When to get legal help

Tips and advice on when to hire an attorney or seek legal help.

Everyone has arguments with other people. It may be over a small thing, like who gets to take their vacation first at work. Or you might end up in conflict with your neighbor over a property boundary. Most people can resolve such issues on their own, even if that means that they end cordial relations for a time. But in a slim margin of cases, they may need to consult an attorney for legal counsel or representation.

How do you know when to call a lawyer? These general guidelines might help:

1. Contract issues. Whether the agreement involves a job-related concern or a work order for home repairs, you may need help interpreting or enforcing the terms when you cannot agree with the other party. Even verbal agreements can lead to court cases since it is difficult to remember exactly who said what two months, two weeks, or even two days after the fact. That is why it is important to make agreements in writing that all parties can read before signing. Then keep copies in a safe place for future reference if needed.

2. Injury or malpractice. If you get sick after eating at a restaurant, trip and break your ankle while on public premises, or suffer negligence from your doctor's inability to make a correct diagnosis, talk to an attorney about your concerns. These issues require thorough investigation, along with interpretation of existing laws. The two main criteria to be considered are whether you suffered injuries, damage, or loss from the negligence, and how much those injuries might be worth.

3. Claims in which you are the defendant. If someone sues you for any kind of breach, demands, or losses, you need to consult an attorney pronto. A lawyer will examine the suit or claim, evaluate the law along with your rights, and determine whether you are at fault or should counter-sue. Legal representation can ensure that you are sued for no more than you actually owe and don't get taken advantage of by a money-grubbing plaintiff.

4. Marital separation or divorce. If your spouse decides to leave you or end the marriage, it is best for you to see an attorney to determine your rights and those of the children. Some marriages end amicably, but other divorces can get drawn out into long court battles that hurt everyone involved. Check the yellow pages for the names of attorneys who specialize in domestic relations or marriage and family conflicts.

5. Fraud or crime. If you have taken part in a criminal action or have accused of doing so, you will need legal counsel. The court may appoint a lawyer to defend you if you lack the money to hire one for yourself. Be honest in explaining your circumstances, and provide all required documentation. Your lawyer can only do a good job when you provide the needed assistance.

There may be other times as well when you need to ask an attorney a question. Contact the local bar association or legal referral service if there is one in your area. You may be able to get a free initial consultation before hiring an attorney to see if one is truly needed.

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