The right STATE?
Because of the expanding use of the world wide web, this office has either provided services, or dealt with inquiries from Italy, Egypt, Bosnia, Hong Kong, China, Germany and Greece, as well as from many different States. People in foreign countries -- and even in our country, do not realize that in the United States lawyers must be "admitted to
the bar" on a state by state basis, or, in the case of federal Courts, by individual Court systems.
If there is a reason to hire a lawyer to perform services 50 to 150 miles from the location of the law offices, and if she agrees to get involved in your problems, you will pay the additional costs and expenses involved in travel, and long absences from the office.
The right geographical area of the correct State?
There are large law firms that have offices all over the country, and in different locations within several states. If you choose one of those law firms you will not necessarily have any control over which lawyer actually does your work.
If you want control over who actually performs legal services for you, you will need to choose a lawyer with an office in close proximity to you, and/or close to the Court where the problem exists.
...or should you see a financial planner, certified public accountant, or counselor, first? For instance, if your problem involves planning for disposition of a very large estate upon your death or disability -- you need a lawyer to implement your plan -- and for advice as you consider alternatives. If the alternatives are based upon tax considerations, you will need to discuss your concerns with a certified public accountant -- possibly before seeing the lawyer. Some CPAs have fine web sites which may help you in your planning.
Big firm? Small firm? "Guaranties"? Experience?
Lawyers are called many things: lawyer, attorney, barrister, solicitor,
rechtsanwalt, anwalt, advokat, avvokat, -- even notary. Finding a lawyer who performs the tasks one needs, in the way needed may be a huge problem.
There are advantages to big firms and small firms. Big firms, with many lawyers, may have "in house" expertise in many different types of problems. There are large law firms that have offices all over the world, the
country, and in different locations within several states. If you choose one of those law firms someone (a lawyer) from that firm can represent you in all of those locations. But you cannot necessarily be sure who is actually performing your legal work, and it could be a brand new associate, who is learning how to practice law on your case. Sometimes you can direct who will perform your work, but you must discuss your specific wishes with your law firm before making your choice.
Choosing a lawyer with an office in the geographical area in which
you live, and in proximity to to the Court where the problem exists may make it easier to actually keep track of the progression of your legal matter. If you choose a smaller firm, or sole practitioner, the lawyer
you talk to will most likely be the person who performs services for
you, and the person who answers your questions when you contact the law
Competence of a lawyer
Non lawyers usually cannot make reliable judgments as to the competence of a lawyer. Since lawyers must go to school for many years, and pass comprehensive tests to be able to practice law, just the fact that they are licensed should mean that they are competent. A difference of opinion as to the law, or a negative ruling in a particular court case, does not necessarily mean that the lawyer is not competent.
But it is okay to ask one lawyer about his or her opinions and preferences as to the methods and skills of other lawyers. Sometimes the only way a client can judge the quality of a lawyer's work is through talking to other lawyers, and the client's own evaluation of the lawyer's personal
qualities. If you are to obtain helpful information from one lawyer about the skills of another lawyer, you would have to rely on well structured questions, and the absence of a positive statement as to
the other lawyer's skills.
Question: "Is lawyer A a good lawyer?"
Lawyer B: "I don't really know what you mean by good -- but he seems to be pretty aggressive...."
The lawyer you choose should make you feel comfortable, and answer your questions to your satisfaction. It is a good idea to talk things through before making your choice and then rely on the lawyer you choose to do her best.
It is worth the expense to talk to at least one or two lawyers about how to choose a lawyer, for your kind of problem, the questions you should ask, and the skills and characteristics of specific lawyers you are
Lawyers want to feel comfortable with their clients, also. A lawyer has to be pretty "hungry" to agree to deal with complaining clients, who don't follow instructions, don't pay their bills, treat office staff in a disrespectful manner, are suspicious of their own lawyer's good will, and EXPECT to be cheated and dissatisfied with the services.
A lawyer cannot evaluate your legal problem without certain information. Your VERBAL account of the problem is not enough, if ANY documents exist. The lawyer will want to see contracts, deeds, letters (to and from you), and, if Court action is involved, copies of
the "pleadings" and "docket sheet." The "pleadings" are certain documents with legal significance: the Petition (the first document filed which opens up a case), the Answer (what the other side files in response to the Petition), and any written "Orders" or "Judgments" the Judge issues. The "docket sheet' is the record that the Court keeps of everything that happens in your case. You can usually obtain a copy of the docket sheet by going to the Circuit Clerk, and asking for a copy. You may have to pay a small charge.
If you obtain an appointment with a lawyer, ask if you should deliver copies of your documents a day before the appointment, so that the lawyer can evaluate them before the conference. Even just a few minutes of looking over the documents before the conference may save the lawyer a lot of time, and you money.
Unless your lawyer is your mother, father, husband, wife, or child. And even then...
Lawyers know legal costs are a major financial expense to clients, and try to structure fees in a way that is fair. Every lawyer has her own way of structuring fees. If a lawyer is doing more than an isolated, simple task, you will probably have a written contract, which will set everything out in detail.
Hourly charges for services may be different for office, or non Court time, and time spent in hearings or Court appearances. In addition to payment for services, the client also pays all costs, which includes things like filing fees, long distance phone calls, postage, copy machine charges, mileage, and legal assistant time. The law sets minimum and
maximum lawyer fees for certain kinds of cases, such as probate, bankruptcy, and workers' compensation cases.
A deposit, or surety, will be required, in an amount which will cover the expenses of getting everything started. The amount of deposit will be more if, for instance, you are a new client, have many debts, or are from out of state. A prior client who had already established a payment record might not have to pay the same deposit as a new client would have to pay. Be sure to ask questions of any lawyer if you don't understand fees and
costs. Hard feelings develop because of misunderstandings.
If you would like more specific information from Attorney Peggy Hedrick, check the other pages, and/or send a message! As
time permits, I will try to respond to your brief questions. If you KNOW you are in the wrong place -- and, for instance, you need an attorney in St. Louis, or information on immigration law, search for those links. If you want to explore the Springfield, Missouri, area, try the City of Springfield web page, or the web page of the local Chamber of Commerce, which does have a listing of its attorney-members.