Frequently Asked Questions
Why should I have a lawyer?
Lawyers are trained legal professionals who can explain the laws to you; help you evaluate your options; negotiate or mediate conflicts with other people; prepare letters, court forms or other legal documents for you; and represent you in court. Many lawyers offer a free (or minimal fee) initial consultation.
When should I hire a lawyer?
Immediately. In many situations, it’s obvious that you need to act fast. But even if you think you have lots of time to consider your alternatives, deadlines sneak up on you and lawyers need time to prepare. So it’s always better to start looking for a lawyer sooner, rather than later.
If you’ve been injured in an accident, keep in mind that there are time limits on your right to file a lawsuit. These “statutes of limitation” vary greatly from state to state and depend upon the fact and type of each case. In some instances, the law requires a claimant to notify potential defendants about any injury within an extremely short period of time – as little as a few weeks or months.
What Is the Difference Between a Civil and Criminal Case?
The American legal system is comprised of two very different types of cases, civil and criminal and here are some of the key differences between a criminal case and a civil case:
Crimes are considered offenses against the state, or society as a whole. That means that even though one person might murder another person, murder itself is considered an offense to everyone in society. Accordingly, crimes against the state are prosecuted by the state, and the prosecutor (not the victim) files the case in court as a representative of the state. If it were a civil case, then the wronged party would file the case.
Criminal offenses and civil offenses are generally different in terms of their punishment. Criminal cases will have jail time as a potential punishment, whereas civil cases generally only result in monetary damages or orders to do or not do something. Note that a criminal case may involve both jail time and monetary punishments in the form of fines.
The standard of proof is also very different in a criminal case versus a civil case. Crimes must generally be proved “beyond a reasonable doubt”, whereas civil cases are proved by lower standards of proof such as “the preponderance of the evidence” (which essentially means that it was more likely than not that something occurred in a certain way). The difference in standards exists because criminal cases have greater consequences – the possibility of jail and even death
What is Criminal Negligence?
When a person breaches a legal obligation, or falls short of fulfilling an obligation, he is considered negligent. In some cases, a person is considered criminally negligent. For example:
- A mother who leaves her two-year-old child alone in the house in order to go out to a bar and have a good time could face charges for criminal negligence.
- A person who drives 40 miles over the speed limit in a really dangerous way and who causes a car accident and injures someone could be charged with criminal negligence.
- A person who breaks texting-and-driving laws and who is typing a text message when he/she gets into a car accident and kills someone could be considered criminally negligent.
- A nurse in a nursing home who forgets to feed a patient who cannot feed himself, causing the patient to starve to death, could be considered criminally negligent.
- A caregiver in a hospital who isn’t paying attention and who gives someone a deadly dose of a medication could be considered criminally negligent.
- A doctor who prescribes addictive drugs to a known drug addict because he/she gets paid for his services could be considered criminally negligent.
- Each state has its own criminal laws that define criminal negligence. Someone charged with criminal negligence could go to jail.
What is Civil Negligence?
Negligence is a failure to take reasonable care to avoid causing injury or loss to another person. There are four steps in proving negligence. The plaintiff must prove:
(1) There is a duty in the circumstances to take care duty of care;
(2) The behavior or inaction of the defendant in the circumstances did not meet the standard of care which a reasonable person would meet in the circumstances (breach of duty);
(3) The plaintiff has suffered injury or loss which a reasonable person in the circumstances could have been expected to foresee (damage);
(4) The damage was caused by the breach of duty (causation).
There are lots of examples of negligence that can lead to a civil lawsuit. For example:
- A doctor who operates on the wrong patient or on the wrong body part because he/she misreads the chart could be considered negligent.
- A company that releases a dangerous drug without fully testing the medication and identifying all of the side effects can be considered negligent.
- A driver who runs a stop sign and who drives well over the legal speed limit can be considered negligent.
- An employer who fails to follow OSHA guidelines and other workplace safety rules can be considered negligent.
- In each of these situations, a plaintiff could file a lawsuit and obtain compensation if he can prove the negligence was the direct cause of some type of harm he endured.
How Much Do Lawyers Cost?
Depending on the location, type of case, and the particular billing structure, the rates an attorney charges vary significantly. The first question you should ask is what sort of billing structure your lawyer uses. Generally, a lawyer will bill hourly, on contingency, on retainer, or with a flat fee.
Once you’ve figured out how your lawyer will bill, you should have a better idea how much your legal matter will run you. Remember: cheaper isn’t necessarily better.
What are Attorney’s fees?
Attorney’s fees are the fees, including labor charges and costs, charged by lawyers or their firms for legal services provided by them to their clients. They do not include incidental, non-legal costs (e.g. expedited shipping costs for legal documents).
What are Hourly Rates?
Hourly rates are the most common arrangement. Under this arrangement, the attorney gets paid an agreed-upon hourly rate for the hours worked on a client’s case or matter until it’s resolved.
It depends on each attorney’s experience, operating expenses, and the location of his or her practice. Cheaper isn’t necessarily better when it comes to your legal protection. A more expensive lawyer with a lot of experience may be able to handle a complex problem more quickly.
What are Flat Fees?
Where a legal matter is simple and well-defined, lawyers typically charge a flat fee. If an attorney suggests or has advertised a flat fee, be sure you understand exactly what that fee will and will not cover. The flat fee might not include expenses such as filing fees.
What are Retainer Fees?
A retainer fee is typically, but not always, an advance payment on the hourly rate for a specific case. The lawyer puts the retainer in a special trust account and deducts from that account the cost of services as they accrue. During the course of legal representation, clients should review periodic billing statements reflecting amounts deducted from the retainer.
Most retainers are non-refundable unless labeled “unreasonable” by a court. If you decide to drop a case that your lawyer has worked on before the retainer has been exhausted, you may forfeit the remainder.
What are Contingent Fees?
A client pays a contingent fees to a lawyer only if the lawyer handles a case successfully. In a contingent fee arrangement, the lawyer agrees to accept a fixed percentage of the recovery, which is the amount finally paid to the client. If you win the case, the lawyer’s fee comes out of the money awarded to you. If you lose, neither you nor the lawyer will get any money, but you will not be required to pay your attorney for the work done on the case.