• you're buying or selling a home, adopting a child, signing an important contract, making a will
or organizing a business
• you've been in an accident where someone was hurt or property was damaged
• you are the victim of an abusive spouse
• you are accused of a crime
• you've been injured at work
• you are going through a divorce
• you are having problems with your landlord or tenant
These, and other circumstances, are times when you should seek a lawyer's advice.
Contact the MCBA Lawyer Referral Service.
The best time to consult a lawyer is before, not after, you have legal problems. It can save you
money in the long run and keep any legal difficulties to a minimum. A lawyer can help by offering
you legal counseling and advice, preparing documents and, if necessary, representing you in
court and other legal proceedings.
The law can be very complicated and lawyers are trained to deal
effectively with these complexities. In Michigan, a lawyer must
have attended a state-accredited law school, be licensed by
the state Supreme Judicial Court, and must abide by strict
rules of legal procedure and ethics. In some cases, a lawyer
may agree that you can do some of the work yourself (like
making certain telephone calls and obtaining documents),
saving you money, while he/she handles the more complicated
aspects of your case. Many laws are complex and frequently
change. Lawyers are trained to explain the law, provide legal
assistance, and be aware of court procedures, filing
requirements, deadlines and other details that a non-lawyer
could easily overlook.
Your goal is to find a lawyer with whom you are comfortable as both a person and a professional.
Your case may involve very personal information and your lawyer will often need to know
confidential details about you, your family and your finances to be effective in helping you. One of
the best ways to find a lawyer is to seek a recommendation from people whose opinions you respect:
an employer, lawyer at your workplace, teacher, minister, doctor, relative, neighbor or friends. The
nature of your legal problem will help define the type of lawyer you will want to hire. Often lawyers
have one or more specialties, and you want to make sure your lawyer has experience in your type
of case. The lawyer who did a terrific job with your friend's divorce may not have the expertise to
take on your auto accident injury matter. Another excellent means of determining if you need a
lawyer's help and obtaining a referral to a lawyer is by calling the MCBA Lawyer Referral
Service (LRS). Depending on your matter, an LRS representative may recommend a lawyer
or suggest alternatives such as contacting a state agency. If a lawyer is recommended, you
will be put in touch with a lawyer in Macomb county who has experience in the type of law in
question. There is no fee for the referral service. To contact the LRS, call (586) 468-8300 or
Before meeting with a lawyer, make notes about your problem and gather all of the related documents
to take with you. This will allow you to present your legal problem in the clearest and most organized
manner possible. It will also allow you to focus on evaluating the lawyer's response to your case and
What should I ask a lawyer?
At the first meeting you should ask:
• what experience the lawyer has in your type of legal matter
• for a preliminary outline of how the lawyer believes the case should be handled and the time frame
for its completion
• if the lawyer carries malpractice insurance
• how you can or will be expected to participate in your case
• how you will be kept informed about the status of the matter
• if the lawyer will provide you with a fee agreement that details fees, expenses, billing and payment
• for the lawyer's hourly fee (if applicable)
• for an estimate of the lawyer's total fee keep in mind, some lawyers charge for your first consultation,
After meeting with the lawyer ask yourself if you:
• you will be comfortable working closely with this person
• are confident that the lawyer has the experience and skill to handle your case
• understand the lawyer's explanation of what your case involves
• understand the proposed fee agreement
This type of charge, sometimes called a “standard” fee, is used most often for routine legal matters.
For example, a lawyer may charge all clients the same amount to handle a “simple will.” When you
agree to a fixed fee, be sure you know what it does and does not include and if there could be
Many lawyers charge by the hour and the hourly rate varies from lawyer to lawyer. Your total bill can
be estimated by having the lawyer project the amount of time your case will take and provide a list
of filing fees and other costs.
A retainer fee may be used to guarantee that a lawyer will be available to take a particular case and
could mean that the lawyer would have to turn down other cases in order to remain available. With
this type of fee agreement, you may be billed separately for the legal work that is done. A retainer fee
sometimes is considered a down payment on any legal services you may need. Since this type of fee
arrangement can mean different things, be sure to have the lawyer explain the fee arrangement.
This type of charge often is used in personal injury cases when you are suing someone for money.
It means that you will pay your lawyer a certain percentage of the money you receive if you win the
case or if you settle the matter. If you lose, your lawyer doesn't receive a fee. In some cases, your
lawyer may pay some of these costs for you when they are due, but you may have to repay the lawyer.
If you agree to a contingency fee, be sure you know what your lawyer's percentage will be. Some
agreements provide for a varying percentage depending on whether the case is settled, goes to trial
or has to be appealed. If so, those varying percentages must be stated in the agreement as well.
While obtaining a fee agreement from your lawyer is always a good idea, in contingency fee cases,
they are required.
The cost of some probate and other legal work is set by law. For certain other legal problems, the court
either sets or must approve the fee you will pay. Often, a lawyer cannot tell you exactly what the charge
will be, because it is difficult to estimate how much work is going to be involved. But a lawyer can usually
estimate the minimum and maximum limits of the fee and give you some idea of the work involved.
If you are the defendant in a criminal case and can't afford a lawyer, the government must provide you
with one. If you need legal assistance in a civil matter and can't afford to pay lawyer, there are programs
that may be able to help. State and federally funded programs may be able to provide you with free legal
assistance. There are legal services (sometimes called legal aid) offices located around the state. Some
types of cases that legal services lawyers will handle include eviction defense, divorce, custody, and
Social Security and other government benefit matters. Below are a few state programs:
Legal Aid and Defenders - (877) 964-4700
Lakeshore Legal Aid - (586) 465-1344
Senior Services Legal Assistance - (586) 469-6313
The Resolution Center - (mediation services) (586) 469-4714
There are several steps you can follow to help your lawyer work for you and to keep the
cost of legal services at a minimum:
• gather in advance all information that you think your lawyer may need
• write down the names, addresses and telephone numbers of all people involved in your matter
• bring any written materials relating to your legal situation, such as receipts, contracts, medical bills,
repair estimates, checks, traffic tickets, deeds, wills and letters from the opposing side to the first
meeting with your lawyer
• ask if there are some aspects of the case that you can handle yourself (e.g., some telephone calls)
• bring a written summary of the facts exactly as you remember them
• write down the questions that you want your lawyer to answer
• avoid calling your lawyer unnecessarily
• inform your lawyer of any changes to your address, telephone number and to any situation that may
have a bearing on your case
• ask the lawyer about ways to resolve your case without going to court
• reveal all information, even if it may not be in your favor. Remember that your lawyer must keep all
information you discuss confidential.
You should carefully weigh the advantages and disadvantages of your case. For example, could
court costs and legal fees be more than the amount of money you would likely recover?
Most small claims courts limit cases to those with claims up to $3,000, and exclude certain types of
claims, such as divorce, cases involving title to property, and cases involving the state or city. In most
small claims courts, anyone with a grievance can bring suit, using everyday language, for a relatively
low filing cost, usually less than $50. However, you should file suit only after you have exhausted other
avenues, for example, writing directly to the person or company involved or discussing the matter with
the Better Business Bureau. Your local Better Business Bureau, credit counseling service, consumer
advocacy group, alternative dispute resolution center, or another private agency may be able to assist
you, and provide an effective and economical alternative to hiring a lawyer. These organizations were
created to resolve or correct situations that frequently recur and affect the public. Through such agencies,
without the expense of hiring a lawyer, you may be able to obtain a statement of your rights, a fast
recovery of property or money you have lost, or relief for other damages that you have incurred .In
many instances, government organizations and offices can also provide answers or assistance on
legal matters. For example, you may be able to consult the state attorney general's office or the
Department of Revenue for answers to general business, investment or tax questions. State and
local governmental agencies or departments, such as local government offices that administer
permits and licenses, and state boards that regulate health professions, social service professions,
contractors, lawyers and others, may be able to provide information about rules and standards
governing such professions and may also assist in resolving disputes or settling damages.
There are legal resources that may be able to help you resolve your legal problem without hiring a
lawyer. The Macomb County Bar Association has several programs that can help answer your basic
Legal Assistance Services Judicial Aide (Macomb County, Michigan) Legal representation for offenders within Macomb County