ARTICLES

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GOOD TO KNOW:

CHOOSING AND WORKING WITH YOUR LAWYER

WHEN DO YOU NEED A LAWYER?

Timely legal advice can resolve problems or prevent problems from occurring. For example, a lawyer can assist when starting a business or signing a contract which will have a major financial impact. Generally, you will need a lawyer when being sued or charged with a crime.

Consider hiring a lawyer:

  • before you sign a contract with a major financial impact on you,
  • when starting a business or forming a corporation, partnership or limited liability company,
  • before you buy or sell real estate,
  • if vou are involved in an accident resulting in injury to one or more persons or damage to property,
  • when you need to have a will or trust drafted or plan your estate,
  • if you are involved in a divorce, domestic relations issue or an adoption,
  • if you are arrested and charged with a crime,
  • if you have a lawsuit filed against you or you wish to file a lawsuit against someone else.

These are just some of the instances in which a lawyer's services can benefit you. Whenever possible, you should see a lawyer at an early stage of a legal issue.

WHERE SHOULD YOU LOOK FOR A LAWYER?

There are many sources of information to help you find a lawyer. Before you begin your search, remember you are hiring a professional. You should use the same care and effort you would use when hiring a doctor, accountant or other licensed professional. Here are some of the ways to look for a lawyer:

Personal Referrals

Your friends, co-workers, neighbors or professionals in your community may know of a lawyer with experience in cases similar to yours. Ask if they were pleased with the way the lawyer handled their problem. Was the result satisfactory to them?

Lawyer Referral Services

Some local and county bar associations offer lawyer referral services. These services will direct you to a lawyer for a small consultation fee. These lawyer referral services are listed in the section of this brochure entitled, "Other Legal Resources." Most lawyers will consult with you for a half-hour either without charge or for a nominal fee and then render other agreed upon services for a specified fee. If the lawyer cannot handle your problem, you will generally be referred to another attorney who will be able to help.

Advertisements

Most lawyers list their names and telephone numbers in the yellow pages of the telephone book. Some lawyers advertise in the yellow pages or newspapers, and on radio and television. Before contacting a lawyer based on an advertisement, save a copy of the ad or take notes on its content if it is a radio or television advertisement. Do not take lawyer advertisements literally. Evaluate the information in the advertisement. Ask the lawyer about the services advertised. What do the services involve? (See also the section of this pamphlet entitled, "What Should You Ask a Lawyer?") Ask the lawyer for references and check them.

Legal Aid

If you are unable to afford a lawyer, and meet strict income requirements, you may qualify' for free legal assistance in civil cases, depending on your income and the type of legal problem you have. Connecticut has four legal services agencies. All clients arc initially referred to a legal services agency through Statewide Legal Services (telephone: (800) 453-3320), or in criminal cases, the Public Defender's Office. The types of cases handled by legal services lawyers include: domestic relations, housing, access to government benefits and employment discrimination.

Pre-Paid Legal Insurance

Some employers and unions offer group pre-paid legal services. These programs provide legal services, such as free consultation and advice (with prescribed fees for follow-up services) in exchange for regular payments from group members. All programs urge the clients to seek legal help early, so that potential problems can be resolved before they become more complex.

WHAT SHOULD YOU ASK A LAWYER?

Before hiring a lawyer consider interviewing several lawyers. Write down the information you receive from these interviews. You may want to ask the following questions:

  • Will you have to pay for the interview?
  • What are the lawyer's qualifications and experience relevant to your case?
  • Has the lawyer handled a problem similar to yours? What was the result?
  • Will the lawyer personally work on your case? If not, who will be working on it, lawyers or legal assistants or both?
  • What are the lawyer's fees? Will they be changed while representing you?
  • What are the services that will be rendered for those fees?
  • What other expenses are likely to be incurred, if any?
  • What payment options are available?
  • How frequently will the lawyer bill you?

HOW ARE LAWYERS PAID?

There are several types of fee arrangements. The fee arrangement will depend on the type of case, the amount of research or court time involved, and the length of time it will likely take to resolve the matter. The Rules of Professional Conduct in Connecticut generally require a lawyer who is retained by a new client to provide in writing to the client the basis or rate of the fee and the scope of the matter to be undertaken. Here are some of the most common fee arrangements:

Fixed Fee

This type of charge is commonly used for routine legal matters, such as a routine real estate closing or a simple will. Be sure when you agree to a fixed fee that you are told in advance what services you will receive for the fee. Also ask what is not covered that could result in additional expenses for you.

Hourly Rate

A lawyer sometimes bases the fee on a fixed dollar amount for each hour or part of an hour spent working on your legal matter. Hourly rates can vary, depending on the lawyer. Ask your lawyer about the hourlv rate and ask for an estimate of how many hours will be spent on your behalf. Ask if other attorneys or employees at the firm will be spending time on your case and at what rate you will be billed for their time.

Retainer Fees

Businesses and some individuals employ a lawyer on a retainer basis. This means the lawyer accepts a down payment toward a fee for legal services. In exchange for the retainer, the lawyer will be available to work for you on any agreed upon legal matter which may require his or her services. You may have to pay additional costs for services involving extra time and effort by your lawyer. Your lawyer should explain the particulars of your retainer agreement to you in advance, since there are several different types of retainer agreements.

Contingency Fee

This type of charge is commonly used in accident cases involving personal injury, when you are suing somebody for money. The fee is contingent upon the lawyer obtaining a monetary award or settlement for you. The lawyer is entitled to a certain percentage of the money it you win or settle out of court. II you lose, the lawyer does not generally receive a fee. Be aware when you agree to a contingency fee arrangement that you are usually responsible for paying any court costs and other litigation expenses, like the cost of expert witnesses, whether you win or settle out of court. These costs and litigation expenses may be deducted from the monetary award you receive. Make sure you know in advance the lawyer's percentage of the award or settlement and whether the lawyer's fee will be paid before or after court and other costs are deducted. A lawyer is required to give you a written copy of a contingency fee agreement. Contingency fees are not permitted for representing a defendant in a criminal case or in a domestic relations matter involving divorce, alimony or support (or a property settlement in place of alimony or support).

HOW DO YOU WORK WITH YOUR LAWYER:

When you have selected a lawyer, you should take certain steps to ensure a smooth working relationship and avoid unnecessary costs and effort. As a client, you should:

  • Tell the truth and disclose all known facts about your legal matter, even those facts which you think are damaging to your case. A lawyer cannot effectively represent you unless you relate all of the facts involved in your case.
  • Bring copies of all documents, letters and other correspondence relating to your legal matter when you meet with your lawyer. Provide your lawyer with a list of all names, addresses, and telephone numbers of persons involved in the case.

These steps will avoid unnecessary delays.

  • Ask your lawyer to assess the strengths and weaknesses of your case. Ask your lawyer what outcome, or outcomes, you can reasonably expect from your case.
  • Take your lawyer's advice seriously. Your lawyer is a professional. If you do not have confidence in your lawyer's ability to make sound legal decisions about your case, you should probably seek a different lawyer.
  • Keep your lawyer fully informed about new developments in your case. Save all documents relating to your case and provide copies to your lawyer on a timely basis. Do not let your lawyer be surprised later by a disclosure you should have made earlier.
  • Ask your lawyer to keep you fully informed about new developments relating to your case. Request that copies of all documents and correspondence prepared on your behalf by your lawyer be sent to you.
  • If you do not understand something that your lawyer says, ask for an explanation.
  • Do not sign any agreement until you fully understand its provisions.

Your lawyer, in turn, should take certain steps to ensure a smooth working relationship with you and to effect the best possible result for your legal matter, your lawyer should:

  • Disclose to you in a timely fashion any new developments relating to your legal matter and how those developments might be handled.
  • Return all phone calls made by you.
  • Keep you fully informed about the impact of any actions that are contemplated.
  • Furnish you with a written fee agreement (required by the Rules of Professional Conduct) and disclose to you in a timely fashion any unanticipated costs relating to your legal matter.
  • Bill you periodically and promptly for fees paid and services rendered.
  • Understand your goals and expectations for resolving the matter. Discuss these goals and expectations to ensure they are reasonable.
  • Listen to you and be attentive to your concerns.

If your lawyer makes an unsolicited offer to entice you into investing money, and if that offer is outside of the scope of the services for which you have sought legal advice, you should decline this offer. Such conduct is not within the scope of the attorney-client relationship.

WHAT IF YOU HAVE A PROBLEM WITH YOUR LAWYER?

Some problems between lawyers and clients are the result of misunderstandings or a lack of communication. If you believe you have a problem with your lawyer, consider talking it over with the lawyer. The lawyer may be unaware of the problem and, after a discussion, you may be able to come to a mutually acceptable solution. If the lawyer is unwilling to talk to you, write a letter expressing the problem and ask for a response from your lawyer. If vour lawyer does not respond, consider hiring another lawyer. Ask that your files be sent to your new lawyer.

If you are unable to resolve a disagreement over fees, you can contact the CBA's Arbitration of Legal Fee Disputes program at (860) 612-2003. This service is free of charge.

If you believe your lawyer has acted unethically, talk to the lawyer. If the lawyer is unwilling to talk or meet with you, contact the Statewide Grievance Committee at (860) 568-5157. The Statewide Grievance Committee is part of the Connecticut Judicial Branch and has the authority to investigate complaints of alleged ethical violations by lawyers in Connecticut.

OTHER LEGAL SERVICES

  • Legal Services Agencies; Statewide Legal Services: (800) 453-3320
  • Lawyer Referral Service (by region)
  • Fairfield County : (203) 333-4116;
  • Hartford , Litchfield, Middlesex, Tolland and Windham counties: (860) 525-6052;
  • New Haven County and Waterbury: (203) 562-5750
  • New London County : (860) 889-9384 (M/W/F)
  • Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory (available at most libraries and online at www.martindale.com)
  • Women's Education and Legal Fund: (Information & Referral) Toll Free (800) 479-2949 Greater Hartford (860) 524-0601

CBA
Connecticut Bar Association
30 Bank Street
PO Box 350
New Britain, CT 06050-0350
(860)223-4400 Fax (860)223-4488

HELPFUL LINKS COMPILED BY M. HAWLEY, LLC:

Connecticut Bar Association
http://www.ctbar.org/

State of Connecticut Judicial Branch
http://www.jud.state.ct.us/

State of Connecticut Website
http://www.state.ct.us/

Collaborative Divorce Attorney’s of Fairfield County
http://www.collaborativedivorcect.com/

National Alliance for the Mentally Ill
http://www.namict.org/

Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law
http://www.bazelon.org/

Connecticut’s Department of Developmental Services
http://www.ct.gov/dds/site/default.asp

Internal Revenue Service
http://www.irs.gov/

Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement
http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cse/

ABA Center on Children and the Law
http://www.abanet.org/child/

National Child Support Enforcement Association
http://www.ncsea.org/

Eastern Regional Interstate Child Support Enforcement Association
http://www.ericsa.org/

Connecticut Department of Children and Families
http://www.ct.gov/dcf/site/default.asp

Connecticut Elder Law site hosted by CT Legal services
http://www.ctelderlaw.org/

Google
http://www.google.com/

HELPFUL BOOKS RECOMMENDED BY M. HAWLEY, LLC:

Divorce: How to Feel It, Live It and Let Go : M. Susan Hamilton

Getting Past No : William Ury

Crazy Time:Surviving Divorce : Abigail Trafford.

Families Apart: Ten keys to Successful Co-parenting : Melinda Blau

The Good Divorce, keeping your family together: Constance Ahrons, Ph.D.

Divorce Book for Parents, helping your children cope with divorce and its aftermath: Vicki Lansky

Fighting for your marriage: positive steps for preventing divorce and preserving a lasting love : Howard Markham; Scott Stanley; Susan L. Blumberg.

The Weekend Marriage: Abundant love in a time starved world : Mira Kirshenbaum

Action Plan: Suze Orman

The 9 Steps to Financial Freedom : Suze Orman

The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous & Broke : Suze Orman

The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need: Newly Revised and Updated : Andrew Tobias

Ernst & Young’s Tax Guide 2017

How to Care for Aging Parents : Virginia Morris

Planning for the Future – Providing a Meaningful Life for a Child with a Disability After Your Death : L. Mark Russell and Arnold E. Grant

The Connecticut Living Trust, Cornerstone of Modern Estate Planning : Gayle Brian Wilhelm, Esq.