Commonly Asked Questions & Information
Some of the information contained here is used with permission from The New York Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection's Avoiding Grief with a Lawyer: A Practical Guide © 1998
Lawyers are essential in a civilized, democratic and just society. For good reason: it's the lawyers unique duty to protect people from abuses by government and it's agents, and to help remedy the wrongs of others, whether they be strangers or spouses, employers, or multinational corporations.
It's not easy to become a lawyer. There's a demanding course of law-school study after college, and a difficult bar examination to test the candidate's knowledge of laws and court procedures. There's also an investigation of the lawyer-to-be's moral character and fitness to practice law before the oath of office can be administered. [Admission FAQs.]
How Do I Find A Lawyer?
In selecting a lawyer, the consumer should take the same careful steps that one takes in choosing a physician or a dentist, or a home contractor. If you do not know a lawyer, ask friends, neighbors, or others whose opinion you respect for a recommendation. You may also contact the Lawyer Referral and Information Service sponsored by the State Bar of Montana at (406) 449-6577 or on our website under the 'Legal Help' button. This service is a free, non-profit service offered by the State Bar of Montana. It’s an outstanding resource when you feel you need an attorney but you’re not sure whom to turn to. Each year, LRIS staff handles thousands of calls from the public, assisting with various legal situations and providing information, resources and referrals.
The Yellow Pages of telephone directories and other advertising journals can be helpful, but consumers should be careful. A paid advertisement is just that; it's not an official endorsement or guarantee.
In The Beginning
Helpful guidelines to consider when hiring a lawyer:
- You should ask if there's a legal fee when you telephone to schedule a consultation appointment with a lawyer
- Inquire about the lawyer's experience in the area of law in which you need help.
- Prospective clients should ask whether the lawyer or law firm has malpractice insurance. Lawyers in Montana are not required to maintain malpractice insurance, however, Lawyer Referral Service attorneys do agree to carry malpractice insurance.
Establish the Ground Rules
A few rules of thumb to follow with your attorney:
- Make sure that you understand when you can communicate with your lawyer, whether by telephone, or personally in the office. Ask the names of other persons in the law firm who will be handling specific phases of your matter, such as the drafting of papers, court appearances, trial or appeal.
- Keep a calendar, or log, of all contacts with your lawyer's office, with dates and time spent discussing your case or other legal matter.
- Ask for a monthly billing for legal services and other expenses. If you dispute any of the charges in a bill, discuss them with your lawyer immediately.
- Get dated and signed receipts for all money paid to your lawyer or law firm, and the purpose of each payment.
- Ask your lawyer to send you a copy of all correspondence sent or received on your behalf, as well as a copy of each legal paper, or legal pleading. It's well worth the cost of postage and photocopying. If you're dissatisfied with any documentation, discuss it immediately with your lawyer.
- NEVER sign blank documents, receipts or checks on bank accounts.
- NEVER sign a power of attorney, or retainer agreement, that authorizes someone to endorse or cash a check that's payable to you unless it's absolutely necessary.
- It's important to keep your lawyer informed of your position and status, and for you to be informed, by your lawyer, of the progress of your legal matter.
- If your lawyer fails to return your telephone calls, respond by expressing your disappointment to the lawyer in a polite written letter. Keep a copy.
- Remember that a law client has a "professional" relationship with his or her lawyer. In that relationship, the lawyer is obligated to serve as an objective legal advisor. Clients and lawyers should avoid romantic, personal, business or social situations that can damage that objectivity, and the truthfulness that's required in a professional relationship.
How Do I File A Complaint Against My Attorney?
The State Bar of Montana is not the authority that regulates and disciplines attorneys licensed in Montana. Complaints should be made to the Montana Supreme Court's Office of Disciplinary Counsel
, whose purpose is to investigate and prosecute complaints of professional misconduct against lawyers. Their office can be reached at (406) 442-1648 or toll-free, in-state 877-442-1648. The Responsibilities of a Lawyer & the Responsibilities of the Client