WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE HIRING AN ATTORNEY
The decision to hire an attorney is one of the most frightening decisions a person can make. This decision is often made while the person is in turmoil, either with a criminal charge or civil matter pending, of the need to immediately file a civil matter to address an urgent concern. Now is not the time to put your head in the sand and try to wish away the circumstances. Meeting with an attorney can help you get your head around the issues at hand and move you toward a positive resolution.
Identifying Your Goals
Before you call our law firm, or any law firm for that matter, it will be helpful for you to formulate some specific goals. Depending on your situation, some goals you may want to accomplish are:
- You may want an evaluation of a legal claim against you.
- You may want an evaluation of your legal claim against another.
- You may need legal advice about the consequences of a particular counsel of action.
- You may need help with the creation of a Will or Trust.
- You may need help with formation issues inherent in business formation.
In planning to accomplish your goals, you should ask yourself about the following:
- Does this attorney practice in the area of law from which my problem arises?
- How much experience does this attorney have?
- What is the track record of this attorney in my type of matter?
Knowing the answers to these three questions will help you narrow your search and allow you to select the attorney who can quickly and competently focus on your issues. Now, further organize your thoughts. Be prepared to tell the attorney what your specific goals are and ask the attorney how he would propose to meet those goals.
Why You Should Choose Our Firm
Attorneys come with a variety of experience, both in years and in the courtroom. You should look for someone who has the experience to handle your specific type of matter. In this firm, Terry R. Spencer has been practicing 23 years and is licensed to represent clients in both Utah and Idaho. He has substantial litigation experience in representing clients in administrative hearings, in both district and justice court and before the Utah Court of Appeals. He has handled cases in almost every county in the State of Utah and in several Idaho counties. His areas of practice include family law (divorce, child custody, wills and trusts), criminal law, real estate disputes, business disputes and general business advice. Jeff Rifleman has four years of experience with a heavy emphasis in domestic and criminal matters. Jeff is well known by most family law practitioners, prosecutors and Judges along the Wasatch Front.
In addition to experience, there are three additional reasons why you should choose our firm: First, we will give the personal touch, as you work with one of our attorneys and not some miscellaneous staff member. Second, because you will work one-on-one with one of our attorneys, the details of your case will not “slip through the cracks,” as they might in some large impersonal law firm. Finally, with a small firm, such as ours, you also have the advantage of lower overhead which translates into lower fees. Our fees are generally 20% to 30% below the fees charged by large Salt Lake firms.
Initial Telephone Contact
Most attorneys, including the attorneys in this firm, will answer questions posed by a potential client over the telephone without charging a fee. These initial contracts generally last between five and fifteen minutes. It is during this telephone call that you, as a potential client, have the ability to assess whether one of our attorneys has both the time and experience to assist you with your legal matter. It is during this telephone call that you should ask questions about the scope and expected cost of your legal matter.
Think of a retainer as a down payment against which future costs are billed. It is from this retainer that costs such as filing fees, service fees and the preparation of initial paperwork are paid. The costs of services are deducted from the retainer as they accrue. Many attorneys will not do additional work for a client unless there is money in the retainer account or other payment arrangements have been made. Along the Wasatch Front, attorney retainers generally rung from $1,500.00 to $10,000.00, depending on the type of matter involved and the experience of the particular attorney. Your retainer amount will depend on estimated time needed to address your issues, the assets or debts involved, and other case specific factors.
Most legal matters are completed with an attorney charging an hourly rate. An attorney will bill for each hour (or portion of an hour) when work is completed on the file. An attorney with more years of experience will charge a higher rate, but that attorney will need to spend less time on an issue than an inexperienced attorney. Along the Wasatch Front, hourly billing rates are generally $200.00 to $375.00 per hour, depending on the type of case and the experience of the attorney. In this office, Terry R. Spencer has 23 years of experience and charges $225.00 to $300.00 per hour, depending on the type of matter. Jeff Rifleman has 4 years of experience and charges $200.00 per hour.
Preparing for an Initial Face to Face Meeting
In order to make the most out of your initial face-to-face meeting with your attorney, it is a good idea to gather materials that would be helpful to the attorney before your meeting. Spend some time thinking about the kind of documentation that might be helpful, and how you can logically explain your situation to the attorney. A list of initial face-to-face materials for particular types of cases can be found elsewhere on this website.
Client Contact Information
Be prepared to provide your attorney with all of your contact information, including an email address, and an alternative number, such as the number of a parent co-worker. For many types of cases, identifying information, such as Social Security Numbers, will also be requested by your attorney, as they must be provided to the Court or to the Government agencies as part of the litigation process.
Organizing Your Thoughts
During your initial face-to-face meeting, plan to get all of your questions answered. Depending on your situation, you should consider asking the following questions:
- What kind of cases do you normally handle?
- What percentage of your practice is devoted to this area of law?
- How many situations similar to mine have you handled in the past year?
- How many of these types of cases are resolved short of trial? (Either through mediation or other means of settlement)
- What aspects of my case are the most difficult to resolve?
- How do you keep in touch with your clients?
- Are you available after hours?
- Will other attorneys be working on my case?
- How do you bill your clients?
- Do you require a retainer? If so, how much?
- What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of my case?
Topic # 4
During the pretrial stage of a court case there is an important step called “discovery.” During discovery, both sides collect and exchange information about the case and prepare for trial. Each party has the opportunity to find out about the strengths and weaknesses of the other parties’ case. Some information must be provided to the opposing party without being asked for it. Other information must be discovered, which means the party with the information must provide it, but only if asked for it.
Disclosure and discovery are mixed in time, in approximately the following order:
- Initial disclosures;
- Fact discovery;
- Expert disclosures;
- Expert discovery; and
- Pretrial disclosures.
The Plaintiff must make initial disclosures within 14 days after service of the first answer; and by the defendant within 42 days after filing of the first answer to the Complaint or within 28 days after that defendant’s appearance, whichever is later.
In dealing with domestic relations actions such as: divorce; temporary separation; separate maintenance; parentage; custody; child support; and modification it is necessary to gather certain information about your case and its parties. Follow the hyperlinks below and fill out the appropriate forms to begin your case and then call us at: (801)-566-1884 to set up an appointment.
- Client Information Form -This document is our standard client information sheet that includes contact and personal information needed for court documents.
- Financial Statements -This is the standard document Financial Statement using the courts to calculate the income, expenses, assets and liabilities.
- Certificate of divorce, dissolution of marriage, or annulment -Utah Department of Health Certificate required. Complete the relevant information requested on this form.
- Affidavit of Military Service- You must complete and sign affidavit indicating whether you have or are currently serving in the military.
- Child Support Obligation Worksheet and Location information is required. (Download and complete only if you have children from your marriage or relationship.) - As required by the technical amendments to welfare reform section 653 (h) (2) (federal law) and UCA 62A-11-103 (14). You are required to submit for each child the information requested on this form.
Depending on the amount of damages claimed, a party is entitled to a certain amount of standard discovery, meaning the number of depositions, interrogatories, requests for admission, and requests for the production of documents. If a party needs more than the standard amount, the parties can stipulate to extraordinary discovery or file a motion asking the judge to order extraordinary discovery. In Utah a tier system is used to determine the depth and time for discovery in a case. Fact discovery must be completed 120, 180 or 210 days from the date of the defendant’s initial disclosures. Of course the number of days allotted for your case will depend on the tier that your case falls within.
Expert disclosure and discovery
Within 7 days after the close of fact discovery, the party who has the burden of proof on any issue must disclose to the other party information about the expert. Once the information about the expert has been provided to opposing parties the opposing party may elect to depose the expert or require a written report. The party offering the expert pays for the report; the party opposing the expert pays for the deposition. The deposition may not exceed 4 hours.
A party must make disclosures and respond to discovery requests based on information known or reasonably available to the party. If a party fails to disclose or supplement a discovery response that party may not use the undisclosed witness , document or material at any trial or hearing unless the failure is harmless or the party shows good cause for the failure.
There are four types of formal discovery tools that are frequently used in lawsuits. They are:
- Depositions. In a deposition, one party or that party's lawyer conducts face-to-face questioning of the other party or a witness to the dispute. The person being questioned (the "deponent") must answer under oath, and the answers are recorded for later use at trial. If the deponent cannot testify at trial, the questions and answers might be read to the jury as evidence. If the deponent does testify and gives different answers at trial from those he gave during the deposition, the questions and answers can be used to show the jury that the witness changed his story.
- Requests for production of evidence. In a request for production of evidence, one party asks the other for physical evidence related to the dispute. Requests for production are usually used to gather pertinent documents, such as contracts, employment files, billing records, or documents related to real estate. However, these requests can also be used to inspect physical objects or property -- for example, in a dispute about whether a contractor properly repaired a homeowner's plumbing; the contractor's lawyer might ask to have a plumbing expert inspect the work.
- Interrogatories. Interrogatories are written questions one party sends to the other to be answered under oath. The answers can be used at trial in the same way as deposition answers -- to challenge a party who changes her story later.
- Requests for admission. In a request for admission, one party asks the other party to admit, under oath, that certain facts are true or certain documents are genuine. These requests are generally used to save time and to narrow the issues that have to be proved at trial.
Most courts do not allow the parties to set a trial date until all discovery is completed by all parties. Given the schedules of the parties, the legal delays for providing answers, the number of parties involved, the discovery phase is the longest phase of any litigation. It may last for years depending on the complexity of the case. Generally, the more sophisticated the case, the longer the discovery phase will take.
Discovery is very complicated and often requires knowledge of evidence rules and other legal strategies. It is extremely beneficial to have an experienced lawyer that can help you during this complicated process. Attorneys at TR Spencer & Associates, P.C. can help you. After the close of discovery, the parties must tell the court that discovery is complete. This is done by filing the “Certificate of Readiness for Trial.”
I hope that this information has helped you to understand some of the complexities associated with the legal system. If you have any questions an attorney at TR Spencer & Associates, P.C. can help you. The legal process is very procedural and for this reason an attorney is absolutely necessary in order to navigate the complexities of the legal system. If you fail to comply with the Courts procedure then you will be penalized in a manner that affects your case.