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When To Call An Attorney – Five Rules Of Thumb

Joy Alford Brand March 2021

Money Kuel Category Expert: Joy Alford-Brand

In the twenty-two years I’ve been an attorney, one of the most common questions I’ve been asked is “do I need to get an attorney?”

Sometimes the question has been cloaked in a little more of a rambling fact scenario and sometimes it’s in a simple plea for help. Either way, the issue boils down to one thing, how do you know when it’s time to call an attorney?

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know!

“There are times when you need legal counsel to avoid problems in the future”

Full disclosure, since I am an attorney, I can easily make an argument for getting attorneys involved for very basic things. Also, I certainly agree with the phrase that “google does not equal my law degree.” The danger hidden in proceeding without legal counsel is that no matter what your issue is, you don’t know what you don’t know. Let’s be honest, there is no reason why non-lawyers should know things like the finer points of the tax consequences of estate planning, for example. I mean really, most folks have bigger worries than that on a daily basis like getting their kids educated and their bills paid.

There are times when you need legal counsel to avoid problems in the future. If, for example, you decide to transfer your 80-year-old mother’s home into your name right before she needs assisted living, you better be sure and ask an attorney in your state if it’s a good idea before you sign on the dotted line. This is definitely an example of when to call an attorney. You could get yourself, and your 80- year-old mother, into a heap of difficulty down the road if you don’t know what you are doing. That is precisely the reason you should tread carefully when deciding whether or not to represent yourself in any kind of legal issue.

What’s The Worst Thing That Could Happen?

“If you are your own lawyer, you have a fool for a client.”

You may be asking “isn’t there anything I can do without contacting an attorney?” Well, there are simple legal tasks that I’ve seen folks do on their own, over the years. Things like minor actions in small claims court, handling their own traffic violations, writing their own simple wills, filing for divorce or setting up their own small businesses. Here in the United States, you are certainly entitled to represent yourself in legal matters as you see fit. However, there is another maxim in the law that one should consider when undertaking self-representation. It may sound a little familiar to you. “If you are your own lawyer, you have a fool for a client.” Thank you, Abraham Lincoln.

It’s not that I am completely opposed to folks being proactive or even trying to save money. Let’s face it, lawyers tend to be expensive. I generally don’t have a problem with someone making an attempt to solve a problem or handle an issue on their own. However, that “DIY” spirit is all fine and good until you are in a situation when the stakes are high. The question is whether or not you can tell the difference and how do you know when things are about to go from bad to worse? High stakes are a great example of when to call an attorney.

Avoid Legal Heartburn In The Third Degree:

Here are five rules of thumb you should live by when it comes to legal issues.

First: Unknown Territory.

if you know absolutely nothing about the issue you are dealing with, spend a few bucks and get the advice of an attorney. Most attorneys will give you a consultation for a fee. Some attorneys will give you a free consultation, like personal injury attorneys or consumer bankruptcy attorneys. That is the exception, though, not the rule. In general, you will have to pay a fee to talk to an attorney but believe me, it’s worth it. You’ll be talking to someone who has studied and knows the law so you will likely save yourself a load of heartache and trouble by paying that consultation fee.

Second: Stakes Are High.

If the stakes are high, don’t sign anything or take a chance without talking to an attorney. When you are talking big money, and only you know what big money is to you, get good legal advice before doing anything. This also applies in situations where someone’s safety is at stake, like in some extreme child custody actions, for example. Make sure you know all the consequences of what you are doing before you do it.

Third: Injury Has Been Caused.

If you or your dog’s actions caused someone injury, you will need to get an attorney. I’ve seen more than one dog bite pay for a kid to go to college, just FYI. When your actions have injured someone, your insurance company will likely have to get involved to resolve the situation. Sometimes your insurance company will provide counsel for you. That is pretty common in personal injury situations like car accidents and dog bites. Remember not to sign anything without talking to your attorney first.

Fourth: Charged With A Crime.

If you are charged with a crime, for crying out loud, get an attorney! This is the KEY example of when to call an attorney. Enough said.

Fifth: Trust Your Gut.

Finally, trust your gut. If your intuition is telling you that you should get some advice before doing whatever it is you are thinking about doing, do yourself a favor and pay attention. That little voice inside you is there for a reason. Don’t give it short shrift or you may find yourself on the wrong end of a bad legal situation. Avoid the legal heartburn and get the help you need as soon as you can. Your wallet and bank account will be all the better for it in the long run!

How do you find an attorney?

“the law does not always allow every client to get exactly what they want”

Finally, how do you go about finding an attorney? Well, word of mouth referrals are always good but not always available. If you don’t know where to start, consider contacting your state’s bar association. They might have a list of lawyers they can refer you to for whatever issue you have. In this age of online reviews, you might even consider googling your attorney before hiring them to see how well they are rated with previous clients.

Just remember that the law does not always allow every client to get exactly what they want so keep that in mind when you are reading negative reviews. Every client and situation are different and so is every attorney. Their legal ability and your comfort level with them as a professional are what matter most. My hopes is that this article helps everyone better understand when to call an attorney and have them be involved.

Joy Alford Brand

About the Author:

Joy Alford-Brand is an author, public speaker and attorney.  She graduated with Bachelor’s Degree in History from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio in 1994 and she received her Juris Doctor from Ohio State University College of Law in 1998. Her main area of practice is Bankruptcy. She is admitted in North Carolina where she lives and works. Joy founded newcashview.com in 2015 as a platform through which she could help others work toward financial freedom and peace of mind!  For more information, check out newcashview.com.