The first question most clients ask me these days is also the first question you should always any lawyer you are considering hiring: “Do I really need a lawyer for this case?” It’s an important threshold question because, in many cases, you can get a good result without the expense of an attorney. If that’s the type of case you are facing, an honest lawyer will tell you that you are better off without him.
Here are some examples of the types of cases that I routinely tell prospective clients that they can handle well on their own:
- Preparing a Bill of Sale
- Small claims disputes (under $2,000 in controversy)
- Automobile accidents with minimal or no personal injuries
- Simple traffic citations
If you have a case like these, you may not need a lawyer to help. However, if you never ask whether that’s the case, you may hire a lawyer and wonder whether you are paying for services that you don’t really need. If, on the other hand, you ask the question and the lawyer you are interviewing tells you that you do need a lawyer, it’s time to find and hire one. In my practice, I will always be honest with potential clients regarding whether they actually need professional legal services. If they don’t, I level with them and tell them to save their money and handle the matter themselves. If they do, and for some reason they don’t want to hire me, I refer them to another lawyer. But I am always honest with my potential clients. I find that is true of almost every other lawyer with whom I’ve worked.
A general word of advice: if, in your own mind, you think you might need a lawyer, you probably do. Attempting to handle your own automobile accident claim with serious injuries can end up costing you tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars and leave you without necessary future treatment. Attempting to draft your own deeds or contracts can mean years and years of protracted litigation that could easily have been avoided by professional preparation. And, if you learn nothing more from this book, remember this: the savings you get from a website will or LLC are often tiny compared to the costs of fixing the problems that can be created when a “one size fits all” form is filled in by computer.
Attorneys go to school for 19 years, pass a complicated and difficult bar examination, and constantly continue to update their knowledge through continuing education. All of that work gives your lawyer a consistent advantage in handling legal matters. When your case is not simple or small, that advantage is almost always worth the cost.
But, wouldn’t you expect a lawyer to say that? What about the inherent conflict in asking a lawyer if he believes his services are needed? Well, it turns out that asking the very lawyer that you are considering hiring whether he believes a lawyer is necessary may seem like a conflict of interests, but it’s usually the cheapest, most reliable way to determine whether professional assistance is necessary. Only a lawyer licensed in your state can evaluate all the legal issues in your case, consider your position, weigh the likely costs, and give you solid advice on whether professional help is appropriate. An analogy illustrates the point: when you are sick, but you don’t know what treatment, if any, you need, what do you do? You go ask the doctor. Sure, the doctor might profit from providing the treatment that he prescribes, but you have to trust that person’s expertise to determine what is needed in your specific situation. The same goes for legal matters. Find and trust an expert.