There are many reasons why employees may need a lawyer. Employees who find that they need legal help should:
- Research the legal problem. Lawyers.com has many articles that should help with specific problems, including discrimination, non-compete contracts and sexual harassment.
- Search web sites. Multiple web sites can be searched to help deal with all different types of problems. One example is the attorney directory at Lawyers.com. This directory will help an employee find an employment lawyer in his city. Other options to search are the web sites of legal organizations. Some examples include the National Employment Lawyer's Association and American Association for Justice. One last option is to enter key words into search engines to locate relevant web sites. An employee can enter phrases such as "Employment lawyer in Columbus, Ohio."
- Call local services that refer attorneys. These services will usually be provided by local or state bar associations.
- Consult known lawyers or professionals. Employees may know attorneys or professionals through church or other activities that they can ask. These professionals will normally know the attorneys in the area that have a good reputation.
Compile all the names you gather into a list. This list should be narrowed down to only a few attorneys. There are certain checklist items you can use to help choose the names:
- Do the lawyers have helpful information on their web sites that's relevant to your legal problem?
- Do the lawyers have the legal background and experience in your area of need?
- Do the lawyers normally represent employees or employers?
- Do the lawyers have any information, such as FAQs or legal articles, on the internet?
- Do the lawyers have a good reputation in the community?
- Are the lawyers in good standing with the state?
- Are the advertisements of the lawyers helpful and in good taste?
- Is there any good or bad publicity about the lawyers in the newspapers?
- Do the lawyers have any special skills that'll help meet your needs, such as the ability to speak multiple languages?
After you have narrowed down the list, you should contact the two or three lawyers and ask for a consultation. Some will charge a fee while others will meet with you for free. A consultation to meet may cost as much as $250 or as low as $75.
A lawyer may be too busy to meet you right away. It may take a week to see you. However, if the wait is too long, the lawyer probably doesn't have the time your legal problem deserves and needs.
During the consultation, you have the ability to evaluate the lawyer and decide if you want to hire her. Examples of evaluation factors to consider include:
- Does the lawyer listen to you?
- Is the lawyer able to answer all your questions?
- Does the lawyer have the ability to explain things clearly and precisely?
- Does the lawyer seem confident in being able to solve your problem?
- Does the lawyer have friendly staff that act professional?
- Is the lawyer representing your employer or another party that may create a conflict of interest?
- Does the lawyer have references from other clients as to her legal skills?
- Does the lawyer's promotional information match what she says and what other sources say?
You should usually ask to see a retainer agreement. This agreement can be examined with the lawyer. There are multiple ways that a lawyer may charge you to help solve your legal problem:
- A large non-refundable lump sum, called a fee retainer
- A set amount per hour
- A percentage amount of any settlement or judgment, called a contingency fee
Many people may not be able to pay a lawyer any upfront money. Their only option is to pay a contingency fee. However, the lawyer will usually receive a larger amount of money for taking the risk of not receiving anything.
Even if a lawyer charges by the hour, she may require you to pay an initial retainer. This payment guaranties that the lawyer's initial fees will be paid for. The retainer is placed in a trust fund. Money can only be taken out for actual work spent on your case. Any money left over in the trust should be returned to you.
It's rarer for a lawyer to charge a non-refundable fee retainer. It sometime happens if a lawyer agrees to receive a contingency fee. She may require a non-refundable amount upfront since she's taking on a case with risk without a full evaluation.
Any type of cost surrounding your case should be discussed with the lawyer. Examples of items that you may have to pay include:
- Court reporters
- Copying costs
- Computerized research
- Exhibits at trial
- Fees for expert witness
Costs will vary case to case. You should discuss with the lawyer how much everything will cost and decide whether you can afford it.
Questions for Your Attorney
- How much legal experience do you have in employment law?
- How long will my claim against my former employer probably take before it's settled?
- Is my claim against my former employer worth the time and effort?