Selecting a Lawyer
When do I need a lawyer?
Many people believe they need an attorney's services only to solve a problem or to get out of a difficult situation. Often, the best time to see an attorney is not when you are in legal trouble but before that trouble occurs. Preventive law is one of the most valuable services that a lawyer can perform. By eliminating potential problems, preventive law can save you time, money, and needless worry. Some of the circumstances that may require professional legal assistance are:
Buying or selling real estate
Signing a lease or contract with major financial provisions
Marriage, divorce, or adoption
When a lawsuit is brought against you, or you want to bring a lawsuit
If you are arrested or charged with a crime
Starting a business
Planning for the distribution of your property upon your death
When you have been injured, either on the job, or in an accident, or as a result of another person's negligence, or because of a defective or unsafe product
Appearances, applications, or appeals to government agencies or boards
It is not illegal for you to represent yourself in court or to handle your own legal matters. There are also "kits" and "forms" which some people use for such matters as getting a divorce or making a will.
Pennsylvania attorneys and judges advise against these do-it-yourself products, because they are not designed to take into consideration individual differences and complications that may arise with any legal matter.
Judges and court personnel are not allowed to give you any legal advice as your case proceeds. Attorneys are trained to provide professional legal assistance to you, and to be aware of all court procedures, filing requirements, deadlines, and other details that a non-attorney easily could overlook.
Can I handle my own legal problems?
If you need legal assistance but do not have a lawyer, there are several sources that you may use to help you locate and select an attorney:
Call the Allegheny County Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service at 412-261-5555 or visit getapittsburghlawyer.com. The LRS will refer you to an attorney who will have an initial consultation with you for no charge.
The Pro Bono Center, sponsored by the Allegheny County Bar Foundation and the Allegheny County Bar Association, offers free legal assistance, in civil matters, to individuals who meet low-income guidelines.
The Public Defenders Office, funded by Allegheny County, offers free legal assistance in criminal matters only to indigent individuals.
How do I select a lawyer?
Some things that you should look for in an attorney, include:
The attorney's reputation in the community.
The attorney's experience with your type of legal problem (don't hesitate to ask about this during your initial meeting.)
The attorney's communications skills - willingness and ability to talk to you in a language you understand and to keep you informed about the progress of your case, responsiveness to your questions and concerns. Let your attorney know at your first meeting that these qualities are important to you.
The fee you will be charged.
What should I look for in an attorney?
You are hiring an attorney to work for you, as your advocate. You should expect your attorney to:
Confer with you to pinpoint the problem.
Research and analyze all available facts and information relating to your problem.
Interview those involved.
Negotiate a settlement if both sides can reach a fair agreement.
Keep you informed about what is going on in your case and answer your questions.
Discuss fees with you at your first visit, and come to an agreement about the way in which the fee will be paid.
Be candid with you about your problem, your prospects for success, the time it will take, and the advisability of accepting any settlement offered.
Keep in confidence anything you say.
What should I expect when I hire an attorney?
Many disagreements between attorneys and clients are simple misunderstandings or failures to communicate. They often can be resolved by discussing the problem directly with your attorney. If this approach fails or is impractical, or if you believe your attorney has acted improperly or unethically, you may complain to the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. For this purpose, you should contact the District Office nearest to you. The addresses for "Disciplinary Board District Offices" are listed below.
Pennsylvania attorneys are governed by the Rules of Professional Conduct. Failure to follow the Rules can result in disciplinary sanctions being imposed against the attorney. Measures can range from private discipline to suspension and disbarment from practice.
Normally, disputes over attorney fees are not matters that are considered by the disciplinary system. However, the Rules do provide that fees may not be "clearly excessive," and that attorneys may not engage in conduct that involves fraud, dishonesty, deceit, or false statements of fact.
Complaints must be made in writing, and be signed.
Disciplinary Counsel will inquire into the matter, investigate it as necessary, and in every case, advise the complaining individual of the disposition of all public disciplinary measures.
The Disciplinary system cannot award money damages or reimburse clients for any losses resulting from an attorney's conduct. Any civil remedy that you may have against the attorney must be pursued separately from the disciplinary process.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has established a Lawyers Fund for Client Security to reimburse clients, within limits, who have suffered financial losses as a direct result of dishonest acts by their attorney.
A number of conditions must be met before any claim will be considered for payment through the fund.
Disciplinary Board District Offices
(For Philadelphia County only)
Seven Penn Center, 16th Floor
1635 Market Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103-2217
One Sentry Parkway, Suite 6000
Blue Bell, PA 19422
Two Lemoyne Drive, 2nd Floor
Lemoyne, PA 17043
Union Trust Building
501 Grant Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15219
What if I have a complaint against my attorney?