Getting Legal Advice: What You Need to Know

Published: August 16, 2018
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1. Introduction

When you're in serious need of an attorney, it's usually a no-brainer. If you find yourself facing criminal charges, a lawsuit, or a contentious custody battle, you probably won't hesitate to phone your lawyer. And that's the right call. When the stakes are high, you want a heavyweight in your corner, advocating for your legal rights.

But when you're grappling with less dire legal situations, say a contract or a financial matter, you might not know if you should consult an attorney. After all, while having a lawyer working on your issue might bring you peace of mind, legal services can be costly.

Don't worry, we've got you covered. Here are some tips to help you sort out when you can go it alone, and when you need to call in a professional attorney.

2. Serious Problems Require Serious Legal Counsel

There's no getting around it—life is complicated, and it moves pretty fast. You can find yourself in hot water, or in tepid water that is quickly heating up. That's when having full legal representation is not just comforting, it can also save your bacon.

Here are some examples of serious legal situations when you need an attorney right away: 

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  • When jail time is a possibility. Any legal situation that includes the prospect of handcuffs is one where legal representation should be top of mind. If you've got the funds, you'll want the best criminal defense attorney you can afford. But if you're strapped for cash, you should at the very least get a public defender working on your behalf.

  • When a divorce gets messy. If you find yourself in a divorce that's getting contentious, whether you're fighting over assets, children, or Puffy, your pet poodle, it's time to start interviewing lawyers. Marital breakdowns are tumultuous life events and, as anyone who has experienced the breakdown of a relationship can attest, just because you're living separate and apart doesn't mean the emotional turmoil dies down. Your attorney will not only advocate for your rights, they will also keep a level head while doing so, providing you with sound advice.

  • When you're involved in an accident and are injured. In the aftermath of an accident, things don't always go as smoothly as the insurance commercials would have us believe. If you've suffered severe bodily harm as a result of an accident, having a lawyer on the other end of that phone call with the claims adjuster can have a dramatic effect on the outcome, both in terms of money and time.

3. Proactive Legal Measures Offer Protection 

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There are many situations, outside of a courtroom, where the support of a lawyer is helpful.

Working directly with a skilled attorney definitely makes sense when it comes to defending yourself during a conflict. But enlisting the help of a legal expert can also be invaluable when it comes to protecting yourself and those you love from the uncertainties of life.

Here are just a few scenarios where it pays to engage the services of an experienced attorney earlier rather than later:

  • Estate planning. Let's face it—no one enjoys contemplating their own mortality. But if you have loved ones who depend on you, proper planning is a blessing if the worst happens. Depending on the size of your estate, this is an area where you might be able to handle this on your own. But if your financial affairs are a bit more complicated, it would definitely be beneficial to work with an experienced estate planning attorney.

  • Identity theft protection. It's not just the stuff of newspaper headlines. Identity theft is real, increasing, and can wreak havoc on your credit report and finances. The best way to deal with it is to prevent it before it happens. There are many things you can do yourself, such as practicing safe internet browsing and using strong password management techniques. Additional prevention methods include signing on with an identity theft protection service to monitor your accounts and alert you to any suspicious activity. An attorney specialized in identity theft might also prove helpful. It's often invaluable to retain one in the event your identity has been stolen, but it might also pay to talk with one before you actually need any identity recovery services, as they may be able to advise you on other protection measures.

  • Life insurance. Many people don't like to think about life insurance because, well, you won't be around to enjoy the benefits. But your family will, and that's the point. If you've been putting it off, now's a good time to take those first steps. Not sure what kind of insurance you should be getting, or how much insurance you need? Schedule an appointment with a life insurance adviser. They have the experience to determine exactly what you need, help you get quotes, and guide you as you work through your application form. You'll sleep easier knowing your loved ones are protected.

  • Financial health. Taking care of our financial health is not always the priority it should be. After all, there are just so many things we need to deal with on a day-to-day basis, and who has time to think about putting away money for a retirement that's not going to happen for decades? But the reality is that nurturing your financial health, whether it's by budgeting, managing your credit, implementing a debt payment strategy, or saving for the future, brings many benefits, including reducing the stress brought on by not knowing what your financial situation really looks like. A financial advisor can provide you with a clear blueprint that fits your circumstances and goals.

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4. When Advice Is All You Need

Depending on your situation, good legal advice can be priceless. When an attorney offers you legal advice, it can be as simple as explaining your next step when it comes to a legal issue or drafting a basic document to protect your rights in a business deal.

Typically, providing clients with advice does not require a lot of a lawyer's time. And the less time and attention your lawyer needs to give to your matter, the lower the cost to you.

Here are examples of some simple legal issues that can often be resolved by obtaining legal advice from a lawyer:

  • Review of a basic contract. Any time someone asks you to sign a contract, you should always consider asking an attorney to review the document. The fact is, many contracts are drafted using a lot of legalese, and even the most basic of contracts can read like gobbledygook. An experienced lawyer will cut through the jargon and give it to you straight so you know exactly what you are agreeing to, and what you're signing.

  • Simple divorce or legal separation. The emphasis here, of course, is on the word "simple." We all know any time a relationship breaks down, things have the potential to get messy, but that's not always the case. Believe it or not, some marriages end amicably, without conflict or drama. In those cases, an attorney can work with you to draft a separation agreement that covers all the necessary bases or review the agreement your ex wants you to sign, and do whatever is necessary to finalize your divorce papers.

  • Filing, filing, and yes, more filing. Paperwork is a necessary evil of modern life. Many occasions in life require you to fill out a piece of paper and give it to a government official so that you can then fill out another piece of paper and hand that over to yet another government official. And so on and so on. Whether it's incorporating a business, probating a will, or dealing with bankruptcy matters, there are many times when documents need to be prepared and filed by a certain deadline. In such cases, having a lawyer take on the work of getting the necessary papers to the right person, at the right time, can well worth the cost.

5. How to Find the Right Attorney 

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Check with your employer to see of you have access to legal services through your benefits.

It can seem like there are more practicing attorneys than there are fish in the ocean. So, how do you find the right one for you and your situation? Here are three ways for you to access the legal services that you need:

With prepaid legal services.

A prepaid legal plan can be a cost-effective way to receive legal advice. By enrolling, your premium gives you access to the plan's network of attorneys. When you find yourself in need of legal advice, you can schedule a one-on-one consultation. The types of legal services provided depend on the plan in question, so shop carefully when looking for a service and compare the different coverages being offered.

Through your employee benefits.

Many companies offer employees access to group legal services as part of the employee benefits package. If you run up against a legal issue and want to hire a lawyer, make sure to check your benefits package to see if you have access to legal services through a group plan.

Using an attorney on retainer.

For people not covered by a group legal plan at work and who have not enrolled in a prepaid legal plan, obtaining legal advice and representation is as simple as retaining an attorney experienced in the area with which you need assistance.

6. When to Go it Alone

Depending on the legal matter you're facing, paying an attorney may not be necessary. A lot of legal information is available online and, if your issue is simple enough, you might be able to apply some elbow grease and go at your problem the DIY way.

And for many simple matters, handling things yourself might be the way to go. But don't get cocky. If you're struggling with a serious legal matter, you need to have a lawyer in your corner, representing your interests, whether it's in court or on your side of the negotiation table.