Hire a lawyer

You can successfully represent yourself in many types of court cases, but law can be very complicated.  It can be very useful to have a lawyer’s help.

Deciding to hire a lawyer

You can hire a lawyer to help with your entire case. Or, you can hire a lawyer to help with just part of your case. For example, the lawyer writes an agreement for you or advises you about your options and possible outcomes. 

  • You have a complicated case or a case that may become complicated. You may not always realize a case is or could be complicated without talking to a lawyer.
  • The other side has a lawyer.
  • You want legal advice.
  • You want a confidential attorney-client relationship.
  • You want to discuss strategies for your case, like where to file your lawsuit, whether to file a response, whether to ask for a jury, and many other decisions that will come up during the case.
  • You want someone to negotiate for you with the other side.
  • You are worried that the other side will not “play fair” (a lawyer is more likely to notice this and know what to do).
  • You are going to have a jury trial. There are complicated decisions to make during a jury trial, from choosing a jury to how to effectively present a case to a jury.
  • You are too close emotionally to the case and have a hard time seeing things objectively.


Some ways you can find a lawyer:

  • Contact your county's lawyer referral service
  • Call your local county bar association (which will have a lawyer referral service or other resources)
  • Go to LawhelpCalifornia.org to find more information on a State Bar-certified lawyer referral service
  • Call the State Bar's Lawyer Referral Services Directory at 1-866-442-2529 (toll free in California) or 1-415-538-2250 (from outside California)
  • Search for a State Bar-certified specialist (if you need a very experienced attorney in a particular area of law)
  • Ask your friends, co-workers, employers, or other lawyers if they know any lawyers who have experience with the type of problem you have. Business people or professionals like bankers, ministers, doctors, social workers, and teachers are also good sources of referrals.
  • Check to see if you may belong to a prepaid group legal service plan through your employer, your union, or your credit union.

Check the lawyer's background

Before you meet with a lawyer, review the lawyer's background and discipline record at the State Bar’s web page on Attorney Search. Check that the lawyer is in good standing with the State Bar.

Interview the lawyer

When you meet with a lawyer, ask them questions to make sure you know what the lawyer will do for you and how much it will cost. You will then have to decide for yourself if this is the lawyer for you.

  • Questions to ask when interviewing a lawyer

    Ask about their experience

    • What is your experience in this field?
    • Have you handled cases like mine before? 
    • When is the last time you handled a case like mine?
    • Will anyone else be working on my case? For example, an associate lawyer, legal assistant, paralegal?
    • If another lawyer will be the one mostly handling your case, ask if you can meet them.

    What they expect may happen in your case

    • What steps will be involved in my case?
    • What are the possible outcomes?
    • How long do you expect this case to take?
    • What are my alternatives? Is arbitration or mediation a possibility?
    • How will you keep me informed as the case progresses?

    How do they charge

    • How do you charge for your time and that of your staff?
    • Do you charge by the hour, a fixed fee, or on contingency?
    • Do you require a retainer?
    • What other expenses will there be, and how are they calculated?
    • What can be done to reduce fees and costs? (Costs include telephone calls, photocopying, assistant help, court fees, travel expenses, and so on.)
    • Can you put your estimates in writing?
    • How often will I be billed?
    • Can I do some of the work?

Deciding whether to hire the lawyer

Once you get answers to your questions, consider:

  • Will you be comfortable working closely with the lawyer?
  • Do you think the lawyer has the experience and skill to handle your case?
  • Do you understand the lawyer's explanation of what your case involves?
  • Does the fee seem reasonable?

If the answers are yes, you may want to hire this lawyer. Make sure you understand the agreement before you sign it. If you are not comfortable with any of the terms, do not sign it. And if you cannot work out your disagreement, you may want to find a new lawyer.

A lawyer can handle some parts of your case while you handle others. This is called limited-scope representation. Limited-scope representation can be a great way for you to have legal help with your case while keeping costs down.

Make sure you are clear about how you will be billed. Lawyers bill in different ways:

  • Fixed fee

    The lawyer charges a set fee to do something, usually for routine legal matters

  • Hourly fee

    The lawyer charges by the hour

  • Retainer fee

    A "down payment" on any legal services. The legal fees will be subtracted from the retainer. If the retainer starts to run out, you may need to add more money.

  • Contingency fee

    You pay the lawyer from the money you receive if you win the case or settle it out of court. If you lose, the lawyer does not receive a fee.

  • Statutory fee

    The cost is set by law

The lawyer will also charge you for the costs of your case (filing fees, copying expenses, expert fees). You will be responsible for paying these costs even if your case is not successful. Costs can add up quickly. It is a good idea to ask the lawyer for a written estimate of what the costs will be.

If you have questions or concerns about your case, first talk to your lawyer. If you are having serious problems with your lawyer and have been unable to resolve them, there are other things you can do.

The State Bar also has a lot of information about what to do if you are having problems with your lawyer.

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