Law Talk Episode 6: How to Hire an Attorney

In this episode of Law Talk, Jacob and Janet discuss the processes you should go through when choosing which attorney to hire for your legal case.

Jacob Tingen: Welcome to Law Talk with Tingen & Williams. It is Wednesday, March 14th, approximately 11 AM. So give us a call. We’re available here on Facebook live. You can just give a comment on Facebook and we’ll respond to it. Or you can call in at 804-477-1720. We’re here every Wednesdays at 11 AM.

Today we are changing things up. Normally, in the past, I have been present with one of my partners, but today I’m here with my paralegal, Janet Espana. Say Hello.

Janet Espana: Hello.

Jacob Tingen: So Janet is my right arm or hand or whatever. She does everything for me. She’s excellent. She’s a wonderful paralegal.

Janet Espana: Thank you.

Jacob Tingen: So what she’s gonna talk to me about, we’re gonna switch the tables. Normally, I’m the one that asks the questions in this program, but today Janet is gonna be asking the questions, and I am gonna be talking a little bit about how to go about choosing an attorney, what things you should be thinking about, what things you should be asking about. And so I’m gonna give my perspective and maybe some of Janet’s questions will help guide you in what you look for. Janet, take it away.

Janet Espana: Okay. Well, good morning. So attorney, tell us, if I am trying to hire an attorney for a specific thing that I’m trying to do, whether it’s immigration, or traffic, or the fans, what is it the first thing that I need to look for to consider hiring a specific attorney?

Jacob Tingen: The first thing? I mean, I think it’s important that you like the attorney. So even though … I mean, I think that we’re pretty great. But if you come in and we just rub you the wrong way, it’s not gonna work for you. You’re not gonna be pleased with what happened. So I think it’s important that you do like who you’re gonna be working with. I mean, this is a very important part of your life, when you have a legal matter. Typically, it’s pretty stressful. And so if you don’t like who you’re working with during a very stressful time of your life, it may not be the best call. So I’d say that that’s the first thing, is you do need to meet someone and just kind of gauge the potential relationship.

Janet Espana: Would it be a good idea if we google this specific attorney and look at their reviews? Or even go to their website and see exactly what they do?

Jacob Tingen: Okay. All right. So, Janet, it’s pandering a little there. So we put a lot of effort into our reviews. If you do google Tingen & Williams, you’re gonna notice that we pop up pretty quickly. We put a lot of effort into our website, and you can see we have upwards of 70 Google review. I’m gonna check right now so you can see how many Google reviews we have. But yes, we’ve got 80 Google reviews, we’ve got a five star rating. And so that’s us. And I do think it’s important. I mean, a firm that puts time into those kinds of thing, it shows that they care about the reputation. It shows that they care about how they’re perceived. But also because of that, that caring, it means that they’re going to want to do a good job for you. I mean, they’re gonna want to get that good review. And of course, we don’t and can’t guarantee a positive result in every case, but we definitely make the effort, right? And I think that that shows. And that will show for any attorney who makes that effort. Yeah.

Janet Espana: Thank you.

Jacob Tingen: Did that answer your question, Janet?

Janet Espana: Yes, it did. Thank you. Something else that I was thinking about, is it too rude to ask from your point of view, if me as a client come to you and ask you, “Well, what is your experience? How many cases have you handled?” Is it rude or is it okay if I ask those questions?

Jacob Tingen: No. Actually, I think that’s one of the better questions you can ask when you go to an attorney. If I don’t have a lot of experience in a new practice area, let’s say we’re branching out, we’re starting something new, I’ll try to team up with a mentor or that kind of thing and tell the client, “Look, this is not something I do frequently. However, I’ve got a mentor.” The other angle that I may take on that if I don’t have a lot of experience doing something is I’ll say, “Look, this is very closely related to something we’ve done. There are a few things left in the immigration realm that I haven’t done yet, very few and far between, but I would feel comfortable tackling virtually anything at this point because of my broad experience.”
And then you need to recognize also that the law doesn’t answer everything. I mean, not everything that could happen is addressed by the law. And so there are some issues where I can tell a client, “Look, you can ask 100 attorneys within 100 miles, none of them are going to have dealt with this issue, or at least it’s very unlikely that it has come up a lot in anybody’s practice.” So is it a fair question? Yes. We do at our firm, immigration, criminal law, family law, wills and estates. We’ve got some constitutional law experience under our belt, some litigation experience under our belt. We’ve got an attorney here with lots of experience in personal injury, so we’re trying to boost that practice area.
So yeah, typically we wouldn’t say that we are experts in anything, we’re not. And any attorney who’s not forthcoming with you about their experience level on a practice area, that should be a flag. But again, if they’re honest with you and say, “Look, I don’t know about this, but I’m happy to learn.” Lawyers are required to be competent in anything they do before they do it, before they accept money for it. So they’re incentivized to do their homework as well. But it’s a fair question. I mean, that’s absolutely something that should be asked.

Janet Espana: Now that you just mentioned money, can you give us like a pricing range?

Jacob Tingen: Yeah. So our minimum bill is three million dollars. I’m just kidding. So that’s what I always like to throw out there when people-

Janet Espana: For each case?

Jacob Tingen: Yeah, for each case. No, the money part of hiring a lawyer is a difficult thing for a lot of people to swallow, because people are already coming in, like I mentioned, when they have a legal matter that’s at stake, it’s already a challenging time. And then they have to hire a lawyer and pay him a bunch of money, or her, a bunch of money. So the way that we deal with that is we give payment plans. Not all attorneys and not all practice areas can manage payment plans. So to talk about money and payment and how that works, it does depend a little bit on practice area. So let’s just throw up a couple of examples.
There’s first of all, personal injury or litigation where you’re likely to get some kind of money damages, reward at the end. Most of those cases are not going to be on a fee basis if you are the plaintiff, meaning you’re the one that has been harmed and you’re the one that’s asking for money. So typically in those cases, you don’t have to put up your own money and pay the attorney. The attorney gets paid from the contingency fee, which means they take a percentage of whatever you win. Now typically that can be somewhere around 33%, a third, if it’s settled outside of court. If it goes to court, some of the better attorneys can charge, or more experienced attorneys can charge as much as 45% for a contingency fee. If a case goes to trial, and it’s a lot of work to go to trial and so that’s why the fee rises. So, that’s typically how it works in a contingency fee scenario.
But what a lot of people don’t realize is even when there’s a contingency fee, frequently, there are other costs that come up in the course of a representation. So even in a personal injury case, you might be responsible for printing documents, for mailing documents. Those aren’t costs that an attorney eats. They are costs that you’re gonna have to pay for. So even in a contingency fee case, it’s typical for you as the client to pay some kind of retainer and maintain that retainer throughout the case, so that your attorney doesn’t have to say, “Well, there’s no more money, so I can’t do anything.” It’s actually to your advantage to deposit.
I mean, I’ve heard some retainers as low as $2,000, others as high as 5,000, or even more. But the way the retainers work is you put in $5,000. Again, this isn’t money that the attorney uses to pay himself. It’s money that the attorney uses to pursue your case. And then, as the attorney uses that money to make copies and mail things, then you need to replenish that money to make sure that it never gets to a zero balance, just because there are costs that come up, hiring experts, hiring court reporters, those kinds of things, they matter for your case.
So that’s money on the side of a personal injury case. Money in the side of other kinds of cases. I mean, criminal law, typically, we believe in a right to a speedy trial and a speedy resolution, right? So those cases move quickly. They typically are time intensive because they matter a lot to you and your freedom of movement and other bunch of things. So criminal cases, we don’t typically do payment plans in the way that we do in other practice areas. So that’s something to watch out for. When I do cases and immigration, the immigration process moves so slowly that we accept pretty generous payment plans. And that’s kinda how we offset the cost of legal services for a lot of our clients. When I do legal work for businesses, contracts, trademark work, those kinds of things, depending on the size of the business, if it’s a small business, I’ll give you a payment plan and I haven’t had much trouble with that. If you’re a bigger business, most bigger businesses are fine to pay up front.
So it all just kind of depends. In terms of the conversation with the lawyer, yeah, absolutely a fair game question. What level of experience do you have? How much is this gonna cost? And what does that look like? And you may spend a lot of time talking with the attorney about money because it matters. So yeah, that’s a good one.

Janet Espana: Okay.

Jacob Tingen: Yeah.

Janet Espana: Also, when you’re getting ready to hire an attorney, it’s a good idea to ask them also the amount of time that it’s going to take. It’s okay to ask either the attorney or the paralegal that, what exactly is going on with your case? Correct? Don’t be afraid, if you already hired one, to give them a call and find out what’s going on with your case. Don’t wait a long time.

Jacob Tingen: Right. So, that’s some fine advice, some [inaudible 00:11:50] from our paralegal. Yeah. I mean, it is important to check in now. That’s a good money question because that’s one of the things you should bring up. So we do most of our work on flat fees, which means that if you call one time or 20 times, we’re not gonna charge you per the minute on the phone call, we’ve charged you a flat fee. So for us, there’s no disincentive to contact us. You should absolutely reach out to us. Whereas, maybe with other attorneys, if they say, “Well, we do charge a sixth of an hour every time you call.” Okay, so the hourly rate is $60, and I mean, that’s unbelievably low. Don’t expect that, but just to give an example. So every time you call they charge you 10 bucks. So with that attorney, you need to ask, “Well, is my question worth at least $10?” Whereas with us, with the flat fee, you’ve paid or you’re on a payment plan for the entire process, and you should be able to call in and ask questions.
And it’s important for you to stand up your case. Most attorneys have a wide, a large number of cases that they’re managing, but you only have potentially one or two. I mean, we get some clients with a number of matters at the same time. But you only have one case and so it’s important for you to stay on it and be able to talk to your attorney and stay on it too, right? I mean, what kind of problems do we see when that stuff pops up? I mean-

Janet Espana: Like when the client is not like on top of the game?

Jacob Tingen: Yeah, I mean, what happens?

Janet Espana: You can affect in many times, like the most common one is when you just forget about your case. We have thousands of cases going on in the office and like the attorney said, you only have one. So be on top of your game, call periodically, check up with your paralegal. Many times you won’t be able to talk to the attorney. In the paralegals are more accessible, so talk to them, ask them, or even ask the receptionist what’s going on. If they can not give you the answer, then ask to speak to the paralegal and they should be able to give you an update on your case. Just make sure that you are checking with them, because we are, at the end of the day, we’re only human. Give us a call. Sir? You wanna say something?

Jacob Tingen: Oh, yeah. No, no, no. I would agree with that. I would agree with that, but sometimes phone calls slip through the cracks. Now, we’re pretty tech savvy and so we can keep track and monitor every single phone call in and out of the office. And so sometimes a client will say, “Well, I’ve called two or three times in the last week.” And we can check, they only called once six months ago. So, yeah. I mean, it’s important for you to stay on top of your case. Nobody’s perfect, but we do try to stay on top of things for you.
Now, one of the other things is sometimes we’ll communicate with the client and say, “You need to bring us this piece of evidence. And we’ll put a note in our file. And the client will forget that that was the last thing they needed to do. Call in six months and say why hasn’t anything happened. But again, that would be something that does fall on the place of the client. So, that’s one of the things that … Like I said, you’ve got your case. So that’s one of the reasons we charge the flat fees and we encourage you to call. We’re not gonna charge you extra money for a phone call because we want you to reach out to us so that we can help you move your case along. Now, I do see a comment by Jr Hernández, “I need a business attorney. Will you do that for small business?” Yeah, I’ll do business attorney for you.
I do lots of business work for a number of different small businesses. It does depend on the kinds of things you wanna do. So I do … Again, you’d have to be in Virginia, so I’m only registered to practice in Virginia. But yes, Jr, I can help you with that.

Janet Espana: Junior.

Jacob Tingen: I is Junior Hernández, or Jr?

Janet Espana: I think it’s Junior.

Jacob Tingen: You think it’s Junior?

Janet Espana: Yes.

Jacob Tingen: All right Junior. But yeah. So I can help you with that and do contracts. I can do an operating agreement. I can register your business. I can act as your registered agent. So there are a number of services that I can provide there. So I’d need more specifics. You probably don’t wanna put a bunch of specifics on Facebook live, but feel free to give us a call, 804-477-1720. You could set up an appointment with me or one of the other attorneys that does some business work and we can get some progress there for you. So I hope we can help you out.
All right. Again, so this is Law Talk with Tingen & Williams. We’re available Wednesdays at 11 AM. You can either comment on Facebook as Junior just did, or you can call in for a free legal counsel, 804-477-1720. We’re happy to answer your legal questions and kind of talk about things. Today during Law Talk, I’m with my paralegal, Janet Espana, and we are talking aboUt things to look for or talk about when you’re looking to hire an attorney.
So Janet, we’ve talked about money and personality and a couple of other things. What else? What else? Could you possibly cut looks?

Janet Espana: We had the cutest attorneys in Richmond.

Jacob Tingen: Oh, okay. We don’t have to go there. What else do we need to talk about? It’s funny because we actually have on one of our Google questions, if you look up Tingen & Williams, one of the Google questions is, why has attorney been so good looking? I mean, I guess that matters to you. I mean, apparently it matters to Janet.

Janet Espana: Of course.

Jacob Tingen: So what else should we look for in an attorney, Janet?

Janet Espana: I think that the most important things is the experience, because at the end of the day you’re looking for an attorney that will know about what your needs are. Like if you are looking for an attorney about immigration, you have to trust your attorney and make sure that he knows what he’s doing. If it’s business, you’re not going to hire an attorney that does traffic to manage your business, right?

Jacob Tingen: Right.

Janet Espana: So you have to make sure that you choose the right attorney to your specific needs. Or what do you think, [inaudible 00:18:16]?

Jacob Tingen: Yeah, I mean, I think that that definitely is important. I think I’m gonna sneeze … Yeah, I think it’s important to know that your attorney has experience, or expertise, or specific training in the help that you need. I would agree that you wouldn’t go to … And this is one of the interesting things about law. You wouldn’t go to a big mergers and acquisitions attorney to help you with your small business.

Janet Espana: Right.

Jacob Tingen: Even though the MNA attorney probably makes tons of money doing things for very large businesses, there are just some practical things that you pick up working with small businesses. And so I work with small businesses and some startups and that kind of thing. And so if that’s your deal, you don’t wanna go to a giant firm. You may in the future, right? If you’re gonna do an IPO or something like that, then you go to the big firm. But when you’re starting out, it probably makes sense to work with somebody who deals with small businesses all the time instead of somebody who deals solely with big business.
And so, that’s fine that, and you can either evolve with your attorney, like if you develop a good relationship with that attorney, and you go big and you just want him to be part of the game as you go along, and give you continuing advice, that’s fine. And that’s actually a pretty typical arrangement. But even if I were counseling a startup that wanted to do an IPO, I’d helped them arrange, somebody who does mainly that to help you out. So if you like working with a specific attorney, if you’ve built up a relationship of trust, I would agree with Janet, that the experience level and the kinds of work that you’re asking for that need to be done are important. But even in that case, it’s important to work with an attorney who knows his limits and knows hi experience and can be honest with you and say, “Okay. Well I can get competent in that, or I can guide you to someone who already is.” And I think that that’s the important statement, is you really wanna look for honesty in the attorney and in what they can do to help you out.

Janet Espana: And the reviews, I think that is like, would you really need to be checking because these are real people that are not getting paid, they’re not getting any re-compensation?

Jacob Tingen: Yeah.

Janet Espana: … to give you their opinion on a specific attorney. So check those out. And like I said, we do not pay anyone to give us a review. The client does it because they feel like they have to let everybody know. So check out the reviews whether if it’s for our firm or somebody else’s. Make sure you do your homework before you hire an attorney, right?

Jacob Tingen: Right. Well, so let me switch the tables on you, Janet. I just kinda wanna hear a little bit from you.

Janet Espana: Okay.

Jacob Tingen: Let’s say you’re hiring an attorney, do you care about the website? I mean, if it looks slick, if it doesn’t look slick, if it looks really old and … I mean, what impact does that have on you on whether or not you hire the attorney?

Janet Espana: Well, I think that that depends on the client’s age, right? Because if you’re younger, you will want something more up to date, but if you’re more like in your 50s or 60s, maybe 70s, probably the experience is what counts to these client. But yeah, it’s always nice to go to a website and look something nice, look something very up to date and easy to use.

Jacob Tingen: Right. Do you think online technologies like filling out legal forms automatically, is that important to you or not?

Janet Espana: It is.

Jacob Tingen: That is important to you?

Janet Espana: It is important as a paralegal.

Jacob Tingen: As a paralegal, yeah. But as a client, let’s say you’re a client-

Janet Espana: As a client, I don’t know. It depends on your lifestyle, if you’re used to doing everything online. So it’s more convenient for a person to just do it on your own time and not be attached to the 9 AM to 5 PM kind of thing, and if you have the option to do it online while you’re laying on bed, right?

Jacob Tingen: Yeah.

Janet Espana: So it’s easier, it’s better. But if you are a person that likes to talk to someone, then probably the online thing is not as important as talking to a live person to help you.

Jacob Tingen: Yeah. Well, so spoiler alert for those of you who are listening, if you do visit, you’ll see that we do have online forms for certain services and we’ve been adding more. But I think what Janet said is interesting because, for example, if you have a large estate, chances are that you go to some young buck right out of law school to manage your millions of dollars. Pretty low, right? And we understand that and I think everybody understands that. And that goes to the experience, and does this person get me? And am I gonna be able to work well with this attorney? I think overtime clientele is getting more and more used to the online experience. And so, that may matter more in the future. But again, what matters most are probably what other people are saying, so referrals from friends, reviews online. That helps you understand that the attorney does good work and there’re other people who are satisfied.
And then I think the other thing is, is this the right attorney for me? Because, like I started this conversation, even if we do excellent work, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re the attorney for you. You might need or like different things that we just can’t give you. So if you are living in a somewhat rural area, you might not want us to manage your business, whereas you might want somebody local who knows the guy at the county courthouse, who knows the secretary by name, those kinds of things. I also think the same is true of a lot of criminal cases. If you’re in northern Virginia, you just don’t wanna hire a criminal defense attorney who is based only in Richmond. Now, if they have a northern Virginia office and attorneys who work up there, great. But typically you’re not going to be hiring attorneys who don’t have experience, who don’t know the judges, the secretaries, those kinds of things.
So we practice and have a pretty regular experience in the greater Richmond area. So Henrico, Richmond, Chesterfield, Hanover, Ashland, Colonial Heights, Petersburg, Palatan, couple more courts. But if you get further out towards Norfolk or further north Frederick [inaudible 00:25:08] north, we’re probably not the guys you wanna hire right now, because there are other people who have that local experience. But again, if you have a relationship with us, let’s say we’ve done something else for you locally and you just definitely wanna use us, we can either help you find somebody or do it ourselves. But of course, it’s always nice to build up that trust with clients and have clients come back to us again and again, and it does happen. But yeah, what you wanna look for is comfort level.

Janet Espana: Yes.

Jacob Tingen: Doesn’t matter what the website looks like. I’m always wary if the website doesn’t look at least moderately okay, because I started to get worried if there are diatribes about political issues on your law firm website and that’s kind of a turn-off for me. But that’s different than just is it functional? They give us a clue and an insight into whether or not this is the attorney that I can work with.
So what qualities do you look for, Janet, if you’re hiring an attorney? What says to you, this attorney can work with me?

Janet Espana: One, he needs to be, like I have to feel comfortable talking to him. In order for me to say this might work, I have to feel like he or she knows what he’s talking about, that he’s confident in the topic that I’m searching for. And make sure, like I said, do your homework, google him or her, google the firm, make sure that they meet the qualities that you’re looking for in an attorney. Because if you’re not comfortable with him when you talk to him, then don’t go there, because you’re not going to like his work.

Jacob Tingen: Yeah. So let me ask you a quick question. Male attorney versus female attorney, are there certain kinds of issues where you’d be more comfortable speaking with an attorney who’s a female?

Janet Espana: It depends on what we’re talking about, what case.

Jacob Tingen: It does? Okay.

Janet Espana: To me. Well, say if it’s traffic, I don’t mind. But if it’s something more personal maybe, like a divorce probably, that you have to give details of your personal life and what happened to you, if it’s domestic violence and maybe some women, or even men, that have been domestically abused by their partners, they feel more comfortable talking to the opposite sex or for the same sex, I don’t know.

Jacob Tingen: Right. And we see that. I mean, I just read an article the other day about how OBGYNs, it’s hard to get into it if you’re a male doctor these days for very obvious reasons. I mean, comfort levels and that kind of thing. And I think that we do have some female clients who are just more comfortable talking to Marissa than to me because of my gender, and that’s fine by me. I mean, I get it. Those are very personal details. And so it’s interesting because we’ve also noticed in some firms and how they market themselves, there are law firms that focus divorce for men, because I guess most people think divorce is, all the attorneys are in it for divorce for women I guess. So it’s interesting to see a firm market themselves that way. But it does bring up this topic about, well, am I comfortable with a certain kind of gender representing me? So it’s just interesting to see how that matters to you.

Janet Espana: It doesn’t … well, I don’t know what to tell you, because it depends, again, of your level of confidence, talking or opening up to a person, like on your personal level. Again, if it’s for divorce and domestic violence, some people just say it and some other say, “Well, I don’t feel comfortable talking to you because I have suffered so much that I don’t want to open up to a male,” if it’s a lady that is the client, or vice versa. If it’s the man that has been abused, then, we see it here all the time, they don’t wanna talk to us, and then we have to ask for the male paralegal to come and talk to the person or vice-versa.

Jacob Tingen: Yeah. I mean, and so it may not be the only factor that’s important to you when you hire an attorney, but it definitely can play apart. And so as Janet said, we’re fortunate to have male and female attorneys here and also staff.
So, anyway, that’s about it for Law Talk with Tingen & Williams today. You can still comment on Facebook live and have your questions answered, or give us a call at 804-477-1720. We’re here every Wednesday at 11 AM, and happy to answer your legal questions and talk to you a little bit more. Thank you for tuning in. Thank you, Janet for coming on the show.

Janet Espana: My pleasure.

Jacob Tingen: This was her first time. She’s now famous, internet famous for Janet. Anyway, thanks again and we’ll see you next week.

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