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New Jersey: Top 9 Questions You Should Ask Your Lawyer Before Hiring Them

Posted by Carmine R. Villani | Jul 29, 2019 | 0 Comments

The attorney you hire can make or break your case, so take your time and choose carefully. Find out if an attorney is a good fit for your case by asking these 9 questions before you commit to working together.

1. Do You Handle Cases Like Mine?

This is the first question you should ask when considering potential attorneys for your case. Ideally, you can ask this question via email rather than waiting for a phone consultation or in-person meeting. This frees you up to focus on lawyers who best meet your needs.

Some lawyers tackle multiple areas of law while others focus on a specific niche. You may find that a jack-of-all-trades lawyer effectively handles minor issues, such as speeding tickets or tenant-landlord disputes, but isn't your best option for divorce, personal injury, or criminal defense cases.

Keep in mind there are major differences between high-conflict cases and simple cases, so ask if your lawyer has experience with cases like yours. For example, an amicable divorce where both parents want 50/50 custody, no alimony, and no child support should not require as much time or money as a high-conflict case. In a high-conflict case, the parties want different outcomes and may have to settle their arguments with a trial rather than mediation or a consent judgment. An example of a high-conflict family law case is when one parent wants sole custody, but the other thinks they should share visitation time equally, so they must go to court and let a judge help decide what's best for the kids.

2. How Often Do You Practice in Monmouth & Ocean County NJ?

New Jersey lawyers may have a license that's good all across the state, but they get to know the judges and legal professionals in the counties where they practice most. 

During your initial consultation, ask about the attorney's primary practice area. Do they know the judge assigned to your case, or have they only been in your courtroom a few times? Legal professionals are bound by the same laws and moral codes, but things are done differently in every county. For example, withholding visitation in one county may get you a small fine, while a judge from a different county may order jail time. Your lawyer should have some idea of what to expect from your case's court officials even though they can't guarantee an outcome.

3. How Often Should I Expect to Hear From You?

Attorneys are notorious for ignoring calls and emails. Some do it unintentionally after taking on a heavy caseload while others simply don't feel the need for constant updates. An attorney may try to save you money by limiting updates without realizing you like hearing from them, even if all they say is, “I've got no news for you today.”

Ask your attorney how much communication you should expect, and find out when and how they usually communicate. Are you limited to specific days and hours, or can you call anytime? Does your attorney check emails regularly, or is it better to drop off documents in person? Find out what to expect, and make sure it complements your preferred communication style. At Villani & DeLuca your case is our top priority and we believe communication is key to your success.

“I just wanted to thank everyone involved at Villani & DeLuca for helping me through my court case. I would like to especially thank Mr. Villani and Mr. Tim Horn. The fact that Mr. Villani called me back the same day I left a message, even though it was on a Sunday and he didn't have to, really made me feel like this was the right firm to go with. Everyone kept me informed of what was going to happen and what I should be prepared for.

4. How Much Do I Need to Get Started?

It's difficult to find pro bono attorneys, so your case will likely have some expenses. The exception is if you have a personal injury case, such as a work-related accident or a product liability claim, where attorneys only collect fees if you win. If you have a solid case, some law firms may agree to take you on as a client while they fight for the compensation you deserve.

Generally, though, you should expect to pay a case retainer plus hourly fees. Depending on the complexity of your case, your retainer may range from $500 to as much as $25,000. Bankruptcy cases often have low-to-average retainer expenses while high-conflict custody cases and serious criminal cases have high retainer fees. If your ex skipped town with the kids or you're facing life in prison, you can typically expect to pay a higher retainer fee than someone filing a personal injury claim or suing a landlord.

5. What's Your Billing Process?

Many clients are shocked to learn that a retainer fee doesn't cover the entire cost of a case. In fact, your lawyer may request multiple payments throughout the case. Custody cases often require an initial retainer plus separate retainers for depositions and trial. Complex criminal cases may require many retainers to cover the cost of frequent court dates and extensive correspondence with the opposing counsel and district attorney.

When you inquire about the billing process, make sure you get answers to the following questions:

  • How much is my retainer fee?
  • What is your hourly rate?
  • Am I paying your hourly rate or a flat fee?
  • Do you charge for mileage?
  • When are invoices generated?
  • How much time do I have to pay each invoice?
  • Are payment plans available?
  • What happens if I miss a payment?

Lawyers often withdraw from cases where clients fall behind on payments, so it's important to work out billing details before you hire legal representation.

6. How Much Is This Case Going to Cost?

A lawyer typically can't predict the exact price of your case, but they can give you an estimate based on the following factors:

  • The complexity of your case
  • Whether you have a high-conflict case
  • How much communication you expect
  • Whether you plan to prepare any documents yourself
  • Whether you plan to serve the other party yourself
  • Whether you can get important documents without subpoenas
  • Whether you expect to go to trial or settle
  • The price similar clients have paid for cases of this nature

The estimate may shock you, especially if you've never hired legal representation in the past. Don't be surprised if your lawyer quotes a figure that exceeds $10,000 or $20,000. Many court cases drag on for months — or even years. Which brings us to our next question below.

7. How Long Will This Case Take?

Clients often expect a quick resolution, but the reality is that your case may take years. Court dates generally aren't immediately available for divorce or child custody issues, so that can extend your court timeline. Criminal cases often require an investigation from a local detective before they get passed on to the district attorney, who then decides whether to dismiss or try your case.

Your attorney can provide an educated estimate about your case duration, but it's not a guarantee. Your case may get dismissed right away or have frequent continuances and appeals.

8. What Strategy Do You Recommend for My Case?

You're hiring a lawyer to help manage your case, so they should know how to effectively approach the situation. An attorney works for you, so you can reject any ideas they have and offer your own input, but an experienced attorney should suggest a solid strategy tailored to your unique situation.

9. What Is the Likely Outcome of My Case?

Remember, nobody can predict how a judge or opposing party may behave in the courtroom. Your attorney can share recent courtroom trends and tell you the outcome of similar cases, but they cannot guarantee results.

However, an attorney may recommend holding off on a case, especially if you have a family law matter. Some exes are quick to file contempt charges or request frequent visitation changes, and this angers some judges. A potential attorney may recommend documenting incidents or trying your current schedule a bit longer before you take legal action.

Legal expenses rack up quickly, so it's crucial that you hire a dependable New Jersey lawyer who represents your best interests in the courtroom. Don't enter into a lawyer-client relationship without asking potential attorneys the questions above as well as any other questions that matter to you. Getting to know an attorney ahead of time helps prevent misunderstandings throughout the case. That way, you aren't left seeking a replacement attorney in the middle of your case — or, worse yet, days before your trial.

About the Author

Carmine R. Villani

Founding partner, Carmine Villani, Esq. is a former municipal prosecutor with over three decades of experience in Criminal and DWI Defense.


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