For a person who has never hired an attorney, it is important to provide a framework of understanding that clarifies the process.
As our society becomes increasingly regulated, whether on the federal, state, or local level, individuals and businesses increasingly have situations where they may need to consult with legal counsel. Relationships between lawyers and clients oftentimes are caricatured in cartoons, jokes, television shows and even in the news. For a person who has never hired an attorney, it is important to provide a framework of understanding that clarifies the process.
The State Bar of Wisconsin Consumer Information and Protection Committee has developed a pamphlet to help consumers of legal services to make informed choices. We have taken the pamphlet and have refined it to apply the experience that you will have with the Hopp Neumann Humke law firm. We hope that this information will provide guidance although you should understand that any specific situation may be different.
Do I have to have a lawyer?
In confronting your legal situation, you have the right to represent yourself. Increasingly, with the availability of on-line statutes, self-help kits and preprinted materials, you may feel that you have adequate resources to handle a matter without the necessity of obtaining counsel. You might be right. However, before deciding to represent yourself, you should recognize that lawyers have been specifically trained to analyze the resources that may be available to you. Lawyers have used these materials in the past and can appreciate the nuances involved in a way that the novice would not be able to do. On-line resources may not be tailored to Wisconsin or may be outdated. Our firm has access to the most up-to-date and jurisdiction-specific materials available.
Between the hardware store and the internet, anyone could probably get the tools, the materials, and the knowledge to build a brick house. But would you want to live in a brick house built by your lawyer?
Can any lawyer handle my matter?
All of the lawyers of Hopp Neumann Humke are licensed to practice law in the State of Wisconsin. They are all entitled to draft deeds, appear in court and to prepare a will. However, at our firm, we have attempted to focus our legal skills among the six main practice areas described elsewhere. We want to maximize our talents and provide you with the best product available.
One of the benefits of working with a larger firm such as Hopp Neumann Humke is that we will endeavor to match the best attorney in our firm to your specific situation. You should feel confident that whoever handles your matter will be able to draw upon the resources of the entire firm, while providing you with personalized attention.
What should I expect during my first visit with my lawyer?
At the initial conference, you should offer to the lawyer your fullest explanation of your situation. You should bring any documents or other materials that help you tell your story. You should provide information with complete candor and without slanting the facts. We will in turn attempt to evaluate the matter and offer our suggestions in the approach to take. We will try to offer information which outlines the consequences of various potential outcomes. We will try to estimate success in the event that litigation is involved. We will attempt to calculate and estimate the costs and fees and we will work with you to establish a fee agreement. If you conclude that you will not be retaining us, any information that you have provided to us in the course of the interview will remain confidential.
What about fees?
It is unethical for a lawyer to charge excessive fees. For most matters our fees are based on our established hourly rate. If we anticipate that the legal fees will exceed $1,000 or if we handle your matter on a contingent fee basis, we will prepare a written fee agreement (sometimes called an engagement letter) for you to sign. It will detail how much we are going to charge, how billings will be handled, what costs will be passed on to you, and what we should be expecting of each other.
Virtually all of your questions should be addressed in the fee agreement and you will be asked to sign it before we engage in any substantial work on your behalf.
What is a retainer fee?
In many matters, we may require you to make an initial deposit or “retainer fee.” We place the fee in our firm’s trust account. As we work on your behalf and earn fees, we will notify you of our intent to withdraw sums out of your trust account balance for payment. You will be able to review the bill and question any charges before we withdraw the money. We may ask you to replenish the deposit as the money is being spent.
What if I can’t pay?
While it is unethical for a lawyer to charge excessive fees, we are not obliged to work for nothing. We have expenses and obligations just like you do and we expect to be paid. Failure on the part of the client to promptly pay our fees can chill the relationship. As a last resort if you fail to pay our fees when due, we can withdraw from further representation of you.
Can we fire each other?
If you engage our firm, we will offer you our best efforts. If, however you are dissatisfied with our services, you may terminate us. Similarly, we are entitled to withdraw from representing you, especially if you fail to pay our fees or if we feel you are seeking to utilize our services in an illegal or unethical fashion. The relationship must be terminated by written notice, subject on our part to applicable rules of professional conduct. In the event that we terminate the engagement, we will take such steps as are reasonably practicable to protect your interests in your matter and, if you so request, we will suggest to you possible successor counsel and provide them with whatever papers you may have provided to us. If permission for withdrawal is required by a court, we will promptly apply for such permission. In the event that the representation is terminated for any reason by either party, you would still be required to pay in full for fees and disbursements incurred as of the termination date.
What about confidentiality?
During and following any termination of representation, any otherwise non-public information you have supplied to us which is retained by us will be kept confidential in accordance with applicable rules of professional conduct. At your request, your papers and property will be returned to you promptly upon receipt of payment for outstanding fees and costs. Our own files, including lawyer work product, pertaining to the matter will be retained by the firm until disposed of in a confidential manner after a reasonably scheduled amount of time.
Do you guarantee your work?
If you hire us to draft a will, we can guarantee that it will be done. We will use our best commercial efforts and talents to provide you with the best will that we can. We cannot guarantee the outcome of a claim or a lawsuit nor can we promise that a transaction will be closed or that negotiations will be concluded to your ultimate satisfaction. However, we can tell you that we will use our best professional and commercially reasonable efforts and talents to provide you with the best outcome or transaction that we can.
We encourage you to contact us if we can be of any assistance.