By Sharon Frankenberg, Attorney at Law

Most people rarely find themselves in need of an attorney. When they do need an attorney, it is often in an emergency situation. Child custody disputes can arise suddenly and require immediate assistance from a lawyer. An arrest on criminal charges should call for hiring a defense lawyer immediately. In the event of an accident involving serious injury or death, it is very common to hire an attorney to protect your interests. It is good to have a lawyer if you want to file for divorce or bankruptcy, buy or sell real estate or a business or plan your estate (see my column of 2/4/13, “Basic Estate Planning”). There are many situations where you may wish to have good legal advice and representation. Even if your need is not an emergency, how should you go about hiring a lawyer?

Your lawyer should be someone you can trust with your confidential information. Information you tell to your lawyer is generally protected by the attorney/client privilege which means the lawyer cannot make your information public. Since finding the right attorney is very important you should do your best to find someone you are comfortable with. Meet with him or her in person. Discuss what his or her philosophy of winning is. Do research online. Ask for references. You do not need to necessarily hire the first attorney you find.

Most lawyers have areas of practice in which they focus most of their time and attention. It is important that you choose an attorney who has experience in the kind of matter you need assistance with. Ask if he or she has any specialized training or background that may apply in your situation. Do not hesitate to find out how long the attorney has been practicing law. Find out what types of cases he or she normally handles and how many times he or she has handled your particular type of case. Ask many questions. Does he or she typically represent businesses or individuals? Will he or she handle your matter personally or will he or she pass you off to a recent law school graduate with little or no experience?

Once you have selected an attorney you trust to handle your matter, you need to actually hire them. This usually means signing a written fee agreement (see my column of 2/11/13, “Written Contracts) and paying a retainer. The fee agreement should cover how you will be charged for legal services, what types of expenses you will be responsible for and how you will be billed. The amount of the retainer paid should be identified in the written fee agreement. If you do not completely understand how you will be charged for legal services you should be sure to ask for a further explanation before signing any contracts. Clearing up any possible misunderstandings now will avoid problems in the future.


Sharon Frankenberg is an experienced attorney licensed in Tennessee since 1988. Her office is in Knoxville and she may be reached at (865)539-2100.