The following information, presented as a public service by the Committees of the DuPage County Bar Association, pertains to some of the more frequently asked questions posed to attorneys on various issues..
Please read the disclaimer before reading the questions and answers.
If you have a question that you would like to have addressed please e-mail your request, include your day time phone number and/or email address if additional clarification is needed.
The following information does not constitute legal advice of any kind, but is intended to help the public with understanding some of the basic issues they may face.
Do You Need A Lawyer?
Q. When do I need a lawyer?
A. Some things may be handled best by a lawyer. You should always talk with a lawyer as soon as possible:
- if you are sued,
- before you admit or deny guilt for a crime,
- before you make a statement to the police or
- if you have been in a serious accident which injured someone or damaged property.
You should also consult a lawyer early if:
- you are considering a lawsuit,
- you are considering divorce or adoption,
- someone in your family dies,
- you want a will or need estate planning,
- you are considering bankruptcy,
- you have tax problems,
- you are buying or selling a home, or
- you are organizing or dissolving a business.
What to do if you don't know. If you have any doubt about whether your situation requires a lawyer's help, you can ask a lawyer about it. Consult with one early, before your situation gets worse. Many will do an initial consultation or answer simple questions free of charge. You may also inquire with a lawyer referral service.
Representing yourself. You have the right to represent yourself in a civil or criminal case. You should do so, however, only if you completely understand the legal issues and the procedures involved. You should also understand that you may be at a disadvantage if you get too emotionally caught up in the case, and you should represent yourself only if you are willing to accept that risk and others. Also the judge in your case may require that you have a lawyer represent you.
Other ways to get help. Before hiring a lawyer, you may want to find out if you can get the assistance you need from another source. A local, state, or federal governmental agency may be able to answer your questions or solve your problem. Also, check with your local Better Business Bureau, Consumer Credit Counseling Service, alternative dispute resolution center, television station, or some other private agency to see if they can help. In addition, don't forget your insurance agent, accountant, banker, stockbroker, minister, state legislator, other local representative, or private counselor.
Q. What do lawyers do?
A. Lawyers provide services or advice calling for their professional judgment. When they practice law, they use the knowledge and skill they have received from their legal education and experience, and relate the law to specific facts. Their activities are many and varied, but include giving advice about what action to take, representing clients in lawsuits or other hearings, preparing legal papers, and lobbying.
There are many personal, business, and governmental areas of law practice, including the ones mentioned in the first section of this document, as well as adoption, trusts, tax, contracts, crimes, business arrangements and disputes, patents, trademarks, copyrights, landlord and tenant, property, consumer matters, immigration, civil rights, discrimination, marriage and other domestic relations issues, Social Security, VA benefits, and workers' compensation.
Q. How to find a lawyer?
A. Once you have determined that you need a lawyer, how do you go about finding one? Here are some of the ways you might try:
Referrals. Ask your friends, family, business associates, or other acquaintances about lawyers they have used. Chances are you will come up with at least a few names.
Lawyer Referral Service. The DuPage County Bar Association has a service which can provide you with the name of a lawyer who practices the type of law you need help with. The attorney will provide up to one half hour consultation that is free of charge to review your situation and discuss possible fees. Call 630.653.9109 during business hours for more information and a referral.
Legal Aid Programs. There are many legal aid programs in this area. These programs may only take certain kinds of cases and generally provide help only to people below a certain income level or have other restrictions.
Advertisements. More and more, lawyers are advertising - on T.V., on the radio, in the newspaper, in the Yellow Pages, and on the Internet. Although advertising can make it quick and easy to find a lawyer, you should use care in selecting your lawyer - make sure that lawyer is the right one for you.
Q. How to choose a lawyer?
A. Start with those lawyers whose names you have obtained from consulting the resources mentioned in "How to Find a Lawyer."
Talk to the lawyer. Schedule an appointment to meet and interview the lawyer. Consider interviewing more than one lawyer before you make your final choice. Many lawyers will do an initial consultation free of charge.
Check background, experience, disciplinary record. Illinois currently requires all lawyers to graduate from college and law school, pass a written exam, pass a character and fitness review, and be licensed to practice law. The Illinois Supreme court also requires continuing legal education to renew their license each year. You can find out about many lawyers' backgrounds by checking legal source books in your local law library or public library.
In addition, you may want to check with the Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) (800-826-8625) to see if the lawyer has been publicly disciplined and why. You may want to discuss the discipline with the lawyer.
Consider the lawyer's training and experience. Ask if the lawyer has handled similar matters, and what the outcomes were. Also ask if the lawyer has taken any continuing legal education courses which relate to your problem.
Ask about fees. Ask the lawyer what will be charged for the services provided. You should make certain that any fee arrangement is in writing. Even if a lawyer's fee is higher, that does not always indicate competence.
Most importantly, check your feelings. One of the most important things is whether you are comfortable with the lawyer. During the interview, how did you feel? (It's normal to feel nervous.) Does the lawyer respect you? Inspire your trust? Relate to you? Explain your legal situation and the proposed solution clearly and honestly? Listens to your concerns, needs, and wishes, and then responds appropriately? Will he or she be accessible? If you are comfortable on all these levels, then you have probably found the right lawyer for you.
Q. What should your lawyer do for you?
A. Specifically discuss the fee and other costs. You should fully understand the fees and costs you will be charged. Get your fee agreement in writing. Some common fee arrangements include:
- Contingency fee: the lawyer charges a percentage of the amount recovered for you in your case. These are most common in personal injury cases. (Ask about the court costs and other charges.)
- Hourly fee: the lawyer charges a fee for each hour or part of an hour spent working on your problem. Ask if there are any minimum fees for phone calls or other activities. Court costs and filing fees may be charged in addition to hourly fees.
- Other fee arrangements: the lawyer may charge a fixed fee that takes into account the time your problem requires, the difficulty of the problem, the fact that your case may require the refusal of other cases, and that lawyer's skill and experience.
- Retainer fees: are often collected in advance of work done by the attorney as a "down payment" on expected costs and attorney fees. As the retainer is drawn down by the attorney, additional fees may be requested. An overall total expected cost should be estimated by the attorney if possible before being retained.
Return phone calls and answers letters. Your lawyer should tell you generally how long it takes to respond, and whether the secretary, paralegal, or other staff will return your calls. Your lawyer should always be courteous and considerate.
Keep you informed about your case or legal matter. Your lawyer should discuss the strategies for handling your matter, and then let you know what he or she has done as it proceeds. The lawyer should also inform you about any developments as they happen.
Not act without your authorization. Your lawyer should tell you what your legal options are, and what is likely to happen based on the option you choose. You have authority to make all important decisions affecting the outcome of your case.
Act ethically. Lawyers in Illinois are bound by the code of Professional Responsibility to represent you with zeal and competence, keep your confidence and secrets which you reveal as the client, use independent professional judgment, without any conflict of interest, and avoid even the appearance of impropriety.
Q. What if you are not satisfied?
A. If you are dissatisfied with your lawyer, the very first thing you should do is try to discuss the situation with your lawyer. Let the lawyer know you are dissatisfied and why. It could be just a misunderstanding. Try to clear it up.
If after talking to your lawyer you are still not satisfied, you can:
- Remove the lawyer from your case or other legal matter. The best way to handle this is to get another lawyer and have the lawyer handle the transfer of your case.
- File a disciplinary complaint with the Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) (800-826-8625). If your lawyer really has done something improper or unethical, he or she can be privately reprimanded, publicly censured, suspended from the practice of law or disbarred.
- Request a fee dispute arbitration. If your dissatisfaction with your attorney is due to a fee dispute, call the DuPage County Bar Association or the Bar Association in your area to receive information about the fee dispute process and/or paperwork required.