Please note: This information is offered by the Bar’s Citizens Advisory Committee for informational purposes only.
How to Hire a Lawyer
- When Should I See a Lawyer?
- How Do I Find a Lawyer?
- Can a Nonlawyer Represent Me?
- How Do Lawyers Charge for Services?
- What If I Can't Afford a Lawyer?
- What Happens If I Dispute My Lawyer's Fee?
- How Do I Prepare For an Initial Appointment With a Lawyer?
- What Questions Should I Ask at My First Meeting With an Attorney?
- Can I Represent Myself in Court?
- Can I Solve a Legal Dispute Without Going to Court?
When Should I See a Lawyer?
People often turn to lawyers as a last resort after the contract has been signed, a spouse has walked out, or a creditor is threatening. But just like regular medical checkups, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” when it comes to legal matters.
Good legal advice can not only save you money in the long run, but also save you from unpleasant difficulties later.
Situations in which you should consider consulting a lawyer include:
- Before buying or selling real estate.
- Before signing a contract with major financial provisions.
- Before making a will or planning your estate.
- Before organizing a business.
- If you are arrested or charged with a crime.
- When you are involved in an accident in which there is significant damage to persons or property.
- When there are changes in your family status, such as marriage, adoption, or divorce.
- When you have tax problems or questions.
- When a lawsuit is brought against you, or you want to bring a lawsuit against someone.
How Do I Find a Lawyer?
The Florida Bar’s How to Find a Lawyer in Florida consumer pamphlet provides considerations, details, and suggestions for hiring an attorney.
Lawyer referral and information services help consumers who can afford to hire a lawyer but don’t know where to turn. They may have never hired a lawyer, don’t know what kind of lawyer or service they need, or have concerns about the potential costs.
Many local bar associations in Florida sponsor lawyer referral services. These services can set up an initial appointment for you with a lawyer for a nominal fee (local Bar-sponsored programs charge between $25 and $50).
If there is no lawyer referral service in your city, The Florida Bar statewide service (800-342-8011) can locate a lawyer for you. The service, which operates only in cities where there is no local program, will refer you to an attorney for an initial half-hour consultation for $25.
Some lawyer referral services waive the initial consultation fee for clients who meet income-eligibility requirements.
Can a Nonlawyer Represent Me?
Legally, only a licensed member of The Florida Bar can help you with your legal problem and give you legal advice. If a nonlawyer attempts to help you with your legal problem, that person may be prosecuted for practicing law without a license, and your case may be affected.
How Do Lawyers Charge for Services?
Lawyers’ fees are determined by many factors, such as time involved, ability and experience, and the lawyer’s cost of doing business.
A lawyer’s services normally involve research, investigation, and case preparation. Most of the work is done after the client leaves the lawyer’s office and can be very time-consuming. As a result, clients are often unaware of the amount of time a given legal matter takes.
Often, a lawyer can’t tell you exactly what the charge will be because it’s difficult to estimate how much work will be required; but they usually can estimate minimum and maximum limits of the fee or give you some idea of the time that will be required.
What Are the Types of Lawyers’ Fees?
There are several types of legal fees. These include fixed or flat, hourly charge, and contingent fees. Read the consumer pamphlet, Attorneys’ Fees to learn more about types of fees.
Always discuss the prospective charges at the first meeting with the lawyer. An early agreement concerning fees will prevent surprises and misunderstandings for both the client and the lawyer.
What If I Can’t Afford a Lawyer?
If you have a civil legal problem but cannot afford to hire a private lawyer, legal aid – which provides free or low-cost legal services to people with low income – is available. Most legal aid organizations offer their assistance free of charge to people who qualify.
Lawyers in a legal services office provide the same legal services as any other attorney. They can advise and represent you in most areas of civil law, although each program has priorities for the types of cases it will take. The types of cases usually handled include:
- Domestic violence
- Family law
- Foreclosure defense
- Health welfare
- Immigration issues
- Public benefits
What is Civil Legal Aid?
Why Doesn’t Legal Aid Apply to Criminal Cases?
Public defenders represent low-income people on criminal cases because the case carries the risk of jail time or a prison sentence. Lawyers are not provided in civil cases, which usually involve disputes about rights, protection, or services.
- Legal Aid Organizations By County
- Florida Legal Aid Programs (The Florida Bar Foundation)
What Happens If I Dispute My Lawyer’s Fee?
Clients and attorneys don’t always agree about the fees charged for the service rendered after a case concludes. The Florida Bar encourages the friendly resolution of all fee disputes whenever possible, but if a dispute cannot be resolved, The Florida Bar Fee Arbitration Program is available. (Arbitration is a way to resolve a dispute without having to go to court.)
The Fee Arbitration Program is an informal, free service provided by The Florida Bar to resolve fee disputes between attorneys and clients and between attorneys. The arbitration process may be initiated by either the client or the attorney and may be used instead of a lawsuit to settle a fee dispute.
How Do I Prepare For an Initial Appointment With a Lawyer?
First and foremost, organize your case before you ever see an attorney.
- Gather all the materials that pertain to your case and organize them in a logical manner that is easy for you to explain and for the attorney to understand.
- Make sure all records and correspondence, including emails, are in a readable format.
- Develop a timeline of events if that can help you and the attorney.
- Ask if your attorney would like to review the material before you first meet face-to-face.
What Questions Should I Ask at My First Meeting With an Attorney?
Questions might include:
- Has the attorney handled cases such as this before? How frequently?
- What is the cost of consultation? (Don’t expect a free initial meeting unless the attorney has offered that.)
- How will attorney fees be determined? Are there other costs that can be anticipated? (Understand that actual fees may be difficult to estimate because much depends on how the other side handles the case; however, the attorney should be able to give you a reasonable estimate regarding likely fees and costs to be incurred.)
- Is the attorney billing you by the hour or on a contingency fee basis? If hourly, what constitutes billable hours?
- How much experience does your attorney have in cases such as this?
- What support resources does your attorney have available to handle your case?
- Ask about both the means and frequency of case communication. For example, will you communicate largely by email or telephone? Weekly or monthly?
Can I Represent Myself in Court?
Yes. Pro se litigants are people who do not have a lawyer and choose to represent themselves in a legal proceeding. Packets with instructions and forms for pro se litigants are available through the clerk of court in each county.
The following self-help resources are offered as a public service to consumers but are not legal advice and should not be considered as such. If you have a question about a specific issue, or do not understand the information presented, please contact an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, you may want to contact your local legal services provider to inquire about free or discounted legal representation
Preparing for Your Day in Court
File or Answer a Civil Complaint
Florida Courts Help
The Florida Courts Help website provides information about local self-help centers, free and low-cost legal aid, and family law forms. A companion app is available for download.
Need help understanding the legal terms? Check out his glossary of common terms and definitions.
DIY Florida helps you create legal documents by answering simple specific questions about your situation. Those legal documents can then be filed electronically through the Florida Courts E-Filing Portal or by hand at your local clerk of court office to start a new court case or respond to an existing case.
Florida State Courts Self-Help Resources
This webpage offers access family law and guardianship forms. The forms are up to date and in ready-to-use format, with all amendments incorporated. The page also includes links to forms for other cases, such as landlord/tenant and name change. All forms are provided free of charge by the Florida Supreme Court.
SELF-HELP CENTER – FAMILY COURT
The self-help website includes family law forms approved by the Florida Supreme Court. Additional resources include a directory of local self-help centers and mediator search.
FLORIDA SUPREME COURT – REPRESENTING YOURSELF?
This site provides an overview of the courts, a pro se handbook, general filing and fees information and a library research link.
PRO SE RESOURCES FOR FILING IN FEDERAL COURTS IN FLORIDA
Can I Solve a Legal Dispute Without Going to Court?
Yes. Mediation is a private, confidential process in which parties meet with a mutually selected impartial and neutral person (mediator) to discuss and attempt to resolve their dispute, as opposed to facing a judge or jury. You do not have to have an attorney at mediation. However, it may be helpful to consult an attorney prior to going to mediation or to have an attorney with you.