Working With A Lawyer
A few words about the legal profession
The U.S. Constitution, including the Bill of Rights, sets forth the foundation for the laws that provide for orderly and civilized conduct in our society. Lawyers perform a myriad of functions through local, state and federal governments, and in private practice, to insure the law is applied fairly under all circumstances.
The legal profession sets high educational and ethical standards to ensure the competency and integrity of lawyers. Typically, a lawyer holds a bachelor's degree from a college or university, (a four year program), and a juris doctor degree from an accredited law school, (a three year program). A lawyer must then demonstrate sufficient knowledge of all federal and state laws by passing a special test known as a bar exam, and submit an acceptable character and fitness report, before being granted a license to practice law. In Virginia, lawyers must follow a strict code of conduct called the Virginia Code of Professional Responsibility, which establishes ethical guidelines for the practice of law. The Virginia State Bar is the agency authorized to test, license, and discipline lawyers.
The client-attorney relationship is afforded special protection under the law. Generally, client communications with their attorney are confidential, similar to the legally protected relationship between a patient and their doctor, or a parishioner and a member of the clergy. It is not only safe for you to confide in your lawyer, it is necessary for you do so, in order for your lawyer to render the best legal advice possible.
Frequently asked questions…
You should consult with a lawyer when faced with a major life changing event involving…
- Your family
- Your property
- Your business or place of employment
- Purchasing or selling real estate, a business or personal property
- Filing for bankruptcy
- Changing family status such as divorce, adoption or death
- Situations involving violence or personal safety
- Being involved in a serious accident resulting in personal injury or property damage
- Being arrested for a crime or served with legal papers in a civil lawsuit, or as a result
of a traffic offense
- Writing or reviewing an agreement, a contract, or a will
- Starting a business or work related disputes
Personal recommendations from friends are an excellent way to find a lawyer, so talk with friends, relatives and people at your work about their experiences.
You can also use the PWCBA Lawyer Referral Service. You can reach this service at (703) 393-2306. Simply tell them the nature of your legal issue, and you will be referred to a local attorney who is experienced in that area of law. All Lawyer Referral Service attorneys are members in good standing of the PWCBA and the Virginia State Bar. You will be charged a nominal fee for meeting with this lawyer, for up to 30 minutes. This fee is sent to the PWCBA to cover the administrative costs of running this service.
If you prefer to perform your own search, click on our "Find A Lawyer" button. You can search through the entire membership of the PWCBA by practice area. Each attorney's listing includes contact information and other helpful information to enable you to select a lawyer to meet your needs.
Many lawyers simply charge an hourly rate for their services, which means the lawyer is paid for the time that he/she works on your behalf. Sometimes, a lawyer will ask for a deposit, which is an advance for a portion of anticipated fees associated with working on your case. This deposit is placed in a trust account, and is available for the attorney to apply to his/her hourly fees as the work progresses.
Sometimes lawyers establish a standard or "flat" fee for their services such as preparing a simple will, representing a client in court for a traffic ticket, or handling an uncontested divorce. In this type of arrangement, a set amount is charged regardless of how much time it takes to complete the task. A deposit may be requested, the full amount may be required prior to representing a client in court, or the lawyer may send a bill when the work has been completed.
Under a contingency fee agreement the lawyer's fee is based on a percentage of any recovery the lawyer obtains for you. Collections and personal injury cases are examples of cases often handled on a contingency basis.
One common misconception relates to the costs associated with preparing a case. Costs are different from lawyer's fees, and are always the responsibility of the client. These costs may include, but are not limited to, court reporting, process serving, translation services, filing fees, or expert witness testimony.
In all cases, you should discuss the fee arrangement with your attorney in advance.
If you are charged with a crime for which you may be sent to jail, you have the right to have an attorney represent you. If you cannot afford to hire an attorney, the court may appoint an attorney to represent you if you meet certain financial criteria. The PWCBA has published a helpful brochure called, "You and Your Court Appointed Attorney", which discusses court appointed attorneys. These brochures are available through the courts and clerk's offices at the Prince William County Judicial Center and on-line.
If your case is a civil matter, meaning a non-criminal dispute with another individual, and you cannot afford to hire an attorney, you may qualify for pro bono or reduced rate legal services through Legal Services of Northern Virginia, (703) 778-6800.
The members of the PWCBA provide a variety of pro bono and reduced fee legal services to those in need through Legal Services of Northern Virginia, and through ACTS/Turning Points, the local domestic violence intervention program, (703) 792-4782.
Be honest. Tell your lawyer the truth about everything you know about your legal matter, and trust that he/she will act in your best interest. Information withheld from your lawyer can put him/her at a great disadvantage should it become necessary for them to negotiate or litigate on your behalf.
Be prepared to provide your lawyer with information such as copies of documents, contracts, medical records, etc., or to tell your lawyer how to contact individuals that might provide necessary information. Your lawyer may also request reports, assessments, evaluations, etc., on your behalf. Keep a file for all your legal correspondence, and if appropriate, keep a journal of events relevant to your case. Make sure your lawyer knows how to reach you.
You may have certain expectations regarding the outcome of your legal matter, and should discuss these with your lawyer. While an attorney can never predict the outcome of a contested matter, his/her experience can help you evaluate your options and determine whether your expectations are reasonable.
Be professional, courteous and respectful, at all times, and expect the same from your lawyer.