At some point in our lives, all of us have problems that get us thinking about calling a lawyer. For many, it is a debilitating accident that gets them to consider contacting a lawyer for assistance. The incident could have been the result of another person’s carelessness, in which case the victim can seek compensation for their resulting losses. A conversation with an attorney can help determine whether or not a victim has a valid claim.
On the other hand, many also have the impression that lawyers are expensive. If an accident victim, who is already facing a flood of new expenses, believes they will have to pay just to talk to a lawyer, they might shy away from doing so. The good news is that talking with and retaining a lawyer can be affordable for anyone, as explained in this piece.
The Process of a Lawsuit
If you are injured in an accident, you may need to file a lawsuit to recover compensation. This may start with the injured filing a complaint against the defendant or defendants in civil court. The defendant has a limited amount of time to answer the complaint.
The defendant’s answer might admit to some portions of the complaint and contest others. The answer will state any affirmative defenses a defendant might have as well. A defendant might also file a motion to dismiss for many technical legal grounds.
After the defendant has filed an answer and/or the plaintiff staves off a motion to dismiss, the case will move on to discovery, which is an evidence-gathering stage. During discovery, the parties may request information and documents from one another and may take depositions of one another and any witnesses.
Even though many lawsuits are filed and even go through some level of discovery, most are settled before going to trial. If the parties can find no settlement they can each live with, the only way to resolve the case is to have a judge or jury hear the evidence and issue a ruling in favor of one of the parties.
The Fees and Costs of an Attorney
With all of the complexity in filing a lawsuit, many would like to hire an attorney, but first need to know the fees and costs they will face in doing so. The price of hiring the services of a lawyer can vary based on the firm and its location. The nature or complexity of a client’s case can influence an attorney’s rates as well.
You will discuss and agree on fees with your lawyer before retaining them. Some attorneys charge their clients by the hour, and the rate may change based on your lawyer's experience. A partner who has worked at a firm for a long time may charge a higher rate than a new associate.
However, many people are unable to come up with enough money in advance to pay for a lawyer while their compensation claims are pending. Law firms have long known this, and thus most offer a contingency-fee arrangement, rather than billing by the hour.
In a contingency-fee arrangement, the client pays no money to have the attorney start work on a case. Instead, the parties agree that the lawyer gets a percentage of any compensation they recover on behalf of the client.
Costs are separate from attorney fees, and they relate to the expenses a law office incurs. The expenses include filing fees, postage, expert witnesses, and depositions. Your attorney usually deducts the costs from your settlement or court award of damages after the case.
Is a Consultation With a Lawyer Free?
Before you hire an attorney, you can meet with them for a confidential consultation. During a consultation, you can discuss the accident and the attorney can help determine if you have a viable case.
You should be able to ask the lawyer questions to form an opinion about their work experience, case approach, and other characteristics. You can also ask the attorney any questions you may have about their fee and cost arrangements.
One concern victims may have is if they have to pay for the initial consultation. In almost all cases, the answer is no. Attorneys want victims to feel at liberty to explore their legal options without worrying about undertaking any financial obligations in addition to the deluge of expenses they incur from their accidents. Thus, your consultation is most likely simply a no-obligation, risk-free opportunity to decide whether getting a lawyer is right for your case.
What if You Cannot Afford a Lawyer?
Of course, there are many cases where people cannot afford a lawyer. The aforementioned contingency-fee arrangement applies primarily to personal injury cases, and not necessarily to other civil issues. According to Legal Services Corporation, an estimated 86 percent of civil issues among low-income citizens received insufficient or no legal help.
Even so, victims who can’t afford to pay for an attorney may have options. Attorneys are generally expected to fulfill some number of hours of pro bono (free) legal work every year. If a client can find an attorney who will take on their case pro bono, they will not have to pay anything in legal fees.
Legal aid clinics are also great resources for free legal advice. Legal aid clinics have teams of attorneys specializing in different areas who can advise on a host of issues. Similarly, law schools often have clinics with law students who can, under the supervision of a law-licensed clinical professor, provide free legal advice and representation to those who cannot afford an attorney.
You may also reach out to your state bar association for direction to free and affordable legal services options.
Is Self-Representation an Option?
Many people consider the possibility of representing themselves. If you decide to pursue a personal injury lawsuit on your own, you become a pro se litigant. Around 76,512 pro se litigants file claims every year. However, a majority of plaintiffs have a lawyer by their side.
You might forgo an attorney if the injuries are minor and the defendant readily admits fault. However, self-representation might be detrimental in cases involving more severe injuries or when the defendant vigorously disputes fault.
Furthermore, unexpected issues can arise while a claim is pending. Perhaps a defendant initially admitted fault, but their insurer denies and refuses to settle. A pro se litigant could face delay as they try to figure out how to get an insurance company to negotiate.
If a pro se litigant takes their case to court, they need to ensure they comply with court procedures and evidentiary rules the same as everyone else. This can be an intimidating experience, particularly as many pro se litigants deal with the court system for the first time.
Hire an attorney. Attorneys take away the stress of bringing a claim pro se while offering valuable legal services. Again, with most attorneys, a first consultation is free. Take advantage of that free consultation as you decide to hire an attorney.