The Mayer Law Blog

Tips on Being a Savvy Consumer of Legal Services

Posted May 16th, 2016 in General

So, you think you need a lawyer. This is nothing new. People have faced the need for a lawyer’s help for centuries, if not millennia. However, shopping for legal services can be a daunting task, and most individuals do it wrong. This is especially prevalent in the area of military law with military lawyers because we are scattered throughout the United States. This post is designed to help you to be a more savvy consumer when searching for a lawyer (or military lawyer).

First, do your research. Do not call a lawyer until you’ve learned a bit about your case and lawyers who might handle the case. We can tell if you haven’t.

  1. Know the area of law in which your case falls. If you need a divorce, you should be searching specifically for divorce attorneys. If you are looking for representation with a military discharge upgrade, you should find a military attorney who focuses a significant part of their practice on discharge upgrades. Gone are the days of the general practice lawyer. Everyone has developed a niche. You need to find the correct niche for your case.
  2. After finding the correct legal niche, read the bios of the lawyers you intend to interview. Look at their backgrounds. Look at the year in which they became a lawyer. (Hint: If they don’t publish their law school graduation date, that should be a red flag to you.) Do they seem like the type of person with whom you can work? Do they use a lot of buzz words, making you think they are more salesman than lawyer? Do they have experience with cases like yours? These are important things to consider.
  3. Determine your budget. Lawyers had to pay a lot for their education, and becoming proficient in the law takes many, many years. So, you’ll need to budget accordingly. Generally, less complicated cases cost between $500 and $5000. More complicated matters that involve travel and detailed research cost, well, more than $5000. Part of this budget should include an allowance for consultation fees. Talk about your budget with your spouse before you call a lawyer. If you tell a lawyer, “I just need to talk to my spouse about this” after a fee is quoted, the lawyer will presume you haven’t done your homework first.

After doing a bit of homework, you then can start calling lawyers. Here are a few things about those calls.

  1. Consultation fees. Many lawyers brag about free consultations. Remember the old adage, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch?” Well, that applies here, too. Free consultations are designed to help the lawyer, not you. Some lawyers, like personal injury lawyers, offer free consultations because their business model requires it. However, most experienced lawyers charge consultation fees. I’ve heard of consultation fees as low as $25 and as high as $250. Mine is $75, which I think is reasonable for the time and value given to clients. A willingness to pay a consultation fee shows that you understand the value of legal services and that you are serious about securing quality legal representation. Individuals who demand free consultations usually have no intention of paying for legal services, they just want as much free as they can get.
  2. Is this lawyer the right fit? When you speak to a lawyer, gauge how well that lawyer’s personality fits with what you want. Some potential clients need a lawyer who is gentle, nurturing, and a good listener. They want positive feedback and constant affirmation. For these people, they should seek a lawyer who seems ready to provide this type of feedback and attention. Other potential clients want a lawyer who gets right to the point, is blunt, and focuses on results. I tend to be this type. Ultimately, you need to find the right personality fit for your case and personality. No lawyer is the right fit for every potential client.
  3. Does the lawyer have a game plan? Does the lawyer appear to understand the necessary steps and possible pitfalls? Do they understand the end state and likely courses of action?
  4. Fees. Does the lawyer have a logical method for determining fees, or is he just guessing a number that you are likely to pay without asking questions? I base my fees on the amount of time that I think I’ll spend on your case multiplied by my hourly rate. The time is based on my experience with these types of cases.
  5. Flat fees or retainer. Flat fees give you the certainty that you won’t have to pay any additional money unless your case changes drastically. Retainers mean that you only pay for the time spent on your case, but these fees can become excessive. Learn about these before you call and determine which you’d rather have. For most clients, flat fees are the best way to go.
  6. Wins and losses. This is a sticky area, because quantifying wins in legal cases is extremely difficult. Is a win an acquittal at trial? Sure. What about negotiating a deal that shaves 20 years off of a sentence but still results in a guilty verdict? Maybe. What about a case in which every legal issue is properly preserved for appeal, but the client is convicted and sent to jail? See, it gets a bit hazy at this point. While “wins” and “losses” can be a good thing to know, they aren’t as easy to determine as you might think.
  7. Check you ego at the door. Every case is bad in some way. Sometimes, they are bad in a big way. You may love your case, but that doesn’t make it a great case. Be prepared to learn some hard truths about your chances and possible outcomes.
  8. Don’t come across like a pain in the ass. That never ends well.
  9. If you take medication, make sure you are properly medicated before speaking to a lawyer.
  10. Unless you suffer from severe physical and emotional conditions, do not have your significant other or parent call on your behalf. Lawyers are not impressed when you are unable to speak on your own behalf.
  11. Enable your voicemail. Nothing is worse than trying to call a potential client, only to be faced with “The AT&T subscriber you have called has not set up their voice mail box.”


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