Do I need an attorney?
Contacting or hiring an attorney does not necessarily mean you are filing a suit against anyone. However, it is a good idea to do this if you feel you have a case. An attorney will be able to assess your case in the first meeting and advise you of your rights and options for litigating the case. Should you choose not to hire an attorney and you mishandle your own case due to lack of knowledge or lack of skill, it is unlikely that an attorney will be able to undo your mistakes and may even refuse to accept your case.
Though many people may balk at the cost of hiring an attorney, the fees charged are usually worth the experience and professionalism an attorney can bring to the courtroom. There are certain areas of the law where an experienced lawyer is highly recommended, in order for you to have a fair trial and to negotiate the settlement that you deserve. Below is a brief description of several areas of the law where a lawyer is most certainly recommended.
Hiring An Attorney
Choosing the right attorney can be crucial to the outcome of your case. There are certain things you should know before hand in order to help you with the process of choosing an attorney that is right for you. Not only will this save you time (and maybe money) when meeting with your lawyer for the first time, but will also help you to become more knowledgeable about the questions you should ask and the critical process of hiring an attorney.
Getting several referrals to experienced plaintiffs' lawyers is recommended. An Attorney For You allows you to accomplish such a task in one place. When you submit your case description you will be contacted by one or more attorneys specializing in your practice area and who are located near you. Once you have established contact it’s a good idea to meet with these attorneys to get a feel for whom you would feel most comfortable working with. You must also be prepared for rejection. The lawyer-client relationship is a two way street, and many lawyers do not take cases if they fall below a certain potential recovery amount, or if the claim is not crystal clear.
Before meeting with a lawyer, write up notes pertaining to your case and gather all of the related documents to take with you. Bring copies of all your documents and evidence to your first meeting with an attorney. This can include police reports, medical records, bills, and any other documents related to your case. Being able to present your legal problem in a clear and organized fashion will allow you to determine if the attorney would be ideal for handling your case.
Once you explain to your attorney the grounds for your case and any relevant information pertaining to your case it will be your turn to ask questions. Below is a list of basic questions that will help you determine if the attorney is right for you and your case.
Once you have met with the lawyer, explained your case and had your questions answered, there are some questions you should ask yourself.
If you feel comfortable with the lawyer and confident that his/her experience is adequate for your case you have probably found a good match. Asking and answering the above questions will go a long way in determining if this is the right attorney for you.
Before you sign any contract with an attorney it is very important to understand how they expect to be paid. Be aware that an attorney cannot always estimate exactly how much their services will cost you in the end. It can be difficult to know how much work is going to be involved in a case, or how long the lawsuit will go on. However, they can and should be able to give you an idea of the cost range and you can always request it be kept to a minimum. If you have any questions about your fee arrangement, or any trepidation about the cost, be sure to discuss this thoroughly with your attorney before signing a contract.
There are several types of fee arrangements that attorneys use. The type of fee an attorney charges will depend on the type of case you have and your ability to pay the attorney. The most common forms of billing include contingent fees, flat fees, hourly rates, and retainer fees.
Statutes of Limitations
A “statute of limitation” is a time frame that defines the length of time an individual has to file a claim. The time limit begins when an injury occurs, or is discovered, and concludes on the latest date the injured person can file suit. These time limits vary from state to state, and depend on the type of claim to be filed. The time frame of the statute of limitations usually begins when the injury or wrongful act occurs. However, some states may allow a claim to proceed if the wrongdoing or injury was not discovered until a later date. The time frame would then begin on the date of discovery.
The Statute of Limitation Laws serve two main purposes:
It is important to speak with an attorney as soon as you think you have a valid claim. In addition to preserving your rights and protecting your claim in court, an attorney may also help to preserve evidence, locate witnesses, and perform other tasks in a timely manner to help you win your case.
The date at which the Statute of Limitations begins to run is of the utmost importance. Once the Statute of Limitations has run, no lawsuit, legitimate or otherwise, can be filed. If a suit has not been filed within the requisite period a later suit will not be allowed. If the lawsuit is not filed before the passage of the Statute of Limitations deadline, it will be subject to dismissal by the court. It is, therefore, extremely important that you find out the deadline for your case and keep it in mind when negotiating.
If you believe that the Statute of Limitations may have passed in your case, you should consult an attorney immediately. Some exceptions exist that your attorney may be able to inform you about.
If you file a complaint on time, a statute of limitations has nothing to do with how long it takes for a case to conclude.
If you feel that you have a valid claim, be sure and contact an attorney in a timely manner. If you contact an attorney and inform them that your statute of limitations runs out tomorrow, next week, or even next month, they may decline your case simply based on time. An attorney will most likely not file a suit on your behalf if s/he does not have adequate time to prepare your case, or even to research your case to determine if you have grounds for a claim.
Depending on the type of lawsuit, and the state in which it is filed, the Statute of Limitations can be any number of years. Every state has its own time limits, and even within a state the period of time in which you must file a lawsuit varies according to the type of claim. Occasionally theses limits are changed by the legislature. To be sure of your time limit, check the law for your state, or ask a personal injury attorney.
Once you have ascertained what statute of limitations applies to your case, your next step is to determine what date the statute actually begins.
The period of time during which a lawsuit must be filed usually begins with the date of harm. However, a huge exception to this general rule exists. There are instances, however, in which an injury is not discovered for months or years after it occurs. In such situations, statutes of limitations may begin the clock ticking either on the "date of discovery" of the harm, or the date on which the plaintiff "should have discovered" the harm. This refers to the date when a judge considers it fair to say that the plaintiff should have known about the harm, whether or not the plaintiff actually knew about it.
These three possible situations are explained below:
Example: On January 1, a doctor performs an appendix removal operation on Tony, but mistakenly cuts and has to remove Tony's spleen as well. The doctor tells Tony of the mistake as soon as he wakes up. Tony's time period for suing the doctor begins to run on January 1, since the harm occurred on that date and Tony was informed of the mistake. If a one-year statute of limitations for medical malpractice applied to Tony’s case, he'd have one year from January 1 to file a lawsuit against the doctor.
Example: Same case, except the doctor does not tell Tony about the surgical mistake. Tony is in constant pain following the January 1 surgery. A month later, on February 1, Tony talks to another doctor who tells him that he should not be in pain and that he should immediately come in to have it checked out. Tony delays going to the doctor until June 1 of the same year, at which time he finds out that his spleen had been removed on January 1. In this situation, Tony's time period for suing the doctor probably begins to run on or shortly after February 1, because the pain coupled with the second doctor's advice determines when Tony should reasonably have discovered the harm.
Example: Same case, except that Tony suffers no unusual after-effects following the January 1 surgery. Tony is unaware that anything went wrong with the surgery until June 1 of the same year, when an x-ray during a routine medical checkup reveals that his spleen was also removed. In this situation, since Tony did not discover and could not reasonably have discovered the harm until June 1, most states would measure Tony's time to sue from June 1.
Once you have determined the date your claim begins, and applied the statute of limitation, you can determine a deadline by which you must file your claim. Be sure to make a note of this date so that even if you put off filing your claim, you will still be able to do so before the time limit runs out.
Common Legal Terms
401(K) Plan - A retirement plan that allows an employee to set aside part of his or her income (tax-deferred) in an investment account. The employee must keep the money in the account for a specified amount of time to avoid tax penalties.
abandonment of a child - The failure of a parent or a guardian to provide any financial assistance to or communicate with a child over a period of time. When this happens, a court may consider the child abandoned by the parent or guardian and order that person's rights terminated. Abandonment also describes situations in which a child is physically abandoned.
Abstract of Title - A short history of a piece of land that lists any transfers in ownership, as well as any liabilities attached to it, such as mortgages.
Acceptance - The taking and receiving of anything in good faith with the intention of retaining it.
Accompanying Relative - An immediate family member of someone who immigrates to the United States. In most cases, a person who is eligible to receive some type of visa or green card can also obtain green cards or similar visas for accompanying relatives. Accompanying relatives include spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21.
accrual method of accounting - An accounting method where income is reported as soon as it is earned (as opposed to when it is actually received) and expenses are reported when they are incurred (as opposed to when they are paid).
Adjustable Rate Mortgage (ARM) - A mortgage loan with an interest rate that fluctuates in accordance with a designated market indicator -- such as the weekly average of one-year U.S. Treasury Bills -- over the life of the loan. To avoid constant and drastic fluctuations, ARMs typically limit how often and by how much the interest rate can vary.
ADTV - Average Daily Trading Value
advance directive - Individual instructions or a power of attorney for healthcare made while the individual has capacity. In some states, the directive can be oral.
Adverse Possession - A means by which one can legally take another's property without paying for it. The requirements for adversely possessing property vary between states, but usually include continuous and open use for a period of five or more years and paying taxes on the property in question.
affirmative action - Programs often required by state or federal law that attempt to compensate for discriminatory practices that have in the past denied fair consideration to members of minority groups.
affirmative defense - A statement by a defendant that provides justification for an action or an explanation for behavior or that provides the basis for denial of liability.
affirmed - In the practice of appellate courts, the word means that the decision of the trial court is correct.
Agent - A person authorized to act for and under the direction of another person when dealing with third parties. The person who appoints an agent is called the principal. An agent can enter into binding agreements on the principal's behalf and may even create liability for the principal if the agent causes harm while carrying out his or her duties.
agreement - A meeting of the minds. An agreement is made when two or more people or entities reach an understanding about a particular issue, including their obligations, duties and rights. An agreement can be written or oral and may be considered a legally binding contractual obligation.
Alien - A foreign-born person who has not qualified as a citizen of the country.
Alien Registration Receipt Card (ARC) - The official name used in immigration law for a green card.
Antitrust Acts - Federal and state statutes to protect trade and commerce from unlawful restraints, price discriminations, price fixing and monopolies.
Appraisal - A determination of the value of something, such as a house, jewelry or stock. A professional appraiser -- a qualified, disinterested expert -- makes an estimate by examining the property, and looking at the initial purchase price and comparing it with recent sales of similar property. Courts commonly order appraisals in probate, condemnation, bankruptcy or foreclosure proceedings in order to determine the fair market value of property. Banks and real estate companies use appraisals to ascertain the worth of real estate for lending purposes. And insurance companies require appraisals to determine the amount of damage done to covered property before settling insurance claims.
Assets - The tangible and intangible 'possessions' of a company that have a price value. Tangible assets, which can normally produce cash quickly, include securities, accounts receivable, cash, inventory, office equipment and real estate property. Intangible assets include goodwill, brand, trademark, franchise and intellectual property rights.
association - A group of two or more people who have joined together for a common purpose. Unlike a corporation, an association is not a legal entity and does not have to file all the formal papers required of a corporation.
Asylum - A legal status granted to an individual who is in the United States and fears political persecution if he or she is forced to return to their home country.
at will employment - The right of employers to fire employees for any reason or for no reason at all. It also gives employees the legal right to quit their jobs at any time for any reason. Employees with contracts stating the terms of their employment are usually not considered to be at will employees. Regardless of an employer's rights to fire at will employees, they cannot fire someone for illegal reasons such as age or race.
attestation - The act of watching another person sign a legal document, usually an affidavit or will, and then signing that document as a witness. Usually the signatures of the person signing the document and those of the witnesses are acknowledged by a notary public.
Attractive Nuisance - Something on a piece of property that attracts children but also endangers their safety. For example, unfenced swimming pools, open pits, farm equipment and abandoned refrigerators have all qualified as attractive nuisances.
Audit - During an audit a company or individual's financial/accounting or tax records are evaluated for accuracy. an audit a company or individual's financial/accounting or tax records are evaluated for accuracy.
AUTO ACCIDENT COMPENSATION - Millions of auto accidents occur each year, injuring people and damaging property. Where a matter is very minor, many people file the needed reports with the police or DMV, tell their insurance companies, and go on with their lives, paying the losses out of pocket. But all too often the matter is not minor, and can cost you significant amounts of money and significant personal sacrifice or pain. As you know, if you suffer a personal injury you'll likely require medical attention and may need rehabilitation, both of which cost money. You may lose income (and/or have to use up "sick time") because of the injury, and while treatment and recovery takes place. You may have sustained property damage to your car and other property. As you can't drive your vehicle while it is being repaired, you may have to rent one, and car repairs and rentals can cost money. You may lose the ability to perform various activities of normal daily living, for a while or long term. You may endure pain and suffering. The law permits you to seek recovery after an accident to "make you whole again." The central concept is that you should be compensated in a manner that, as best as the law can arrange, places you back in the same position as you were before the accident. In addition to normal compensatory damages designed to make someone whole, in extreme cases "punitive damages" may be available if the injury was the result of someone else's reckless or irresponsible behavior, or if the cause of the accident or the extent of the injury was caused by something about the car that is dangerous ? a defective product-- that the manufacturer should have corrected.
Back and Neck Injuries - Even in what seems to be relatively minor accidents people can injure their neck and back. The force generated by an accident forces the spine forward and backward, or side to side. This can tear and stretch muscle, resulting in painful injuries. The soft disks that are between the vertebrae can also tear, a more serious injury. Back and neck injuries are, according to health agencies, the most common reason for missed work, and one of the most common complaints made to doctors.
bail - The money put up to secure the release of a person who has been charged and jailed for a crime. The idea behind bail is that it guarantees the appearance of the defendant in court for further legal proceedings. There is a constitutional right to a fair bail amount. This will vary depending on the severity of the crime.
Balloon Payment - A large final payment due at the end of a loan, typically a home or car loan, to pay off the amount your monthly payments didn't cover. Many states prohibit balloon payments in loans for goods or services that are primarily for personal, family or household use, or require the lender to let you refinance the balloon payment before forcing collection.
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