When Do You Need to Hire 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 that will have a major financial impact. Also, individuals should retain 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 you are involved in an accident resulting in injury;
  • To plan your estate or draft a will or trust;
  • 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.

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Where to 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:

Lawyer Referral Services

Some local and county bar associations offer lawyer referral services. The primary function of the Lawyer Referral Service is to pre-screen lawyers in your community in order to assist you in getting you to the right type of attorney for your legal needs. We will help in taking the guesswork out of finding an attorney. LRS is a non-profit public service of the El Paso County Bar Association.

The attorneys who participate with the Lawyer Referral Service are in good standing with the State Supreme Court and have significant experience. Most of the attorneys have been in practice 10 years or more. Additionally, the LRS requires that participating attorneys carry malpractice insurance.

Personal References

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?


Most lawyers list their names and telephone numbers in the yellow pages of the telephone book. Some lawyers advertise in the yellow pages or newspaper and on radio and television. Before contacting a lawyer based on an advertisement, save a copy of the ad or take notes about 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? Check references if they are available.

Reduced or Free Legal Services

If you are unable to afford the regular rates and fees of 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. The following services are available in our community:

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.

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What to Ask a Lawyer During a Consultation?

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 consultation?
  • 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?

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How Are Lawyers Paid?

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. 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 hourly 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

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 that 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 if you win or settle out of court. If 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 when representing a defendant in a criminal case or in a client in a domestic relations matter involving divorce or spousal maintenance.

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How to Effectively 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 that 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.
  • Thoroughly read your contract with your lawyer and the supplemental documentation they provide. These materials often contain your obligations as a client and the general timeline of events that will occur with your case. Ask questions if something is unclear in these materials.
  • 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 lawyers’ 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. Ask until the answer makes sense. Let the attorney know if you don’t understand.
  • 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 affect 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 in a reasonable time frame, or have a staff member update you. Keep in mind that fees may apply to this correspondence depending on your fee agreement.
  • Keep you fully informed about the impact of any actions that are contemplated.
  • Furnish you with a written fee agreement 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.

Not all problems have a fast, cheap, or smooth resolution. Even if you, as the client, are being reasonable, your adversary may not be cooperative in bringing your case to an easy and inexpensive conclusion. Some of these factors may be out of your attorney’s control.

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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 your lawyer does not respond, call their office to ask for an appointment so concerns can be addressed in person. If these steps are not effective, consider hiring another lawyer. Ask that your files be sent to your new lawyer.

If you are unable to resolve the disagreement over fees, contact the Fee Dispute Committee with the El Paso County Bar Association, a panel of attorneys that will arbitrate disputes for free between attorneys and clients involving legal fees. For information about how to submit a claim to the committee (see the Fee Dispute page).

If you wish to file a grievance against the attorney, contact the Colorado State Supreme Court Office of Attorney Regulation. The Court has established procedures for investigating alleged unethical conduct.

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Other Services

American Bar Association National Directory

Need a lawyer in a different part of the country? Find the Lawyer Referral program in that geographic area through the ABA national directory: American Bar Association National Directory.

Colorado United Way 211

Need help or information? Know someone who needs help? Dial 2-1-1 for information about services in our community offered by non-profit organizations and other organizations.

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