How Do People Select Rhode Island Divorce Attorneys to Interview?

Let’s face it. Rhode Island lawyers and lawyers in general are officers of the court. We’re supposed to be servants of the public. Yet at the same same we’re independent practitioners and we we’ve got a job to do and money to bring in through our private practice or we don’t survive.

It’s no wonder Rhode Island Lawyers are viewed with skepticism and even cynicism, especially when it’s time to hire one and you’re not sure who to hire or what to do. Here you are, you have a legal issue that needs to be addressed and you take the time to try to identify an attorney who will meet your needs.

It’s easy for questions to surface as to whether the attorney you’re interviewing is looking out for your best interests or simply looking out for his or her own interests and making some money to put food on his or her own table. It is, in fact, appropriate for you to question the attorney’s motives. The best time to do that is at the time you interview the attorney.

You should know that when you set up an appointment to see an attorney, YOU are interviewing the attorney just as much as the attorney is interviewing YOU.

So how do people generally go about choosing an attorney?

1) A referral from a friend or family member.

This is a good source of referrals for the attorney, but is the attorney right for YOU? What did the attorney do for that friend or family member who made the referral? Did the attorney settle a personal injury case? That’s not going to do you much good if you need someone for a family law matter. If your referral isn’t to an attorney that regularly practices in the area of law you need and it isn’t from a person who used those same type of family law services then the referral is “empty”, in other words a referral should be better than just hunting around in the yellow pages. It should provide some valuable reassurance that the attorney you’ve been referred to, can and has already provided valuable an competent services to the person who is making the referral to you, and that those services are in the area of law that you need help with. Without that criteria, the referral is “Empty”.

2) An advertisement in the yellow pages.

This is of course an even less effective way to select a suitable lawyer to interview than the referral from a friend or family member who did not use the attorney for the same type of legal services that you are in need of. When you just select attorneys out of the yellow pages you will most likely do like everyone else does. You select the attorney based on the advertisement itself, particularly its size and its wording. Unfortunately neither of these are indicators that the attorney is competent or will serve you well in the area of law you are in need of. Imagine that you are in need of a divorce attorney and you select the attorney’s advertisement that is the largest and includes the words “Estates”, “Personal Injury Cases”, and Divorces, etc… with 15 years in practice”.

First, that advertisement probably cost quite a bit since even small advertisements in the yellow pages run $3,000 to $5,000 a year. From there you can take a guess who has to pay for just that single marketing ad. That’s right…that attorney’s clients. You can almost certainly plan to pay more for an attorney with a decent sized yellow page ad. Conversely, that attorney might be worth it if you select just the right one.

Second, the “15 years in practice” tells you one of two things. Either that you are going to pay more for those years of experience or that he has been doing “something” law-related for 15 years. I know attorneys who have been in practice for 20 years and have handled perhaps 10 divorces in that amount of time. By the same token the advertisement above wouldn’t seem as impressive if you knew that the attorney only handled 4 divorces within his 15 years of practice. That might not want to be the attorney you want to represent you if you need a Rhode Island Divorce attorney and complex divorce issues regarding pensions, alimony and tax consequences on the sale of a home come into play.

3) Search for the kind of Rhode Island lawyer you want on the internet.

This is becoming more and more the method of searching for attorneys in the technoliterate sector of society. Those who choose this method of searching can go to Google.com or another search site of their choice and type in the various terms they want to search on. Searchers can also vary their search terms if the results do not suit them. The main benefit to searching the internet to find Rhode Island attorneys to interview is the third party nature of the ranking system. In a search system such as Google.com, the primary listings are ranked by criteria that are not controlled by attorney. It is Google’s system that analyzes the attorney’s websites and/or pages and determines from there whether the attorney’s website matches the criteria you are looking for. In this way you are getting an unbiased selection of attorney websites to review.

Secondarily, if you are searching on the internet for an attorney, you will know if the attorney has a website or not. This will at least give you some indication that the attorney has kept up with technology. If he or she has done so then if it is important to be able to communicate with your attorney by email this may be a factor in your decision to interview that particular attorney. The information on the website of the attorney is also likely to be the most focused regarding what his or her primary practice areas. In some instances the attorney’s website will provide the most valuable information about the attorney in order to decide which attorneys to interview.

Associate Attorney Employment Agreement

Most law firms that are made up of more than one person are set up as a hierarchy with Partners at the top and varying levels of Associate Attorneys below them. Partners are generally the owners of the business and Associates are employees. The Associates are often given the opportunity to work their way up the ladder to become Partners and share in the profits of the firm instead of just receiving wages.

It is important to have a written agreement or contract between the Associates and the Firm that spells out everyone’s duties and obligations as well as the conditions under which they may advance. The following is a draft contract between an Associate and a law firm that can be customized to meet the needs of a law firm hiring an Associate Attorney.

This AGREEMENT made of this 21st day of March, 2011, between the Law Offices of at Smith, herein referred to as the “Firm” and Joe Blow, hereinafter referred to as the “Attorney.”

Recitals

The Firm is a Sole Proprietorship, operating as a business rendering legal services. If, during the term of this contract, the Firm changes to another form of business organization, this contract will continue to be binding on both the Firm, under it’s new formation, and on the Attorney.

The Attorney is licensed to practice law in the State of Texas.

The Firm and the Attorney desire to have the attorney practice law as an employee of the Firm.

It is agreed by and between the parties as follows:

Section 1. Employment and Duties.

Employment. The Firm employs the Attorney and the Attorney accepts employment as an attorney in accordance with the terms of this Agreement.

Full Time. The Attorney shall devote full working time and attention on the practice of the law for the Firm and the Attorney shall not, without the written consent of the Firm, directly or indirectly rendered services of a professional nature to or for any person or firm except as an employee of the Firm.

Duties and Assignments. The Firm shall determine the duties to be performed by the Attorney and the means and the manner by which those duties shall be performed. The Firm shall determine the assignment of the clients to the Attorney and the Attorney shall perform services for such clients assigned. The Firm determine the rates at which the Attorney’s work shall be billed.

Section 2. Compensation

Salary. For all services rendered by the Attorney under this Agreement, the Firm shall pay the Attorney and annual salary of $58,000, payable weekly or as may otherwise be mutually agreed. The salary may be changed by mutual agreement of the parties at any time.

Bonus. In the addition to the salary specified in 2.1., the Attorney may receive a bonus. The bonus, if any, will be in such amounts as the Firm may determine in its absolute discretion.

Additional Compensation. In addition to the salary and bonus specified in items 2.1 and 2.2, the Attorney will be eligible to receive a percentage of the Firm’s portion of Personal Injury cases. The Attorney will receive 10% of the Firm’s payment from a Personal Injury case, when the Attorney has performed as the primary attorney on that case. Additionally, the Attorney will receive 10% of the Firm’s payment from a Personal Injury case, when the Attorney personally brought the case to the Firm.

Section 3. Partnership. It is the policy of the Firm to employ as attorneys persons who will be given the opportunity to become partners in the Firm. The Firm after a certain number of years will make the determination as to whether the Attorney will be admitted to partnership. The Firm expects to make this determination with respect to this Attorney, no earlier than July 1, 2005, and no later than July 1, 2007.

Section 4. Facilities.

Office. The Firm shall furnish the Attorney with office space, staff assistance, and such other facilities and services as are reasonably necessary to the performance of the Attorney’s duties.

Liability Insurance. The Firm shall maintain professional liability insurance covering the acts and omissions of the Attorney in performance of the Attorney’s professional duties.

Travel. The Attorney may be required to travel on business for the Firm, and shall be reimbursed for all reasonable and necessary expenses incurred, provided, however, that a detailed account of such expense is provided to the Firm.

Professional Societies. The Firm shall pay the Attorney’s dues for memberships in The State Bar of Texas and the American Bar Association.

Education. The Firm shall pay the reasonable amount of expenses incurred by the Attorney to maintain or improve the Attorney’s professional skills. The Attorney agrees to submit to the Firm such documentation as may be necessary to substantiate such expenses

Section 5. Additional Benefits.

Medical Insurance. The Firm agrees to provide medical coverage for the Attorney, the Attorney’s spouse and dependents under a group accident and health insurance policy, the terms and benefits of which shall be determined by the Firm. The Attorney is currently covered under her spouse’s policy and does not require such coverage currently. That Attorney will notify the Firm at such time that she needs this benefit.

Vacation. The Attorney shall be entitled to three weeks vacation time each year however, the Attorney’s vacation will be scheduled at such time as will least interfere with the business of the Firm. The Attorney is further entitled to time off on all holidays normally celebrated in accordance with the Firms stated policy.

Life Insurance. The Firm may provide group life insurance coverage, in amounts which shall be determined by the Firm.

Retirement Plan. The Attorney shall participate in any Firm qualified retirement plan according to the terms of said plan as amended from time to time.

Disability. In the event the Attorney is unable to perform his or her regular duties as a result of personal disability the Firm will pay the Attorney’s salary during such disability for a total of ninety (90) days in any 24 month period.

Section 6. Operations.

Records and Files. All records, documents, and files concerning clients of the Firm shall belong to and remain the property of the Firm. On termination of employment, the Attorney shall not be entitled to keep or reproduce the Firms’ records, documents or files relation to any client unless the client shall specifically request that its files be transmitted to the Attorney.

Fees. All fees and compensation received or realized as a result of the rendition of professional legal services by the Attorney shall belong to and be paid to the Firm. Any fee or honoraria received by the Attorney for professional services or other professional activities performed by the Attorney shall belong to the Firm.

Section 7. Term.

One Year, Automatic Extension. The term of this Agreement shall begin on the date hereof and continue for a period of one year and shall be automatically extended from year to year unless terminated in accordance with this section.

Events of Termination. This Agreement shall be terminated upon the happening of any of the following events:

The death of the Attorney.

The determination of the Firm that the Attorney has become disabled.

Dismissal for cause of the Attorney as hereinafter provided.

Occurrence of the effective date of termination, notice of which has been given in by either party to the other, so long as there are at least sixty (60) days between giving of the notice and the effective date of termination.

The mutual written agreement of the Attorney and the Firm to termination.

Termination on Disability. The Firm may determine that the Attorney has become disabled for purposes of the Agreement in the event that the Attorney shall fail, because of illness or incapacity, to render for ninety (90) days or more in any two-year period, services of the character contemplated by the Agreement, and thereunder shall be deemed to have been terminated as of the end of the calendar month in which such determination was made.

Causes for Dismissal. The Firm may dismiss the Attorney for cause in the event it determines there has been continued neglect by the Attorney if his or her duties, or willful misconduct on the part of the Attorney, including buy not limited to a finding of probable cause by the Bar for investigation a complaint filed with its discipline system or the filing of criminal charges against the Attorney, which would make retention of the Attorney by the Firm prejudicial to the Firm’s best interest.

Section 8. Miscellaneous.

Notices. All notices under this Agreement shall be mailed to the parties hereto at the following respective addresses:

Attorney:____________

Firm: ____________

A change in the mailing address of any party may be effected by serving written notice of such change and of such new address upon the other party.

Invalidity. The invalidity or unenforcibility of any provision or provisions of this Agreement shall not affect the other provisions, and this Agreement shall be construed in all respects as id any invalid or unenforceable provisions were omitted.

Arbitration. All disputes, differences and controversies arising out of, under, or in connection with this Agreement shall be settled and finally determined by Arbitration under the then existing Rules of the American Arbitration Association.

The parties have executed this Agreement as of the date and year first above written.

By:____________________________________________________

Stand-In Attorneys Don’t Hold Water in Some Courts

Today with the increased bankruptcy filings throughout the Nation, attorneys are changing the way the run their practices. The model that is being developed does not sit well with many including the courts.

When a client comes in and meets with an attorney and then signs a representation agreement, that may be the last time, the file or that attorney even touches the file. Clients need to be sure to question the attorney to be sure that the attorney is doing more than meeting and turning over the file to an associate or paralegal. It is also key to ask whether that attorney will appear with you in Court matters, e.g. Meeting of Creditors.

The Courts have noted that they do not approve of this “model” of attorneys office practices.

In a recent opinion by Judge Jeff Bohn (Consumer Bankruptcy News – Volume 23, Issue 19) he stated:

“The use of appearance attorneys deprives clients… Such a practice is insulting to the client, the Court, and the principles upon which the judicial system is built. Attorneys are not fungible. Attorneys are not all equal to each other, either in their courtroom abilities, their understanding of the law, or in their communicative skills.”

Clients choose a firm and an attorney for a reason, and clients have a right to be represented by the attorney of their choice during all portions of their case.

The justification for certain consumer bankruptcy attorneys that their business model will not work unless they are allowed to use appearance attorneys HOLDS NO WATER with this Court. If a firm’s business model conflicts with the professional standards of the legal profession, the former must give way to the latter.”

Be sure to ask when you interview or have your first meeting with an attorney, who will be handling my case?

  • An assistant,
  • Another attorney,
  • Appearance attorney???

When an attorney takes a case, they should initially meet with the client to understand and become familiar with the client’s needs. After that time, a Representation Agreement is agreed upon and signed.

As for Bankruptcies, there are many important deadlines and criteria to meet to finalize what type of bankruptcy is right for the client. During this time, a learning period begins for the attorney where he/she becomes very familiar with the case and interacts closely with the clients.

As the information and data are collected from the client, the attorney is able to fully understand not only the client but also the details of the case. Most of the time, there is a great deal of interaction between the client and the attorney. Much is learned about the client’s financial situation, spending habits, debts, how the debts occurred and the household income, etc.

At the 341(a) Meeting of Creditor’s is scheduled, the attorney presents his client to the Trustee and is there to assist and explain the petition that was put together for the client.

If an attorney who worked on the case does not come to Meeting of Creditors but sends an alternate attorney, how can that alternate attorney/stand-in attorney provide the proper representation and support to that client?

I don’t recommend having someone stand-in for an attorney when dealing with bankruptcy cases. Do you?

Finding an Attorney – Know Some Basics

At some point in life, just about everybody is going to need an attorney for something. It may be as mundane as signing finance documents to close on the purchase of a home or writing a simple will to issues as serious as accident liability or criminal defense. Whatever the situation, it is important to have wise and competent counsel. The problem is, most of us don’t need the services of an attorney very often, may not know one, or know how to go about finding an attorney that’s right for you. Like most things in life, the more you know and the more you are prepared the better. Selecting an attorney is no different. Let’s start at the beginning and work through the process.

It may sound simple, but the starting point should be to define if and why you need an attorney. There are times when not having one, or putting off contacting one, can actually make things worse. Don’t fall for ads claiming you can write your own will, handle your own divorce or set up your own Limited Liability Company (LLC). It may be possible to so with some of the packages that are offered, but what you don’t get is important legal counsel to advise you of any legal vulnerabilities, how to be sure your rights are being protected or whether those documents will stand up if challenged in court. There’s some truth to the old axiom, “A person who acts as his own attorney has a fool for a client.”

Once you’ve defined why you need an attorney, decide what type of attorney you need. Some attorneys are “general practitioners” while others are specialists in one particular area of law. If you are going to be involved in a personal injury case or a divorce, it may be wise to seek out an attorney who has experience specializing in that area.

Finding the right attorney is going to take a bit of work on your part. You can always start by checking the Yellow Pages or web sites, but the most effective means is to ask people you know or professionals in your community for referrals. You can also check with the state bar for a list of attorneys in your area as well as consult a legal referral service. Whatever you do or however you begin your search, you must do your due diligence. The more you know, the more satisfying the results of your search.

When you’ve narrowed your list of potential attorneys, the next step is to begin contacting them. That contact may be made by phone, or by scheduling a meeting, and many attorneys don’t charge for a “first consultation.” However, before scheduling such a meeting, be sure you understand whether there will be any fee involved. Through the process of choosing an attorney, remember that you are the consumer purchasing their services. Don’t be shy about asking questions. It’s always best to be a smart consumer.

During your search and consultation meetings, be prepared and specific about your expectations. If there are any documents that pertain to the situation you will be discussing, have them with you should they be needed for reference or verification of information. It is also a good time to talk about the attorney’s fees. Depending on the case, fees may differ. Some examples are:

Hourly: Many attorneys base their fees on an hourly rate. This can vary significantly depending on the experience of the attorney and the size of the law firm.

Flat Fee: Some cases may be charged a flat fee. For example, a simple divorce, bankruptcy or basic will may be handled for a set amount with any additional charges added like mileage or court fees.

Retainer: There may be times when an attorney asks for a certain amount up front to work as an account to draw against as the case progresses. In other instances, like for a business, an attorney may be retained on a continuing basis for an agreed upon fee.

Contingency: In this case, the attorney receives a percentage of the judgment as the fee. This is most common in personal injury and liability cases. The fee is paid once the court has set the judgment. If the judgment does not go in your favor, there is no fee.

Be sure you understand and agree to the fee schedule before signing an agreement with an attorney.

The last step in choosing an attorney is interviewing, checking credentials and references. When you hire an attorney, think of it as hiring an employee. In many ways, that’s what they are. They are working for you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask about other cases they have had that are similar to yours and what was involved in the case. You need to know what the attorney’s previous experience is. He or she may have been practicing law for twenty years, but they may not have extensive experience with cases like yours.

Ask for references. A reputable attorney will not have a problem with this as long as giving you such information does not breech any attorney/client privilege. It may not be out of order to ask what the attorney’s success rate is. In some instances it may help give you an impression of their skill or complexity of the cases they handle. Ask what percent of the cases handled by their firm is normally devoted to cases like yours.

Be prepared to answer personal questions that may be relevant to your case such as information regarding your finances, marital status, lifestyle or criminal record. Should you be asked such questions, be truthful. Your attorney cannot be effective if you don’t tell them the truth, even if it’s embarrassing or you think it may hurt your case.

There can be a great deal involved in working with an attorney when you need one. It is important to find one you feel comfortable with and trust. Taking the steps discussed above is by no means a comprehensive list of everything you may need to do to select an attorney that is just right for you, but it will give you a good start.

Remember to be proactive, do your due diligence in your search and don’t be afraid to compare and ask questions. Choosing the right attorney is a big decision, but one that you can make with confidence when you have done your research and come prepared.

The Best Advice is Your Own Advice

When it comes to dealing with the recession, the best advice is your own advice, with one huge and important footnote-you have to know what you’re talking about. It is sometimes said that in a court of law a person who chooses to represent themselves has a fool for a lawyer. Because of the complexities of the law, and the extensive schooling required to obtain a license to practice it, serving as your own lawyer doesn’t make much sense. You’re not really qualified to do it, and the outcome is almost invariably disastrous.

Financial advice on the other hand is much different. Although some financial advisers operate on a straight fee basis, more often than not a financial adviser is paid a commission. They profit from anything that you buy based on their recommendations. The more they get you to invest, the more money they make. The potential conflict of interest that this creates is clearly obvious.

The problems that this sort of relationship creates come into stark focus when considering personal financial security in the face of a thundering recession. Many people have lost millions of dollars of wealth over the past several years as the recession has caused the economy to crumble around us. Unfortunately, very few financial professionals, including investment advisers, saw this coming. Consequently, many people were caught short with bad investments that ultimately lost value.

A study of financial professionals shows that less than 5% of people who use a professional adviser have a written financial plan in place. We’re not talking here about the general thoughts and advice of the adviser, but instead about a written document that defines a detailed and actionable financial plan. This is an astounding statistic because the very first step in creating long-term financial security is to build a solid financial foundation. And the very first step of building that foundation is to craft a comprehensive plan.

This is why in planning for your financial future, the best advice is your own advice. Nobody cares about you like you do. Obtain a financial education that enables you to understand how money works, and the best investment strategies for use during a recession. Only when you are able to make your own investment decisions, will you be able to realize true and absolute financial security. Once you know what you’re doing, start giving yourself good advice.