INTRODUCTION

Almost everything we do – making a purchase, driving a car, interacting with others – is in some way affected by the law. While it often seems hard to live with laws, it would surely be harder to live without them.

The availability of the law can, however, offer a variety of choices. When do you need an attorney? When can you handle a matter on your own? There are many legal situations that you may handle without the assistance of an attorney. However, when circumstances and laws are unique, complicated, or confusing, you may need the assistance of an attorney. The following information is provided in an effort to help determine your best course of action.

WHAT IS AN ATTORNEY?

An attorney (also called lawyer, counsel, counselor, solicitor, or barrister) is a professionally trained and licensed individual who assists people with legal problems, often times preparing legal documents or representing people before courts and government agencies.

WHAT IS AN ATTORNEY’S MAIN DUTIES?

An attorney has two main duties: to uphold the law and to protect a client’s rights.

WHAT ARE THE PROFESSIONAL REQUIREMENTS FOR BECOMING AN ATTORNEY?

Student and Student/Attorney Applicant Requirements. The burden of proof is on the Applicant to establish by clear and convincing evidence that he or she meets each of the following requirements:

(a) Have paid prescribed fees and timely filed the required application in accordance with Rule 14-707;

(b) Be at least twenty-one years old;

(c) Have graduated with a first professional degree in law (Juris Doctorate or Bachelor of Laws) from an Approved Law School;

(d) Be of good moral character and have satisfied the requirements of Rule 17-708;

(e) Have successfully passed the Student Bar Examination as prescribed in Rule 14-710;

(f) Have successfully passed the MPRE as prescribed in Rule 14-713. To register for the MPRE, go to www.ncbex.org;

(g) Have complied with the provisions of Rule 14-716 concerning licensing and enrollment fees;

For more information on Admissions and Requirements of Foreign Law School Applicants and Requirements of Attorney Applicants Without Examination see Admissions.

WHAT IS THE UTAH STATE BAR?

The Utah State Bar is an organization of Utah’s 7,500 lawyers and judges. The history of the Utah State Bar began in the early 1900′s with the association of several Utah lawyers hoping to improve communication within the legal community and to find ways of serving the general public. In 1931 the Utah Legislature recognized the need to foster those goals and designated the Utah State Bar by statute to manage and regulate the legal profession by licensing all persons who engage in the practice of law. In 1985, the Utah State Constitution was amended to clarify that regulation of the legal profession should be performed under the Judicial Branch of government through the Utah Supreme Court, and the Bar was “perpetuated, created and continued” to perform regulatory and public interest services under the direction and control of the Supreme Court.

Today’s Bar envisions its role as leading society in the creation of a justice system that is understood, valued, respected and accessible to all. Within that vision, we have established a mission of representing lawyers in Utah and serving the public and the legal profession by promoting justice, professional excellence, civility, ethics, respect for and understanding of the law.

The membership of the Bar includes active and inactive lawyers, and lawyers who reside within and outside the State of Utah. In order to practice law in the State of Utah, it is necessary to be a member of the Utah State Bar. The Utah State Bar maintains offices at 645 South 200 East in Salt Lake City, Utah in the Utah Law and Justice Center. The Bar officers include a president and a president elect who are elected from a commission of 11 lawyers, 2 public members, and several ex-officio members. The Bar has an office staff with various responsibilities related to the administration of the practice of law and services to lawyers and services to the public.

ONCE AN ATTORNEY IS LICENSED IN ONE STATE, MAY HE/SHE AUTOMATICALLY PRACTICE LAW IN ALL STATES?

No, to become licensed in more than one state an attorney must usually comply with each state’s requirements.

WHAT IS LEGAL ADVICE?

When an attorney gives you “advice” it is a conclusion drawn from many years of training and study and perhaps many hours of searching through volumes of written material to be certain that it includes all the laws affecting your problem. In preparing a contract, pleading, or other document for you, your attorney brings the skill and knowledge of the legal profession to that work.

IF I HAVE A LEGAL PROBLEM, MUST I HIRE AN ATTORNEY?

Not necessarily. There are many resources available to individuals. It’s possible that your situation may be resolved through mediation or possibly in small claims court. Contacting the lawyer referral program can help you to determine the best course of action for your specific need.

WHEN SHOULD I GO TO AN ATTORNEY?

The old saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is just as applicable in law as it is in medicine. The best time to go to an attorney is before you are in legal difficulty. It is best to consult your attorney before you sign papers or take other action that might seriously alter your legal position.

You
should consider consulting an attorney when:

  • You are planning to enter into a verbal or written contract which has major financial consequences.
  • You are involved in an accident involving injury to persons or damage to property.
  • You are seeking to collect an account from another person, or someone is seeking to collect an account from you which you do not believe you owe or which you question.
  • You need an opinion about the title to real estate.
  • You want to plan your estate and make a will.
  • You are organizing or dissolving a business.
  • You are settling an estate.
  • You are involved in a family situation such as adoption, divorce, child support or modification.
  • Your rights as a consumer or employee are abused.
  • You have been arrested for a crime or served with legal papers in a civil lawsuit.
  • You have been involved in a serious accident causing personal injury or property damages.
  • You have a change in financial status or when filing for bankruptcy.

There are numerous other reasons why you should consider consulting with an attorney. The lawyer referral service can help you decide what options are available.

HOW SHOULD I GO ABOUT CHOOSING AN ATTORNEY?

The attorney will be helping you solve your problems. So, it is important that you feel comfortable enough to tell him/her honestly and completely, all personal facts necessary to resolve your problem.  A neighbor, relative, friend, employer, will not be able to tell you which particular attorney is best for you. You must judge that for yourself. Most attorneys will allow you to talk with them before making a final decision. If you do not know an attorney, contact Utah State Bar Lawyer Referral Directory to receive a referral for competent legal representation. The referral program screens potential members and accepts or denies attorneys to its service.

Remember that when you have a legal problem, you should go to an attorney. Beware of advice from individuals who are not attorneys. To consult someone who is not an attorney about a legal problem is always risky and often costly. Generally, no two legal problems are alike.

ARE THERE ANY PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS TO KEEP IN MIND WHEN CHOOSING AN ATTORNEY?

Yes, the attorney’s area of practice and prior experience is very important. Asking your attorney questions is important and will help you understand what his/her experience has been with similar legal matters. Another consideration is the location of the attorney’s office. Also, discuss fees the attorney will charge; How will the fees be billed? and How much time does the attorney estimate it will take to resolve your matter?

WHAT IS MY ATTORNEY’S DUTY TO ME?

Your attorney’s principal duty is to see that you are given the benefit of all your legal rights. An attorney is sworn to conduct cases in an orderly way that will assure that they may be decided upon their merits. Your attorney may not make any agreement or incur any obligations that might substantially prejudice your interests, without your prior approval.

WHAT IS MY DUTY TO MY ATTORNEY?

You should give your attorney all the facts concerning your case and make a full and fair disclosure of the entire situation. In order to serve you well, your attorney must know not only the favorable facts but also those that may be unfavorable.

HOW WILL I DETERMINE WHETHER I WANT TO HIRE AN ATTORNEY?

Most attorneys will briefly meet with you in order to get acquainted. During (or soon after) the first meeting, you can decide whether you want to hire the attorney. Before making the decision to hire an attorney, you may want to ask certain questions to aid in your evaluation. Please read the web page on preparing for that first meeting.

WHEN I FIRST MEET WITH MY PROSPECTIVE ATTORNEY, SHOULD I ASK ABOUT THE POSSIBLE OUTCOME OF THE CASE?

Yes. Ask for the attorney’s opinion about strengths and weaknesses of your case. Ask if the attorney will most likely settle your case out of court, or go to trial. What type of experience does your attorney have with trial work? Take caution if an attorney guarantees a big settlement or assures victory in court.

HOW IS AN ATTORNEY’S FEE SET?

In determining the fee, an attorney must take into account the difficulties involved with your problem, the amount of time it may take to resolve your problem, and the value of the results obtained for you. You should keep in mind that an attorney has certain necessary expenses in order to serve clients efficiently. From the fees, the attorney must pay for office help in addition to office rent and furnishings. It is also necessary to equip the office library and add to it continually to keep up to date with changes in the law.

In the interests of a sound relationship with your attorney, you should discuss the fee at your first consultation. Your attorney may not be able to tell you in advance the exact fee, but in most situations there can at least be an estimate of the charge or an explanation about how the fee will be calculated. Sometimes a lawyer’s fee is controlled by a statute or fixed by court rules. In some cases that involve the recovery of money, the charge may be based on a contingency fee or percentage of the amount recovered. It may be helpful to have the attorney put the fee agreement or billing arrangements in writing. A written agreement can help you avoid any misunderstanding.

HOW DO ATTORNEYS BILL FOR THEIR SERVICES?

There are different ways that attorneys may charge for legal services. The Utah State Bar recommends that you sign a written fee agreement with any attorney you hire. This agreement will outline what services the attorney will provide and how he/she will be paid for those services. In the state of Texas there are no set fee agreements. Attorney’s charge differently based on your specific legal matter, the complexity of the situation, and the attorney’s experience in that area of the law.

  • Hourly Basis: An attorney may charge for his or her time on an hourly basis. A deposit, known as a retainer fee, is usually paid to the attorney when he/she is hired. The retainer fee does not represent the total fee, additional hourly fees and expenses, such as costs for filing fees, court reporters, photocopying, travel, or long distance telephone calls may be additional. In certain matters, the attorney may be unable to predict how many hours of work or how expensive the entire case will be, but he or she should be able to give you an understanding of the process ahead and an estimate of total costs.
  • Contingency Fee Basis: An attorney may handle a matter on a contingency fee basis. This means a client does not pay any fees unless the lawyer wins or settles the case. Matters such as personal injury, collection matters, products liability, malpractice and some employment law cases may be handled on a contingency fee basis. In some contingency fee arrangements, the attorney may require the client to pay for certain expenses, such as fees for expert witnesses [An “expert” is a person who, because of his education or specialized experience, possesses superior knowledge about a subject. A person who is qualified as an “expert witness” will be allowed to testify in court to assist the judge or jury in understanding complicated or technical subjects not within the knowledge or understanding of the average person and other expenses as outlined above.
  • Flat Fee Basis: An attorney may handle a matter on a flat fee basis. This means that there is a specific dollar amount for which the lawyer will handle the matter regardless of the hours spent. Bankruptcy, real estate purchases and uncontested divorces are often handled on a flat fee basis.
  • Combined Approach: An attorney may combine several of the above options for a particular case.
  • Limited Scope Service: In some cases you may feel that you want to manage the legal process yourself but know that an attorney will be invaluable in helping you accomplish specific tasks. Limited Scope Representation allows you to hire an attorney to meet those exact needs but isolates them from the work you wish to perform on your own. Fees for this type of representation can be a mixture of any of the above options.

It is important to understand clearly what fee arrangement you agree to. Ask plenty of questions.

SHOULD I “SHOP AROUND” FOR THE MOST AFFORDABLE
ATTORNEY I CAN FIND?

As with other products and services, you often “get what you pay for” when it comes to legal service. Although you should not expect to get good legal advice without paying for it, you should not pay for more than you get. Examine your billing statement carefully. If you feel that any charges are too high, or if you do not understand a billed item, ask for clarification. Also – if you find a difference in fees, ask the attorney why there is a difference.

IS THERE ANYTHING I CAN DO TO REDUCE MY LEGAL COSTS?

Yes, answer all of your attorney’s questions fully and honestly. If you tell your attorney all of the facts as you know them, it will save on time that might be spent in later investigations of your case. It will also help your attorney to do a better job.

Remember that an attorney is bound by ethics of the profession to maintain what you reveal in strict confidence. Also be prepared to share any documents and records that are related to your matter. It is important to tell your attorney facts about your case that reflect poorly on you. These issues will almost certainly be revealed during trial.

HOW DO I PREPARE FOR MY FIRST MEETING WITH THE ATTORNEY?

When you meet with an attorney for the first time you want to make a good impression. The more organized you are the better the advice the attorney will be able to give.

The first step is to call and make an appointment. Tell the receptionist or attorney the purpose for your visit and ask if there will be a charge. Many clients simply need a consultation to determine the best legal remedy for the situation. Take, for example, a person who is undecided about a divorce. After the initial meeting with the attorney, the person may decide that a divorce is not the right solution for them at this time.

Be as organized as possible. Make copies of important papers that are relevant to your case because the attorney may need to keep them for future reference. In most instances, you will not be leaving your original documents with the attorney. Write down your questions before your visit. Your organization and desire to focus on your problem will impress your attorney. In some instances, you may find it helpful to bring a family member or friend with you to help write down the advice the attorney gives.

If you have a complicated problem you may even want to place different papers in different labeled folders to make documents easy to find as you are reviewing the problem with your attorney.

Start the visit by briefly outlining your problem for the attorney, and then ask the attorney for their advice. Remember, when you work with an attorney, you are paying for the attorney’s time and expertise. You can spend your money talking, or you can spend your money listening to the advice you’re seeking. At this point, the attorney may ask you some questions. Answer them as truthfully and briefly as you can. Your conversation with the attorney is confidential. You and your attorney are on the same team, and the attorney is getting paid to tell you what you need to hear - not what you want to hear.

After you have told the attorney your problem and sought their advice, they will quote you fees for different solutions. We encourage clients to outline the problem, and let the attorney suggest solutions and prices. This works much better than having you, the client, propose solutions. Frequently there will be alternatives to explore that you did not know existed.

Once the attorney has outlined the possible solutions and the related fees, you choose a strategy together that you want to pursue (doing nothing is sometimes one of the possibilities). The attorney will frequently have some fairly strong ideas about the timing on your particular problem. In some instances moving quickly is very important and in some instance patience will carry the day.

It is very important that you talk to your attorney about the timing of your case. Even though  you discuss it at the initial meeting, strategies change. If things are not moving consistent with your initial plan, write to your attorney and ask to know what the new time frame is.

Some legal work is straightforward which makes it easy to quote fees. Other legal matters, particularly litigation, is not. Litigation is a fight. When you engage someone in a fight, it’s impossible to determine exactly what they are going to do. You can expect that they are going to defend themselves in some way and will frequently counter-attack, or counter-sue. The more you fight, the more time involved, the more expensive the process.

The initial consultation is a two-way street. You are making a decision about hiring the attorney, and the attorney is evaluating you as a potential client. Be sure to put your best foot forward. The attorney’s primary considerations are: (1.) Is your goal consistent with the money that you want to spend to achieve it? (2) Are you answering their questions truthfully? and (3) Are you willing to listen to their advice?

People don’t hire an attorney because they can’t think of anything else to do with their money. They hire an attorney because they have a problem that calls for special expertise. You are hiring an attorney to perform some type of personal service for you, to speak on your behalf, to negotiate for you. The more complicated the problem, the higher the level of service, the higher the fees.

Plan to go to the first interview with an open mind. You do not have to decide to hire the attorney until you have had time to think about the interview.

Here is a simple checklist of basic questions to ask before you hire an attorney:

  1. What is your experience in this field?
  2. Have you handled matters like mine?
  3. What are the possible outcomes of my case?
  4. What are my alternatives in resolving the matter?
  5. Approximately how long will it take to resolve?
  6. Do you recommend mediation or arbitration?
  7. What are your rates and how often will you bill me?
  8. What is a ballpark figure for the total bill, including fees and expenses?
  9. How will you keep me informed of progress?
  10. What kind of approach will you take to resolve the matter – aggressive and unyielding, or will you be more inclined to reach a reasonable settlement?
  11. Who else in the office will be working on my case?
  12. Can junior attorneys or paralegals in the office handle some of the administrative work at a lower rate?

WHAT CAN I EXPECT AFTER I HIRE THE ATTORNEY?

Once you’ve hired an attorney, substantial and frequent contact with you is generally not needed. The fee that the attorney quotes usually assumes nominal contact. However, if you decide that you would like to meet with your attorney to discuss the status of your case or new developments, call and make an appointment.

Be sure to ask if there will be an additional charge for the office visit. In some cases, letters are the most economic and efficient method of handling questions

WHAT IF I HAVE A PROBLEM WITH MY ATTORNEY?

If you have a problem with your attorney, you should first discuss it with him or her. Try to work out any problems. If the problems cannot be resolved, it is your right to fire your attorney and to hire someone else to represent you.

If the situation occurs before your legal problem is settled, you should expect to pay a portion of the fee to the attorney for time already spent. The attorney has an obligation to return your file.

If you are having difficulty working with your attorney the Utah State Bar provides a Consumer Assistance Program. This program is staffed by an independent attorney who will review your issues and try to mediate a solution.

If you believe your attorney has not acted in your best interests and has thereby done something illegal or unethical, you may wish to file a grievance against your attorney. In such circumstances, contact the Utah State Bar Office of Professional Conduct at (801) 531-9110