Not every legal matter requires the use of an attorney. Fighting a speeding ticket and going to small claims courts are two examples. However, in many other situations involving a legal dispute, challenge, or deal, you may not wish to chance the risks of going it alone without the advice of an experienced lawyer who can help you out. In fact, while good legal representation may not be cheap, it can help get you out of a number of sticky situations - such as a bad divorce, lost job, or DUI violation - not to mention the potential alternatives for not using an attorney -- including broken agreements, lost claims, or worse, jail time.
While each person's legal situation is different, there are times when you really should hire a lawyer. Below are the top ten reasons.
1. The law is complicated. If you are not a lawyer you probably have no business acting like one in certain instances. Even experienced lawyers typically do not represent themselves in court. A solid case can quickly unravel without the help of a trained and emotionally detached attorney. Similarly, failing to hire a lawyer when starting a business, reviewing a contract or embarking on other endeavors with potential legal ramifications can result in otherwise avoidable pitfalls.
2. Not having a lawyer may actually cost you more. What is at stake? A criminal case may determine whether or not you spend time behind bars, while a civil case could hurt you financially. Besides, many civil attorneys don't collect a dime unless they win your case. Also, you may be able to claim legal fees as a plaintiff in a civil case, so hiring a lawyer can actually save or make you money.
3. Lawyers know how to challenge (and sometimes suppress) evidence. You may not even know that a key piece of evidence against you was improperly obtained or that the testimony of a witness contradicts an earlier statement. And did the crime lab properly handle the evidence every step of the way? Your attorney will find out.
4. Attorneys understand how to properly file court documents and handle other legal procedures. If you're not an attorney, you may struggle with the deadlines and protocol for properly filling out and filing certain legal documents. One late or incorrect filing could derail your case, delay a given legal procedure or worse - have the case thrown out altogether (and not in your favor).
5. Because you don't know any expert witnesses or private detectives. Attorneys depend on an extended network of professionals to help their clients' cases. Most non-attorneys do not personally know the types of professionals who can help with discovery or challenge evidence or testimony by the opposing party.
6. You're not sure how to plead -- or what a 'pleading' is? Pleading guilty is not the only choice, even if there is evidence pointing directly at you. An attorney who understands the law will be best situated to explain your options and can help you avoid potentially severe penalties even before a criminal trial begins.
7. Because it is probably better to avoid problems in the first place rather than try to fix them once they arise. You may have heard the saying "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?" Well, hiring a lawyer in many instances will help you avoid potential legal headaches down the road. Do you really understand the fine print of that contract you are signing? A lawyer will.
8. A good lawyer can strike up a good settlement offer or plea bargain, if necessary. An experienced lawyer probably has seen cases similar to yours or at least knows enough to make a calculated guess about how it might resolve at trial. Sometimes a settlement is the best choice, while other times it makes more sense to see your case through to trial. An attorney also can help negotiate a fair settlement with the opposing party.
9. The other party has legal representation. Non-attorneys are generally at a disadvantage when squaring off against opposing counsel or doing business with another party that has legal counsel. As explained above, the law is complicated and an attorney representing your adversary (or even a non-adversarial party entering into a legal agreement with you) will take advantage of this inequity.
10. Lawyers often provide a free initial consultation. Since many attorneys will meet with you for free during a face-to-face consultation, there is really no harm in talking with one. Not only will a free consultation give you an idea of the type of case you have, it will help you decide whether you actually need to hire a lawyer.