Lawyers: Fact & Fiction

A lawyer joke which has been around for a long time goes like this: One business executive says to another: "Last night, it was so cold that I saw a lawyer with his hands in his own pockets." If you enjoy lawyer jokes, then try the Nolo Press at, I like the jokes even though they make fun of my profession; but, if you are serious about creating a long term relationship with a professional for legal advice and services, here are some points to consider:


  • The impression some people have of lawyers is that lawyers charge exorbitant fees; they take too long to complete the work; they always do more than is necessary; they take forever to return phone calls; they mess up a good deal; they are generally sharks and ambulance-chasers out to get people and their money. Although there are lawyers who are like that, here are a few tips on what you should expect from your lawyer and how to ensure that you are satisfied with the work.

Not All Lawyers Are Alike

  • Every lawyer has different experiences and resources available to do your legal work for you. Just as there are various areas in medicine, there are various areas in law. For example, there are lawyers that restrict their practice to certain areas such as family law, business law, immigration law, criminal law, real estate law, litigation law, etc... Some lawyers are also general practitioners that practice many areas. Do not think that the bigger the firm the better the service. Sometimes you will get better service at a smaller firm. However, sometimes you may require the resources of a larger firm. Different lawyers also have different approaches to solving problems. Decide what is important to you and find a lawyer who has the same approach to solving your problem.

Finding a Lawyer

  • If you don't know a lawyer, ask your friends if they know one. Above all choose a lawyer that you feel comfortable dealing with.

"I Asked the Lawyer to Keep It Simple"

  • Sometimes keeping your deal simple is very difficult to achieve and very expensive to do. Some matters are by their nature very complicated. Before rejecting any recommendation by your lawyer, you should carefully think of the consequences of your action. If you don't understand why a lawyer is recommending a certain course of action, then be sure to ask the lawyer: the purpose of the action, the consequences of taking the action, the consequences of not taking the action. Make sure that your decisions are informed ones made after careful thought and not based on emotion.

"What!? The lawyer charges $150 an hour?"

  • Most lawyers operate on an hourly basis. Lawyers keep track of the amount of time that they spend on your file. Every time a lawyer works on your file, the following information is recorded: (1) description of work, (2) time spent, (3) date, (4) amount charged. This information should be provided to you when you receive your invoice.

Fees For Services

  • Do not accept an invoice from a lawyer that simply says "For Professional Services Rendered" without the foregoing information also included.

"What is a Retainer Fee?"

  • Before lawyers commence doing work, they will request from you deposit money that they will hold in a special bank account called a "lawyer's trust account". This money is called a "retainer fee". The money deposited in a lawyer's trust account does not belong to the lawyer. The lawyer is holding the money for the people who are entitled to the money. As the lawyer commences work and sends you a bill or incurs expenses on your behalf, the money will be taken from the money held in trust as a retainer fee. After your matter is completed, the lawyer will refund back to you any extra money that is remaining in the lawyer's trust account that belongs to you.

"My Lawyer is Not Doing Anything for Me"

  • If you are not happy with your lawyer, do not feel that you are stuck and can't change lawyers. Remember that you are entitled to change lawyers at any time, however, you are still responsible to pay for the work completed to date. Before changing lawyers consider the following: tell your lawyer you are not happy; explain what you are not happy about; ask the lawyer what can be done to change the situation.