Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Choosing a Lawyer
How do I choose a lawyer?
When looking for a lawyer, consider the following:
- Practice Areas: What are the lawyer’s practice areas? Choose a lawyer with experience in the type of legal work you need. It’s important to hire a lawyer that is a good fit for your case.
- Credentials: How long as the lawyer been in practice? Has the lawyer worked on other cases similar to yours? If you are charged with a DWI / DUI offense, for instance, then choose an attorney with significant experience defending people charged with that offense. Base your decision on how well you feel the lawyer can handle your case.
- Comfort Level: How comfortable are you telling this lawyer personal information? Does the lawyer actually seem interested in solving your problem? Or will you be assigned an associate or “rookie” law school graduate to handle your case?
- Fees: How are the lawyer’s fees structured – hourly or flat fee? Can the lawyer estimate the cost of your case? How much are you willing to spend? Does the firm accept credit cards, or have payment plans?
What should I ask on my initial consultation?
Whether your first contact with the lawyer is by phone or in person, you can expect it to last about 15 to 30 minutes. Here are some key questions to ask:
- How long have you been in practice?
- How many cases like mine have you handled?
- How often do you settle cases out of court?
- What are your fees, and how are they structured (hourly or flat fee?)
- Do you accept credit cards, or have payment plans?
- What are the next steps?
Write down the lawyer’s answers to each question. Then, take some time to review your notes and think things over before making a decision. Finally, make an appointment to discuss your situation further with the lawyer who seems best for you.
How do I find out if an attorney has been successful winning cases like mine?
- Referrals: Ask your friends, coworkers, and employers if they know any lawyers who have experience with the type of problem you have. If you know any lawyers who practice in other areas of law, ask them if they have any recommendations for lawyers in the area that you need help with. Business people or professionals like bankers, ministers, doctors, social workers, police officers, and teachers are also good sources of referrals. Talking to someone who has worked with the attorney is always advantageous. Ask questions about his or her background, manner, competence, and so on.
- Testimonials: Check the lawyer’s website and the Internet for client testimonials, reviews, cases, and statistics.
- Web Search: Go online and search for the attorney’s name and cases that may have been referenced in the local media.
How does a lawyer set the fees I will be charged?
Expertise is a factor in what a lawyer charges. Some lawyers who are notable experts in a particular practice area may charge more than ones who are not. You may not mind paying a higher fee if you feel the lawyer’s skill and expertise will win the case.
Another factor in setting fees is how complicated your case is and the amount of time it will take. Although the trial itself may only take half-a-day, researching the law, finding and interviewing witnesses, as well as preparing documents and arguments for the trial can take days, weeks or even longer. Sometimes unexpected developments take place that make your case even more complicated, which could result in higher fees.
What types of fees do lawyers charge?
Typically, you will be charged a fixed, hourly, retainer, contingency, or statutory fee. Whatever the arrangement, you should get it in writing:
- Flat (fixed) Fee: This fee is often charged for routine legal matters, like drawing up a simple will or handling an uncontested divorce. When you agree to a flat fee, be sure that you know what it does and does not include. You also should find out if any other charges might be added later on.
- Hourly Fee: To find out the approximate total of your bill, ask the lawyer to estimate how long your case will take and what the hourly rate is. Hourly rates vary from lawyer to lawyer. Keep in mind that circumstances may change, and your case may take longer to handle than the lawyer expected at the beginning.
- Retainer Fee: In some cases, a retainer fee is considered a “down payment” on any legal services that you will need. This means that the legal fees will be subtracted from the retainer until the retainer is used up. Then, the lawyer will either ask you to pay another retainer or bill you for the additional time spent on your case. If the fee agreement states that the retainer is “not refundable,” then you may not be able to get your money back, even if the lawyer does not handle your case or complete the work.
- Contingency Fee: This kind of fee agreement is commonly used in personal injury, medical malpractice, workers’ compensation and other cases involving a law suit for money. It means that you will pay the lawyer a certain percentage of the money you receive if you win the case or if you settle it out of court. If you lose, the lawyer does not receive a fee. However, you will still have to pay any court costs and other expenses that are involved. Be sure your contingency agreement spells out the percentage the lawyer will get. Also, get an estimate of the court costs and other expenses, and find out whether the lawyer’s share is paid after the other expenses are deducted or before-it can make a big difference in the amount you receive from the settlement.
- Statutory fee: For certain legal matters the cost is set by statute or law. This means the lawyer’s fee is either set or must be approved by the court.
Should I get the fee agreement in writing?
Yes. You and your lawyer need to agree on what services are covered and what’s not covered in your fee agreement. By Rule, contingency fees must be in writing. However, it’s best to get any fee arrangement in writing no matter the amount. Avoid making oral agreements, but if you do make one with your lawyer, make a written note of it.
How often will my attorney bill me?
Unless you have a contingency fee agreement, you will probably be billed monthly, although you may be billed at end of case. If you are paying an hourly fee, you can ask your lawyer to get your permission before spending more than a certain amount of time on your case. You have a right to get itemized bills that show how the lawyer has spent time on your case, and to get an itemized list of expenses such as photocopying, telephone calls, and travel costs.
What if there is a problem with the bill, or if I cannot afford to pay?
If you think your lawyer’s bill contains an error or something you didn’t agree to, contact the lawyer immediately and try to resolve the discrepancy. But, if your lawyer’s bill is accurate, but you just cannot afford to pay it, contact your lawyer to see if you can make arrangements to pay over time or agree on some other accommodation (e.g., asking your lawyer to postpone work temporarily until you can get the bill lower). However, if you cannot reach an agreement about how to handle the problem, the lawyer may be entitled to stop working on your matter or withdraw as your lawyer. At the end of a case, you may be entitled to Fee Arbitration.
What is Civil Litigation?
Civil litigation is another term for civil lawsuit or civil case. Unlike a criminal case, which is looking to punish the wrongdoer for a crime, a civil case is meant to compensate the victim or enforce a legal right. A civil case is usually instigated by a private party—a person or business who has allegedly suffered some kind of damage. In contrast, a criminal case is brought by a prosecutor or other attorney representing the local government.
In general terms, a civil lawsuit is the court-based process through which “Person A” can seek to hold “Person B” liable for some type of wrong. Usually, if “Person A” is successful, he/she will be awarded compensation for the harm that resulted from “Person B’s” action or inaction.
Civil lawsuits can also be brought by and against businesses and other entities; for example, over a contract dispute, a residential eviction after a broken lease, injuries sustained in a car accident, or countless other harms or disputes.
Civil lawsuits generally proceed through distinct steps: pleadings, discovery, trial, and possibly an appeal. However, parties can halt this process by voluntarily settling at any time. Most cases settle before reaching trial. Arbitration is sometimes another alternative to a trial.
What is meant by Criminal Defense Law?
Criminal defense law consists of the legal protections for people who have been charged with committing a crime. Law enforcement agencies and government prosecutors have extensive resources at their disposal. Without adequate protections for the accused, the balance of power within the justice system would become skewed in favor of the government. As it is, fair treatment for criminal defendants often depends as much upon the skill of their defense attorney as it does the substantive protections contained in the law.
Defense attorneys, such as Michael J. Beatrice, know how to use constitutional guarantees to the advantage of their clients. For example, all criminal prosecutions are based upon evidence gathered by the government. This may include physical items of evidence, witness statements, confessions, drug and alcohol tests, and so forth. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (applicable to the states through the 14th Amendment) prohibits the police from using unreasonable searches and seizures to gather evidence. If they do, a defense attorney will ask the court to suppress that evidence so it cannot be used at trial.
What is the difference between DUI and DWI?
DUI stands for Driving Under the Influence, while DWI / DUI stands for Driving While Intoxicated or Driving While Impaired. DUI and DWI may sometimes be used interchangeably or, in some states, be recognized as different crimes.
In the State of New Jersey, DWI / DUI is regarded as a serious traffic offense, and the charges come with severe penalties and consequences. While the most common DWI / DUI charge is for drunk driving, you may also face charges for driving under the influence of habit-forming drugs, such as hallucinogenic and narcotics. The only difference is that there is no minimum level of drugs that you must have in your system to be considered “under the influence.” In other words, any amount that impairs your ability to drive is enough for you to be arrested for a DWI / DUI.
DWI / DUI convictions may lead to the loss of your driver’s license, significant fines, damage to your reputation, huge increases in your insurance premiums, a criminal record and, in some cases, even incarceration.
What is the difference between an executor of a will and an estate administrator?
An executor / executrix is named in the will by the decedent. An administrator is appointed by the surrogate where there is no will or when the named executor is unable or unwilling to handle the estate.
What if I die without a will?
State law will dictate how your possessions will be distributed. First, one of our surviving relatives—or another person if none of your relatives wants the job—will have to get permission from the county surrogate to serve as an administrator of your estate.
If your spouse survives you and there are no surviving children, then your spouse gets everything after all your debts are paid. If you have a surviving spouse and children, then your spouse gets the first $50,000 and half of anything above that, and the rest is divided among children equally.
If you have no surviving spouse or children, next in line are parents, then brothers or sisters, then nieces and nephews and any more distant relatives. If no surviving relatives can be found, then all your property goes to the state.
What is a self-proving will?
Also called a “testamentary” will, this is a will that is signed in front of witnesses who also sign statements that they saw it being signed and that you appeared to have the required mental capacity to be able to understand what you were doing. It is what most people mean when they think of a will.
What if my spouse was alive when I made my will but died before I did, or at the same time I did?
A well-written will takes into consideration all the “what-ifs” you can imagine, and that’s probably the best reason to have a lawyer prepare a will for you, instead of relying on a form you print out from a website.
Can I change my will after I sign it?
Yes, in one of two ways: (1) You can write a new will specifying that it replaces all previously dated wills, making sure it is properly witnessed. Or (2) you can have a “codicil” drafted, amending your existing will, but it also will have to be properly witnessed. And remember, as you age and may begin to show signs of mental infirmity, you may not have the legal capacity to make such changes.