When do you need a lawyer's help?

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Sometimes it's a no-brainer, such as when you get sued or when you're arrested or charged with a crime. But keep in mind that people hire lawyers for advice and expertise all of the time, in all kinds of situations. While you may be able to get through a legal problem without hiring a lawyer, you should always remember that when you represent yourself, you might have a "fool for a client," as the saying goes.

One of the first things to ask yourself in deciding if you should consult an attorney is: "What's at stake?" When your finances or liberties are in serious jeopardy, the obvious answer is to get legal help. But what's serious? An ordinary parking summons is a brush with the law, but you need not consult with an attorney to pay the fine or even to fight it. However, if you've accumulated a number of unpaid parking tickets and a warrant has been issued for your arrest, you would probably want to hire a lawyer to help you best resolve the situation, and perhaps save you money or even keep you out of jail.

In good times as well as bad, individuals and businesses rely on their lawyer's advice to understand and secure legal rights and financial interests. Lawyers help clients with estate planning and business negotiations, strategies and transactions. With good legal advice, clients are better prepared to comply with and navigate through the complex mazes of governmental rules and regulations.

It's also a lot easier to rest easily after consulting with experienced lawyers for important undertakings such as tax and estate planning, drafting wills and trusts, negotiating business deals and even pursuing personal family matters such as adopting children.

What should you consider before you hire a lawyer?

It never hurts to talk to a lawyer, and it may be the best thing you can do if you think you have a legal problem that you can't resolve yourself. If you're persistent, you can probably arrange a free consultation with a lawyer who will talk to you on the matter.

Short of hiring a lawyer, though, you may want to look at alternative sources to resolve your legal issues. For example:

  • Many companies and public utilities offer customer service departments that effectively address consumer problems and complaints
  • Many state attorney general offices and other agencies provide consumer protection departments. (But it's not usually a good idea to try to gain an advantage in a legal dispute over adversarial parties by threatening to contact a government agency if they don't comply with your demands. It's possible that such action could be characterized as attempted extortion on your part.)
  • If you have a problem with a regulated industry such as banking or insurance, contact the agency in your state responsible for overseeing that industry
  • Many community groups such as elder associations, civil rights groups and other organizations offer free legal help and information.

Some disputes may be resolved by using increasingly popular litigation alternatives such as mediation or arbitration. Businesses and individuals might agree to use alternative dispute resolution (ADR) rather than court action to resolve legal conflicts.

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