Publication : Brochures
When You Need a Lawyer
The Maryland State Bar Association’s
Public Awareness Committee has prepared this information. It is intended
to inform the public and not serve as legal advice.Do I Need a Family Lawyer?
Almost everyone will need the advice of a lawyer sooner
or later in our complex society. These days, it is difficult to imagine buying
a home, writing a will or transacting a business deal without professional
Why Should I Seek Professional Legal Advice?
To protect people, the law provides that only lawyers may
give legal advice. A non-lawyer may not give legal advice even impartially
trained in a specific area of the law. A lawyer’s license to practice
is granted by the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals of Maryland.
It is your assurance that the lawyer has met the standards required for admission
to practice law and is qualified to properly represent you in legal matters.
A member of the Maryland Bar, a lawyer is required to follow a professional
code of conduct and urged to stay current on changing laws through continuing
legal education. A lawyer is most importantly an officer of the court, authorized
to explain and interpret the law for you and represent your interest both
in and out of court.
How Do I Choose a Lawyer?
Selecting a lawyer is a personal matter. You may want to
ask a friend, relative, or employee to recommend a lawyer they know and trust.
In Maryland, most local bar associations will help you find an attorney in
your area. If you cannot afford an attorney, you may be eligible for an attorney
from the Legal Aid Bureau, which has branch offices throughout the state.
Check your telephone directory for the office nearest you. You may also be
eligible for free or reduced fee legal assistance through other legal services
and pro bono providers throughout the state. For the name of an organization
near you, contact the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland, Inc., at (800)
492-1964 or (410) 837-9379.
When Should I Seek Professional Legal Advice?
Never think of hiring a lawyer as the "last resort." In
most instances, it is better to visit a lawyer before you have a legal problem.
By consulting with your lawyer before signing a contract, closing a business
deal or moving ahead with any legal matter, you can avoid costly and often
complicated legal hassles.
You should consult a lawyer:
- before buying or selling real estate;
- before signing a contract with major financial implications;
- before organizing a business;
- when you have an accident resulting in personal injury;
- when your family situation changes through marriage,
adoption or divorce;
- when you have tax problems;
- when you are being sued or initiating a lawsuit.
What Should I Tell My Lawyer?
Anything you tell your lawyer in the context of the lawyer/client
relationship is confidential and may not be revealed to anyone without your
consent. You should openly discuss your legal situation with your lawyer.
It is absolutely essential that you provide him or her with all of the facts
that are related to your case. Unless you are completely candid with your
lawyer, he or she will not be able to give you the appropriate advice for
your legal situation.
What if I Am Charged with a Crime?
If you are arrested or charged with a crime, you should
consult a lawyer as soon as possible. Do not make any statements until you
have received legal advice. If you cannot afford a lawyer, you have the right
to contact the Office of the Public Defender to determine whether you are
qualified to receive legal counsel through that office.
What Will the Lawyer Charge?
A lawyer generally charges only a nominal fee for an initial
office visit. Subsequent charges are usually based on the number of hours
your lawyer spends on your case, the difficulty of the case, and the attorney’s
experience. When you hire a lawyer, you have hired an entire law office to
work on your behalf; therefore, the lawyer’s office expenses may comprise
35 to 50 percent of the fee. Sometimes a lawyer may take your case on a contingent
fee basis. If your case is successful, the lawyer receives a percentage of
the judgement or settlement and out-of-pocket expenses. If the case is lost,
you pay only the expenses. Your lawyer may not be able to tell you exactly
what your fee will be, but should be able to give you an estimate, including
the amount of time and work involved, for your type of case. Make sure that
you understand the fee arrangement at the initial interview. To avoid misunderstandings,
you should insist upon an explanation of the charges.
What If I Have a Complaint Against My Lawyer?
While most clients are satisfied with the services tendered
by their lawyers, some clients occasionally are dissatisfied. Most complaints
result from a misunderstanding between lawyers and clients and are usually
resolved through open discussions, between the parties. But if you and your
lawyer cannot come to an agreement, a formal grievance process is available
to investigate your complaint.
A lawyer’s conduct is closely governed by the Maryland
Rules of Professional Conduct. If a lawyer fails to follow the Maryland Rules,
he or she may risk suspension from the practice of law or disbarment. If
you believe that your lawyer has acted unethically, you may file a complaint
with the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland, 100 Community Place,
Suite 3301, Crownsville, Maryland 21032. The Commission will acknowledge
your complaint and send it to the lawyer involved for comments. If the complaint
is still not resolved between you and your attorney, the Attorney Grievance
Commission will conduct an investigation to determine whether the lawyer
violated the Maryland Rules. If the Commission’s investigation uncovers
a violation, the attorney may be sanctioned by the Court of Appeals of Maryland.
Keep in mind that the nature of the law will always produce
a winner and a loser in a lawsuit, and a lawyer cannot guarantee the results
of a contested lawsuit. In most cases, an unsuccessful lawsuit is not sufficient
grounds for a compliant against your lawyer.
Can I Handle My Own Legal Affairs?
It is illegal for anyone not admitted to practice law in
Maryland to give you legal advice or to act on your behalf regarding most
legal matters in Maryland. However, a number of do-it-yourself "kits"
for getting a divorce, avoiding probate, declaring bankruptcy or forming a
business are available for individuals who want to handle these matters on
their own. While these forms may be legal for you to use for your own affairs,
they often are designed for national use and not tailored to the laws of the
state in which you live. On the surface, kits may appear to save you money,
but without an attorney’s trained eye and knowledge of Maryland law,
you may lose far more than you save by trying to be your own lawyer.
When You Need a Lawyer © 1986, MSBA, Inc. Revised 1996
All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced in any form without
written permission from the Maryland State Bar Association.