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DEMYSTIFYING LEGAL FEES

November 12, 2010 1 comment

In my last post I spoke about the process of narrowing your list of candidate attorneys down to the one you want to hire to represent you. I recommended that you make interview appointments with at least three local attorneys you have chosen. During the interview you will be looking for the attorneys whom you feel most comfortable dealing with, who communicate well with you and who have the experience in the type of case you have to earn your, and your opponent’s, respect. Once you narrow your list down to those individuals, it’s time to talk about money.

How Much Is That Lawyer In The Window?

As you interview attorneys for your legal matter, you are likely to find that between them they charge significantly different fees. Some will seem very high, others very low. Some attorneys prefer to charge an hourly rate, based upon the work they do. That is most common in business legal cases and contested family law matters. Other attorneys may quote you a flat rate fee, which is meant to cover the entire case, regardless of the number of hours the attorney ultimately puts into it. Many times you will find some kind of “hybrid” approach to attorney’s fees – either a sliding scale, in which the fee increases as the case progresses; or a non-refundable retainer with a provision for an hourly rate should the amount of work done on your case exceed initial expectations.

Some cases, which usually involve injury or monetary damages, might be handled under a special form of fee arrangement called a “contingency fee”. Contingency fees are usually determined by a percentage of any money “won” in a case and collected. If you don’t win, you don’t have to pay your attorney. The percentages are usually fairly high, between fifteen and forty percent of the settlement or awarded amount, because the attorney must take a chance on handling the case and not collecting any money. This type of fee arrangement allows people who might not otherwise afford an attorney to pursue their rights in court. Contingency fees are not allowed by the Florida Bar for criminal cases or divorce cases. If you have the type of case in which contingency is allowed, the attorneys you meet with will evaluate your case and tell you if they are willing to accept the case on a contingent basis.

You may have heard that attorneys will take some cases and handle them for free, under what is called a “pro bono publico” basis. This is from a Latin phrase meaning “for the public good”. In a pro bono case the attorney will handle the case without charge, as a service to the poor and society in general. The Florida Bar recommends that each attorney perform at least twenty hours of pro bono legal service each year. Many attorneys perform more than that amount. While it may not hurt to ask attorneys if they would be willing to accept your case pro bono, you should not expect it. Attorneys often prefer to receive their pro bono case as referrals from legal aid organizations, who will first determine that the client is indigent and meets the financial guidelines for pro bono work. Also, for criminal charges, the Public Defenders Office is available to provide legal representation for the indigent.

It’s All About Timing

Whether an attorney quotes you a flat rate, hourly or “hybrid” type fee, all of those are really based upon a prediction of how much time that attorney predicts he or she will spend on your case. Abraham Lincoln, who was a successful trial lawyer prior to becoming our sixteenth president, once said, “A lawyer’s time and advice are his stock in trade.” When you retain an attorney, what you are buying are the time and attention of that lawyer to you and to your case and the lawyer’s advice and opinions as to the best course of action to take in your case. The attorney that quotes you a “flat rate” fee is really just making an estimate of the number of hours he or she will be spending on your legal matter. Sometimes the attorney may be able to successfully end your case in a short amount of time. In that case, the attorney probably came out ahead monetarily. Other times the case may drag on, for various reasons, far longer than the attorney expected. In that case the attorney may lose out monetarily by spending more of their “stock in trade” than they intended, without getting any extra pay for it.

Hourly rates for legal services vary widely. Hourly rates in the Tampa Bay area typically range from $90 to $350 dollars an hour, based upon the type of legal work and the experience of the attorney. You can ask the attorney to lower the hourly rate for you, but, generally, unless you are bringing a high-volume amount of work to that law firm, expect to be charged the normal rate for that attorney. Whichever hourly rate an attorney is using to calculate the retainer fee, the one thing that you could control is the attorney’s perception of the amount of time that is going to be spent on your case.

Time’s A Wastin’

The first thing to remember when you are speaking with an attorney about your case is that “time is money”. The more prepared you are at presenting your case to the attorney the better. Before the consultation meetings, gather all the documents and facts of your case in a logical order. It is helpful to write down a concise narrative of the facts of your case, including names, addresses and telephone numbers of witnesses and other involved parties. Documents can be photocopied before meeting with the attorneys so that you just give copies to the attorney you decide to hire, rather than paying the attorney to copy them for you. When telling the attorney about your case, give an overall, objective view of the facts, not just those facts that help you. It is in your best interests for the attorney to know both the good and the bad about your legal problem in order to decide the best way to help you. One mistake potential clients sometimes make is to present the attorney with an overly-optimistic view of the defenses available, thinking that if the attorney believes that the case is an easy one to win, he or she will charge less. In fact, almost the opposite is usually true. The more defenses and witnesses that are involved in a case, the longer that case is going to take to investigate and defend. With each new tale of a possible defense, a wrongful persecution or a conspiracy among the other side, the attorney is calculating more and more time that will have to be spent running down these defenses and presenting the worthy ones in court.

Once an attorney decides to accept your case and quotes you a fee, whether it is a flat-rate, hourly or hybrid fee, it is fair to ask the attorney if he or she would accept less. Whether the attorney agrees to negotiate the fee lower or not, no harm will be done by asking. Realize that many attorneys will have already set the fee as low as they are willing to make them before they quoted it to you. Legal practice is very competitive and most attorneys realize that you are speaking with other attorneys and getting fee quotes from them as well.

If you would like to hire the attorney but cannot afford to pay the entire retainer fee up front, don’t hesitate to ask the attorney if a payment plan could be arranged. Some attorneys will tell you this is available up-front. Others will wait until a client asks about it. Attorneys will vary widely in their willingness to agree to payments for legal fees, so as before, it will not hurt to ask.

Garry L. Potts is a former 15 year prosecutor and former insurance defense trial lawyer. Garry L. Potts handles legal matters in the following practice areas: Criminal Law, Civil Practice, Driving While Intoxicated, Breath test Refusals, Drivers License Revocations or Suspensions, Assault and Battery, Felonies, Misdemeanors, Sealing & Expungement, Traffic Violations, Theft, Personal Injury, Automobile Accidents, Wrongful Death, Family Law, Child Custody & Support, Divorces, Wills, Trusts and Probate. With over 22 years of experience and more than 100 jury trials, Garry Potts is one of the most experienced attorneys in the Tampa Bay area.

The Law Office of Garry L. Potts
13575 58th Street North, Suite 126, Clearwater, Florida 33760
Telephone: 727-538-4166

Web site: www.GPottsLaw.com

Web site: Clearwater DUI Attorney

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HOW DO YOU CHOOSE WHICH ATTORNEY?

November 10, 2010 Leave a comment

In my last post I discussed how to begin searching for an attorney to handle your legal matter. The best way to begin is by compiling a list of qualified, experienced local attorneys for the type of legal problem you have. I suggested starting by asking family and friends for suggestions and then getting a broader listing of local attorneys though various legal directories that are available, including mailed advertisements for criminal matters. I mentioned the online directory, Avvo.com, which lists all attorneys in Florida by location and specialty. Avvo also provides information about the attorney’s experience and major areas of practice.

The Interview Process

Once you have a list of names and phone numbers of at least three local attorneys that seem to be experienced in the area of your legal problem, you are ready for the next step. You are now ready to interview attorneys for your case. Now you can simply call the attorneys and either speak to them on the telephone, or more likely, set an appointment to meet with them. Many attorneys will provide a free consultation so that you can meet and talk with them without spending any money. Don’t expect them to give you their legal advice or to teach you how to handle your own case during a free consultation however. The initial free consultation is to allow you to speak face to face with the attorney and give him or her an idea of the nature and complexity of your case. You have the chance to find out if you like dealing with that attorney in person and the attorney can get the background needed to decide how much time will likely be spent on your legal problem in order to quote you a fee.

Just A Little R-E-S-P-E-C-T

It is very important to find an attorney that you can communicate with and who gives you complete and understandable explanations. It is important to find an attorney whom you respect, for you are hiring an attorney not just as a companion to stand next to you in court, nor solely to do paperwork for you, but really you need an attorney for his or her expert advice on the best way to proceed with your case. Just like hiring a physician for serious surgery, you are really placing yourself in your attorney’s hands regarding your legal matter. If that legal matter happens to be a criminal charge, punishable by prison, jail, driver’s license revocations or suspensions and monetary fines, you are facing a serious situation in your life and, just like your surgeon, you must have trust in your attorney. Similarly, if you are facing a contested divorce, child custody, division of property and assets or alimony, or if you have been injured in an automobile accident or slip and fall and need prolonged medical treatment and have experienced significant pain and suffering, you will need to be able to rely upon someone with experience to guide you in reaching the best possible outcome for your case.

Are You Experienced?

The attorney’s experience, both in number of years of practice and in number of cases handled of your type will tell you a lot about that attorney’s qualifications to handle your case. More importantly, does the attorney’s experience show that he or she is seasoned at the type of case you are facing? If your type of legal problem involves criminal charges, accident injuries or contested family law matters, such as divorce, child support or custody or alimony, the amount of experience that an attorney has dealing with litigation and trials should be extremely important to you. Each of those types of cases involves litigation. Litigation is the term used for legal problems that are ultimately decided in a court of law, either by a judge or a jury. Ask how many trials, including jury trials, the attorney has done. You will want to find an attorney who can communicate to you, whom you respect and who not only knows how to find the courthouse, but feels comfortable and at home once they are there. You will want to hire the best attorney that you can afford.

Next, I will talk a little about attorney’s fees and try to demystify them, as well as give some tips on how to avoid getting quoted a very high fee.

Garry L. Potts is a former 15 year prosecutor and former insurance defense trial lawyer. Garry L. Potts handles legal matters in the following practice areas: Criminal Law, Civil Practice, Driving While Intoxicated, Breath test Refusals, Drivers License Revocations or Suspensions, Assault and Battery, Felonies, Misdemeanors, Sealing & Expungement, Traffic Violations, Theft, Personal Injury, Automobile Accidents, Wrongful Death, Family Law, Child Custody & Support, Divorces, Wills, Trusts and Probate. With over 22 years of experience and more than 100 jury trials, Garry Potts is one of the most experienced attorneys in the Tampa Bay area.

The Law Office of Garry L. Potts
13575 58th Street North, Suite 126, Clearwater, Florida 33760
Telephone: 727-538-4166

Web site: www.GPottsLaw.com

Web site: Clearwater DUI Attorney

HOW DO YOU FIND AN ATTORNEY FOR YOUR CASE?

November 9, 2010 1 comment

Need An Attorney?

Searching to hire an attorney, whether it is for a business legal matter, divorce or for criminal charges, is a daunting task. I recommend that your search for the right attorney for your legal matter should begin by researching for experienced attorneys in the Clearwater, St. Petersburg, Tampa areas who practice in the area of law that you need. One obvious way to begin your research is to ask family and friends for the names of attorneys that they may have used in the past and were happy with. The problem with only using this method of research is that the information you get is very limited. Your circle of friend and family, hopefully, probably has only a limited experience with legal problems and attorneys. So, you are likely to get the name or names of only one or two attorneys, who are often the only attorneys they know. Another way to research attorneys is to look at legal directories, such as the Florida Bar’s list of attorneys in your city, the phone book listings of attorneys or the local Bar associations, such as the Clearwater or St. Petersburg Bars. One very handy online legal directory is Avvo.com. Avvo is a listing of all attorneys in your state, organized by location, areas of practice and their own rating of the attorneys. The Avvo rating system seems to be based mainly upon years of experience and involvement in the legal community. While that information is useful, the rating system alone should not be relied upon in choosing a lawyer for your problem.

Who The H*## Sent All of These Brochures?

Another useful way to collect attorney names in your local area may at first seem like an imposition. That would be the attorney direct mail advertisements which attorneys are sometimes permitted to send out, usually in criminal cases. In Florida, the Florida Bar rules allow attorneys to send advertisements by mail to people who may require legal counsel. There are several rules which limit these direct mail advertisements. The outside and inside page of the mailing must be marked “Advertisement” in red letters and the outside of the mailing cannot state what the legal problem is. Also, while attorneys may mail advertisements to people who are facing criminal charges immediately, they must wait for thirty days following an injury or accident in a personal injury or wrongful death case. If you are ever unfortunate enough to be arrested for a crime in the Tampa Bay area, you will likely receive two dozen or more mailings from attorneys within a couple of days of your arrest. Some are colorful brochures, obviously from a criminal defense law firm, while other will be more professional and subtle letters in an envelope. The Florida Bar allows attorneys to send these ads out by mail because they recognize that people who have been arrested, or had a major accident with injuries, will be in need of legal representation, but may have no idea where or how to look for an attorney. While receiving so many mailed advertisements is often annoying to the recipient, they do provide you with a list of local attorneys who are willing to take on your type of case. Within the advertisement you will usually find information about the law firm and its lawyers, such as prior experience, address and phone number. The law firms and attorneys that you like from the mailings should be checked against the Avvo.com site discussed above for experience and major practice areas.

Making A List And Checking It Twice

With the list of attorneys that you have found you are ready for the next step. I recommend choosing no less than three and up to six or more names from your research. You are not actually making your decision as to which attorney to hire yet. What is important is to find a listing of attorneys in your city or county and get the names and phone numbers of those who practice the type of law that you need and have the most experience.

Later we’ll look at specific things to look for in an attorney and how to proceed to find the best attorney for you.

Garry L. Potts is a former 15 year prosecutor and former insurance defense trial lawyer. Garry L. Potts handles legal matters in the following practice areas: Criminal Law, Civil Practice, Driving While Intoxicated, Breath test Refusals, Drivers License Revocations or Suspensions, Assault and Battery, Felonies, Misdemeanors, Sealing & Expungement, Traffic Violations, Theft, Personal Injury, Automobile Accidents, Wrongful Death, Family Law, Child Custody & Support, Divorces, Wills, Trusts and Probate. With over 22 years of experience and more than 100 jury trials, Garry Potts is one of the most experienced attorneys in the Tampa Bay area.

The Law Office of Garry L. Potts
13575 58th Street North, Suite 126, Clearwater, Florida 33760
Telephone: 727-538-4166

Web site: www.GPottsLaw.com

Web site: Clearwater DUI Attorney

WELCOME TO THE FLORIDA LAW BLOG

November 8, 2010 Leave a comment

Hi. I’m Garry Potts, an attorney in Clearwater, Pinellas County, Florida. I’ve been practicing law in Florida since 1988 mainly in the areas of criminal law, divorce, probate, commercial and personal injury law. I am a sole practitioner at The Law Office of Garry L. Potts, P.A., located in Clearwater, Pinellas County, Florida From time to time I’m going to be discussing various issues concerning Florida law.

Read about Garry

Web site: www.GPottsLaw.com

Web site: Clearwater DUI Attorney

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