hiring one, which can be quite substantial. And when it comes to felony criminal charges, for example, it's hard to put a price tag on one's freedom.

In addition to understanding the complexities of the law, an experienced attorney also will know how to navigate the particular nuances of your local court. For instance, your attorney may have a strong track record convincing opposing counsel to drop claims, enter into settlement, or otherwise strike deals that work for both parties. In fact, it's often a good sign when your attorney personally knows the opposing party's attorney (but even if they look like old friends, rest assured your attorney is working for you).

2. Ten Questions to Ask Your Potential Lawyer

When it comes to hiring a lawyer, remember that you have choices. Not all attorneys have the right experience, temperament, or training for your case or just aren't the right fit. Sometimes even the most experienced and successful attorney can be wrong for your needs if you simply don't "click" on an interpersonal level. Trust and clear communication between client and attorney are absolutely crucial to any case.

This article lists 10 important questions you should ask an attorney before signing on the dotted line. These include questions about legal experience, the types of cases typically handled, any additional training or experience that would help your case, and the likely outcome of your case. Most lawyers will provide a free initial consultation, which is an opportunity for both parties to figure out whether they should work together.

3. Attorney Fees and Costs

Sure, everyone likes to complain about the high cost of legal representation; and some people like to villainize trial lawyers and so-called "ambulance-chasers." But keep in mind that these lawyers help keep businesses, employers, and individuals in check by defending the rights of those who have been wronged in some way. And while lawyers don't win every case -- which can be a bitter pill to swallow -- the cost of legal services usually pales in comparison to the risks of not having counsel.

Once you have decided to lawyer-up, you will be presented with a written representation agreement that details the terms of the attorney-client relationship, including the payment of fees and legal costs. Legal fees are the payments directly related to the work of the attorney and his or her staff (billable hours, for example), while legal costs include things like the hiring of expert witnesses, travel expenses, and even photocopying.

If you find yourself in need of a lawyer, you will undoubtedly have a better experience -- and possibly a better outcome for your case -- by taking some time to understand how legal fees and costs are tabulated.

You probably pump your own gas, and perhaps have even changed the oil a few times. But while you may not understand exactly how your local mechanic tuned-up your prized sports car, you're sure happy with the results. Similarly, it really pays to leave the more-complex legal matters up to the professionals. Check out FindLaw's lawyer directory to find a qualified attorney near you.