Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder
How To Get And Deal With A Lawyer
Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2010 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.
At least one friend of mine was generally unsure how one finds and works with a lawyer to get help with, say, government paperwork, or employment contract review. The "How to get a lawyer" entry on the MetaFilter wiki clearly and comprehensively explains how to find, interview, choose, and work with lawyers, but I felt like adding to the chorus with my personal experience. I'm a US resident and have only ever chosen a lawyer in the US.
When I needed a contract reviewed, I found my lawyer, Danielle Sucher, via a referral from my friend Riana. Your personal and professional network can probably recommend a lawyer. Searching the Ask MetaFilter recommendations is also useful.
It is perfectly fine to email or call up a lawyer and say, for example, "Do you do immigration law? I am handling a student visa matter, could you help us with that within [timescale]?" The lawyer may ask you for a quick summary of the issue and what you need, so she can do just enough specification to decide whether you need help in her specialty. Like any consultant, she's trying to figure out what you actually need, and she has more domain experience than you, so she might ask questions that initially seem irrelevant, or ask for information you don't have at hand. It's okay to ask what she needs to know and then get back to her. This initial consultation is free of charge unless she specifically says otherwise.
It feels a little easier if you can say in that first communication that "such-and-so referred me to you," as it is with accountants/CPAs, plumbers, tutors, and any kind of service providers. I am sure I stumbled in my initial contact with Danielle: "uh, I don't know what to do or how much things cost." She led me through it. I believe independent general practitioners are especially used to people for whom this is their first lawyer.
If it's clear that the lawyer practices in the sub-field that you need, then you ask about her rates. Some rates are hourly and some are per-task (say, a set charge to review a contract and discuss it with you). If you're okay with those prices, then you arrange how to give her information and communicate about the work. You could do it over email, in person, and/or by phone. When I work with Danielle, I email her a request to review a document, she says yes, I email her the document, and she tells me when she'll finish looking at it. On or before that deadline, she replies and tells me her issues, or calls and we talk about it over the phone. (We haven't met.) And then the Richardson-Harihareswara household sends her a check, gladly, because the risk mitigation and the reassurance is worth it.
I probably know people who would be happier if they had a lawyer in their lives, someone to consult about once a year when signing big scary contracts, but who haven't quite gotten one because they perceive that step as scary or hard. They might think that all lawyers suck, or that it's far too hard to find a good one, or that lawyer fees are unaffordable, or that seeing one will be inconvenient. Those are not true in my experience, and I hope they don't stop you from finding and using a lawyer. I find a particular comfort in having My Lawyer's phone number in my cell phone's speed dial.
25 Aug 2010, 8:19 a.m.
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27 Aug 2010, 13:04 p.m.