There are times in life when you or your child needs an attorney. It may be for something minor or something major. A fender bender between your child and another in the school parking lot where everyone indicated they were fine may turn into something else when the child gets home and their neck starts to hurt (this actually happened). In another instance the egging of a house may turn out to be serious criminal damaging when siding is damaged (this too, happened).
At any age you should probably consult an attorney before signing a contract. Especially if you don’t understand all the language; if you are arrested or charged with a crime; if you are notified you are being sued; or if you are injured in an accident and believe you are entitled to compensation.
Why not get online help or forms? Because everything you see online may not be accurate. There are subtle legal differences from state to state. Nothing you find online can replace a competent local attorney. Having said that, all attorneys are not created equal. You do not want to go to an attorney who practices primarily estate law if you are charged with a criminal offense.
While all attorneys must pass the Bar Exam to practice there are some who go on to specialize in specific areas of the law. They have earned certification from the state bar association or their state Supreme Court. Some areas of certification, but not a complete list, are civil trial advocacy, criminal trial advocacy, creditor’s rights/debt collection, elder (senior citizen) law, estate planning/trust and probate law, family relations law, and worker’s compensation law. (for a full list of specialty areas of practice and links to the websites of legal agencies in Ohio go to the Supreme Court website at www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/Boards/certification.
Attorney fees vary from attorney to attorney and area to area. However, attorney’s usually charge for their services in one of three ways. Hourly is a set amount for every hour, or partial hour, spent on your case. A flat fee is a set amount charged in advance for a specific legal matter such as a will. A contingent (contingency) fee is when an attorney receives an agreed upon percentage of the amount recovered on the client’s behalf. People are often hesitant to ask about attorney fees. Remember this is a business relationship; feel free to ask and ask for the arrangement in writing.
Ask if your attorney has professional liability (malpractice) insurance. Not all states, including Ohio, require such insurance. To find out if your attorney has had past disciplinary actions, or been formally punished by the state, go to the state Supreme Court site and inquire. In Ohio go to www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/Boards/BOC for complaints and www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/AttySvcs/officeAttySvcs for past complaints and to see if they have and active license and are in good standing.
As a client you also have responsibilities to your attorney. You must be truthful with your attorney. Tell them good, the bad and the ugly or they will not be able to adequately represent you. Be cooperative and respond to his/her calls promptly. Keep all appointments and Court dates. Pay your bill. It doesn’t matter if everything went your way; your attorney represented you to the best of his ability. Be respectful to both your attorney and his/her staff.
Mrs. Theil is a child advocate in Wayne and Holmes counties. She can be contacted at BeverlyVT@aol.com.