1) Fee structure. There are many different possible fee structures.
a. Pro Bono – this is where a lawyer is providing representation for free (“for the public good”). Organizations like Maryland Legal Aid, the Office of the Public Defender, and the Maryland Volunteer Lawyer Service may be able to provide a pro bono attorney, but only if your income and assets are low enough to qualify.
b. Contingency Fee – this is where an attorney does not require you to pay an up- front fee, and agrees to represent you for a portion of any eventual recovery. In this situation, the attorney takes on most of the risk of the case. The more money the lawyer makes for you, the more money the lawyer makes for themselves. Only certain types of cases can be handled on a contingency fee basis.
c. Low Bono/Reduced Fee – this is where an attorney provides a discounted rate to a low or moderate income client in legal need who does not qualify free legal help from legal services organizations like Legal Aid. Civil Justice has a network of private lawyers who are committed to providing affordable low bono/reduced fee representation, or contingency fee representation in appropriate cases. Click here to search Civil Justice Network Members by practice area and county.
d. Flat Fee – this is where an attorney agrees to handle a matter for a set amount. That set amount makes your costs for representation more predictable. But because some complex matters involve very unpredictable factors, flat fees may not be available in many types of cases.
e. Hourly – this is where an attorney will track their time and bill the client for the work performed. A lawyer will frequently ask for a “retainer,” which is like a down-payment on the attorney’s fees. For example, if a lawyer’s hourly rate is $200.00 an hour and the retainer is $1,000.00, the first five hours of the lawyer’s time would be covered by the retainer and then the client will need to pay more for any additional time.
2) Office Location. Although it is much more important to have a lawyer you can trust and makes you feel comfortable, office location can be a useful way to choose between otherwise equal choices. It can be a good thing to have a lawyer has an office in the same county as your matter, as knowledge of the local courts can be helpful.
3) Free Consultations. Many lawyers are willing to meet with potential clients without a charge in order to discuss possible representation with the client. You should feel free to ask what, if anything, the charge will be for the initial meeting with the lawyer.
4) Malpractice Insurance. You may consider asking any attorney if they have legal malpractice insurance. Most prudent attorneys carry malpractice insurance, not because they are worried they will commit malpractice, but just to provide everyone with comfort. Sometimes, a lawyer will not have malpractice insurance because an insurance company has decided that the lawyer is too risky to insure, which should serve as a red flag to anyone considering hiring that attorney. An attorney must have malpractice insurance to be a member of Civil Justice.
5) Personal Interaction. It is important to choose an attorney that you think that you will be able to work with, particularly if your case is involved and may require that you spend a lot of time working with the attorney. If the attorney is rude or unprofessional, consider taking your business elsewhere.
Some final tips:
A) Never file a lawsuit on your own until you are certain you will not be able to find an attorney. Many people believe that getting a case filed in court will help convince a lawyer to get involved, but the opposite is true. It is much harder for a lawyer to come into a case that is on-going than to be involved from the beginning, so please make sure to check every possible route for representation before filing a lawsuit (unless you need to file quickly to satisfy the statute of limitations).
B) Try to have all relevant documents available when you first speak with an attorney. The more organized and prepared you are, the more likely an attorney will want to take on your case. The lawyer will need to review your documents, and cannot rely on your description of what the documents say.
C) Be thoughtful about picking a lawyer, because it is much harder to get a new lawyer for a matter if you are unhappy with your prior lawyer. Many lawyers see a client who changes lawyers as a potential sign of a difficult client.