There are more than 1 million lawyers in the United States practicing dozens of specialties. Those specialties range from criminal law to family law, medical malpractice to personal injury law. Add intellectual property and estate planning lawyers into the mix and you have even more people focused on legal matters.
Because there are so many different types of lawyers answering the question “What kind of lawyer do I need?” must be followed with, “What’s the problem?” The lawyer or law firm specialty needs to dovetail with what you need representation for. It can be an intimidating process to find the right attorney.
In general, people hire lawyers to repair legal problems from the past and to prevent legal problems in the future. Lawyers are used for both education and protection. There are occasions where lawyers are required by the court or state statutes, and others where you make the decision to hire a lawyer.
Outside of the areas where a lawyer is absolutely necessary (civil or criminal cases, particularly), the decision to hire a lawyer can depend on the complexity of the legal issues involved, the number of legal documents required to settle the issue, and the anticipated cost of hiring a lawyer to represent you.
Here are some of the most common types of lawyers practicing today:
- Criminal defense lawyer
- Immigration lawyer
- Bankruptcy lawyer
- Family lawyer
- Personal injury attorney
- Business lawyer
- Divorce lawyer
- Employment lawyer
- Estate planning lawyer
- Tax lawyer
Let’s look at some of the more personal reasons you will want to consider hiring an attorney and how that might save you money even if it costs you some money.
The 5 Most Common Reasons to Hire a Law Firm
As we stated above, attorneys specialize in many different areas and the type of lawyer you need depends on the legal issue of the case. The five common circumstances listed here are the ones mostly likely to require legal guidance.
1. You are Getting a Divorce
The legal process of a divorce is dependent on the state in which you live. Some states are so-called “community property” states, where material goods are divided equally, no matter why a couple is getting divorced.
There are also “no fault” states, in which judges are not allowed to consider the reason for the divorce, but can take other matters into consideration to provide for “equitable division” of assets. In those cases, the judge will consider how much each person has contributed financially to the acquisition of assets (including consideration for the services as a homemaker), the length of the marriage, and the income potential for each spouse once divorced. It’s enough to make you wish for a prenuptial agreement.
In the states where assets are split 50/50 between spouses — Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin — it is possible to complete a divorce without the use of a divorce attorney. We’re not divulging trade secrets here, but there are online services that make such an attorney-free transaction possible.
However, if you are in a situation where the divorce is going to be contentious, and you want what you consider to be an appropriate division of assets, you will want to hire a divorce lawyer.
In this case, hiring a divorce lawyer is not likely to save you money. It will provide some comfort that you received an equitable division of assets upon dissolving your marriage.
Choosing the right lawyer to represent you in a contested settlement situation is complicated. You need to ask yourself:
- Do I want to be represented by someone of the same gender as I am?
- Do I want to put up a lengthy fight, or
- Do I want to get this over with?
- How much am I willing to spend?
Recommendations are always a good idea when hiring a lawyer, and, unfortunately, you probably know someone who has used a lawyer to acquire a divorce. But, your situation may be different than your acquaintance’s situation was.
You can also talk to other professionals in your life who have a legal component to their work. Your accountant is one possibility. If you have worked with a real estate attorney in the past, he or she might know someone, and have a good idea about your personal financial situation to send you in an appropriate direction.
How Much Will It Cost?
Most divorce lawyers charge on an hourly basis, charging for the time they spend on your case. This legal work can include an examination of your asset paperwork, and conversations with your spouse’s attorneys. They often charge on hourly increments — usually six-minute or 15-minute increments — and will charge between $100-$500 an hour. The fees you pay can be part of your divorce settlement. But costs vary widely depending on which state you live in.
You are also likely to pay more for an experienced attorney, but that might be a good idea depending on the complexity of the issues involved.
A majority of divorce lawyers require a retainer payment up front, although there are divorce attorneys who will accept payment once assets are divided at the end of the legal proceedings.
There are steps you can take to diminish the cost of your divorce, including agreeing in advance with your spouse over financial matters that will not be contested.
2. You are Dealing with Custody of a Child
A family law firm is going to offer services regarding unpleasant family situations such as guardianship, child support, child adoption or domestic abuse. A family attorney is also usually going to be able to handle divorce settlements or be able to recommend an attorney for that purpose.
If you are in a situation where you cannot adequately provide for your child or children, a family law firm can arrange the legal parameters for someone you select as a guardian. The guardian can take over care of the children or be responsible for certain aspects of child care.
While, many times people hire lawyers for unpleasant purposes, hiring a family law attorney to advise during the legal process of a child adoption is a good move. The adoption process is complicated, especially if the child is coming from another country, and an adoption lawyer can smooth the process and make sure all the legal aspects are covered.
Family lawyers can also handle cases of domestic abuse. This can provide precautions to ensure the safety of you and your children while you are still married.
How Much Will It Cost?
According to skillsetcity.com, the average cost of hiring a lawyer with this specialty is $2,500 per case. The cost varies depending on the complexity of the situation and the state in which you live.
3. You Need to Write a Will
The execution of a last will and testament is the stuff of thousands of dramatic TV shows and movies. But the reality is very close to the artistic, in that a contested will can break up a family if handled improperly. Dying without a will can leave a sticky mess for someone else who has to clean up any legal problem.
In order to prevent such calamities, you need to hire an estate planning lawyer to ensure that your will properly states how your assets are to be distributed upon your death or a declaration of incapacity. This type of lawyer can provide legal advice to put lots of minds at ease.
A lawyer will help you state clearly how you want your property divided, selecting an executor for your assets, and selecting a guardian for your non-adult children. The greater your assets, the more important it is to have lawyers handle your will.
While some people choose a family member to be the executor of their will, you can also hire a lawyer for that role as well.
All of that being said, you can create your own last will and testament. Numerous websites exist to walk you throughThe Cost of Creating a Will that legal process, and they differ depending on the state in which you live.
How Much Will It Cost?
The average cost of the creation of a standard last will and testament is between $300 and $1,000, again depending on the Zip code in which you live. If hiring a lawyer to do your will is an overwhelming task, you can find some online resources to drive down the cost of estate planning.
4. You Are Buying a House
In most cases, it is not necessary to hire an attorney to purchase a home. However, 22 states in the U.S. require that homebuyers are represented by an attorney.
If that is not the case where you live, there are still instances that hiring an attorney or law firm for a real estate purchase is suggested.
If there are any concerns about the house you are buying (flooding or seepage issues, foundational concerns, liens on the property from the previous owner), then a lawyer can certainly assist in protecting your rights and interests. A lawyer can also help you negotiate a price on the house (although in today’s hot housing market, there is not a lot of negotiating going on).
A lawyer can also negotiate the cost of any repairs or improvements on the home, whether the home seller makes those improvements or you intend to make those improvements after you move in.
The paperwork involved in buying a house is extensive. It can take up to an hour just to put your name on all the documents you are asked to sign even without reading them through. A lawyer can look over those legal documents before you complete the transaction to make sure that all of the legal issues discussed in the deal are spelled out.
How Much Will It Cost?
For a simple house transfer, attorneys usually charge a flat fee between $750 and $1,250, depending on the zip code and the complexity of the sale. Some real estate attorneys prefer to charge by the hour, at an average rate of $150 to $350.
If you are selling a property, you may also want to be represented by an attorney. In this case, you are protecting yourself against future claims from the new homeowner regarding repairs or any specific issues related to the property.
If you are purchasing real estate solely as an investment, or involved in some sort of property transfer, then you definitely need a lawyer. A real estate attorney will know the particulars of the property rights laws of the state in which you live, and can assure that the deal you are signing is properly conducted. Again, the lawyer can also assist in negotiating a price or financial agreements in the deal.
5. You Have Been Injured in an Accident
You’ve seen the TV ads. Legal representation in cases of personal injury in a public place, including a car accident, or workplace is indeed essential if you have medical bills to pay due to the injury. A personal injury lawyer can also represent you in cases where your injuries (head trauma as an example) do not become evident immediately.
Personal injury lawyers can represent you in settlement conversations. If you make a claim against a corporation or another individual, your lawyer can represent your needs with a knowledge of how much money you should expect in your specific case.
Personal injury lawyers can also provide assistance with the paperwork involved, including insurance claims. You are making a legal claim against someone and that can involve a great deal of legal documentation. The personal injury claim process is complicated, and if you are suing a business for reparations, that business will certainly have a lawyer working your case. You need to match the company’s legal experts with your own in this legal matter.
If you are injured on the job, you may have union representation available to you or a specialized employment lawyer. If you signed a contract upon accepting your job, you need to have an attorney go over that contract to see what rights you have toward protection against injury while at work.
How Much Will It Cost?
Every state has different laws regarding how much a personal injury lawyer can charge for his or her services. You are going to pay a percentage of the amount of money you receive in the settlement, and that cost needs to be included in the amount you are suing for. Generally, personal injury lawyers get 33% to 40% of the recovery amount, but this MUST be discussed when hiring the lawyer.
You might consider having a personal family lawyer look over any contract you sign with a personal injury lawyer.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Hiring a Lawyer
We’ve rounded up answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about hiring a lawyer. The answers should help you decide what kind of lawyer you need to hire for what issue.
Do I Need a Lawyer to Create a Last Will and Testament?
It is not required though it is important to leave direction. There are websites that make all of the necessary paperwork available to you with instructions on how to complete the legal process. If you have any reason to believe your estate is going to be contested by family members or there are other possible legal issues involved, you should hire a lawyer to make sure your will provides iron-clad protection for your estate.
Do I Need a Lawyer for a Divorce?
If there is no disagreement between spouses regarding separation of assets or child custody, then you can complete a divorce without a lawyer. However, if you are in a situation where the divorce is going to be contentious and you want what you consider to be an appropriate division of assets, you will want to hire a divorce lawyer.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Small Claims Court?
For breach of contract, property damage, personal injury, evictions, or property repossessions, you can make a claim in small claims court without an attorney. However, if the other side is represented by an attorney, your chances of having a successful outcome are much improved with an attorney. Each U.S. state has a different monetary limit to the amount that can be pursued in small claims court.
Kent McDill is a veteran journalist who has specialized in personal finance topics since 2013. He is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder.