Do I Need an Attorney?

It’s fairly obvious that you need qualified and experienced legal representation if you’ve been arrested for a crime, been involved in a catastrophic accident, or are negotiating a large business deal. But what about relatively smaller matters that might not seem to have so much at stake? In this article, we explore a variety of legal matters in which a person may find himself or herself asking, “Do I need an attorney?”

Covered in This Article:

Introduction

A common question for people who are faced with a personal or commercial legal problem is whether or not they need an attorney to assist them. The temptation to save money can be compelling and is all that much greater considering the burgeoning “online legal solutions” industry which caters to our do-it-yourself culture and promises “Personalized, Affordable Legal Solutions for Families & Businesses—Satisfaction Guaranteed.” After all, if redoing a kitchen or bathroom yourself can save you money, can’t you also save money handling a legal matter yourself?

Perhaps, but as anyone who has had an unsuccessful experience with a major DYI home renovation project can tell you, succumbing to the temptation to “do-for-yourself-that-which-others-are-more-qualified-to-do” can often cost you more—much more—than the money saved by foregoing the services of a professional. When it comes to legal matters, representing yourself can have even more severe and longer lasting consequences than a failed home improvement project. It can impact your family, your livelihood, and your peace of mind for a long, long time.

If you are asking the question, “Do I need an attorney?” then most likely you do. Below are some considerations to keep in mind as you decide whether to seek representation in certain legal matters.

Do I Need an Attorney for a Will?

We’ve written about estate planning here, here, here and here. In short, you need a will (and other estate planning documents), especially if you have children or sizable assets, and you need an attorney to assist you.

Without an estate plan, the government decides who gets your stuff—and more importantly for parents, who will raise your children—after you die. While you may be able to draft a bare-bones, simple will on your own, ensuring that the proper language for your state is used and that you have all of the documents needed for a comprehensive estate plan usually requires the assistance of an attorney.

In addition to a will, your estate plan should include trust documents (if your assets exceed a certain threshold), a living will that informs medical providers of your end-of-life decisions, and a power of attorney that allows someone of your own choosing to direct the manner in which your healthcare and other affairs are handled in the event that you become unable to make decisions on your own.

Johnson & Vines offers quality, affordable estate planning, and aims to reduce the cost barrier that may inhibit people from taking the steps necessary to provide for their loved ones. Our fees for estate planning services are competitive, and we also offer alternative fee arrangements for those who may need flexibility in paying for services.

Do I Need an Attorney for My Small Business?

As with estate planning, this is an area in which we have written extensively (here, here and here), and our answer is an unequivocal “Yes.” The investment in proper legal planning when you start your business can save you thousands of dollars in the future when—not if—something goes wrong with your products, services, creditors, or partners.

From helping you determine what legal structure is right for your business, to helping you work out the terms of your relationships with business partners, to helping you decide the transition of your business interest when you die, an attorney can help you work out important, but often overlooked, details of your venture and ideally help you avoid costly lawsuits in the future when your business runs into trouble.

As with our estate planning services, Johnson & Vines offers services to help small businesses with their legal needs. We’re proud to say that we’re not just a law firm, we’re a small business, too, and we want to put our experience to work for you.

Do I Need an Attorney to Buy or Sell a House?

The answer to this question depends on the circumstance of the transaction. Real estate agents and title companies, although typically not attorneys, often have the necessary experience to guide their clients through the process of buying or selling a home. Most of the contracts and other documents are essentially forms, and technology has made title examination a process that does not require the specialized knowledge of a real estate attorney. In most typical home sale transactions, you will probably not need any attorney to assist you.

However, if the purchase price is very high; if you encounter any trouble with the buyer, seller, agent, bank, or title company; or if you want additional peace of mind that your interests are being protected in the transaction, then you should probably hire an attorney. In the home buying process, usually your real estate agent is the only party looking out for your interests (assuming the agent is not representing both the buyer and seller). If problems arise with the transaction, your agent may not have the legal knowledge to properly advise of your options, and the agent’s judgment in advising you may be clouded by a desire to complete the transaction and collect a commission.

An experienced real estate attorney will have the knowledge and legal obligation to protect your interests—and only your interests—and can help you better decide how to navigate any issues that may arise in your real estate transaction.

Johnson & Vines offers real estate legal services for buyers, sellers, and owners of property.

Do I Need an Attorney to File for Divorce?

You are not required to hire an attorney to initiate a divorce proceeding, but if you have children or sizable assets that were acquired with your spouse then you should definitely consider hiring an attorney to represent you in your divorce.

In many states, a divorcing spouse must prove grounds for seeking a divorce. Assuming that grounds are proven, the court overseeing the divorce will then divide up both the assets and debts of the marriage and assign them to the divorcing spouses. Without proper legal representation, you could be deprived of property that in fairness you should take with you from the marriage, and you could be responsible for more than your fair share of the debt that was incurred by you and your spouse.

Custody of children is also determined in a divorce case. An attorney can advocate for your rights as a custodial or non-custodial parent, help ensure that any child support obligations are fair, and work with you and the court to make decisions that are in the best interests of your child or children.

Johnson & Vines has a limited divorce practice, meaning that we only take certain types of divorce cases. We routinely refer these matters to trusted colleagues in the legal community.

Do I Need an Attorney to File a Trademark?

You are not required to hire an attorney to assist you in registering a trademark, but as the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) says:

The trademark registration process is a legal proceeding that may be complex and require you to satisfy many requirements within strict time deadlines (based on Eastern Standard Time); therefore, you should consider hiring an attorney before starting the process.

Trademarks can be applied for online, but a visit to the USPTO website will show you how complex the trademark application process is. Your chances of having a trademark application accepted will be greatly improved by having an attorney assist you in the process.

Johnson & Vines can assist individuals through the trademark application process. Contact us for more information.

Do I Need an Attorney for a Car Accident?

If you just sustain damage to your car in an accident, most likely you do not need an attorney. Your insurance company will work with you to repair your car or compensate you if your car was totaled, and if the accident was not your fault your insurance company will work you recover from the other driver’s car insurance the costs it paid out to you or on your behalf. Your insurance company has a duty to protect your interests in situations like this.

If you were injured in a car accident, however, it is advisable to hire an attorney—especially if the accident was not your fault. In these situations, you will need to deal with the other driver’s insurance company, and they have no duty to protect your interests. Their duty is to the other driver, and their job is to resolve your claim for as little money as possible. Adjusters, who are the insurance representatives that handle your injury claim, are trained professionals and are in a position to take advantage of an unrepresented person’s lack of knowledge and experience in insurance claims matters.

For instance, many people think that if someone else is responsible for their injuries, that person should have to pay their doctors’ bills. While this is one element of compensation that an injured person can recover from the party who injured them, there are also other types of compensation that can be claimed, including:

• Future medical expenses
• Pain and Suffering
• Loss of Income or ability to work
• Travel costs associated with medical care
• Any disability resulting from an injury
• Scarring caused by the injury or treatment for the injury

These elements of compensation each have value, and often an insurance adjuster will either fail to take them into account, or at least minimize their value, when attempting to settle your claim. An experienced auto accident attorney will know how to properly value your claim and help you recover the compensation you deserve. Many times, you will receive more with the assistance of an attorney even after your attorney’s fee is deducted from your recovery. (Most injury attorneys handle cases on a contingency fee basis, meaning that their fee is a percentage of any recovery you obtain and that you do not pay a fee unless a recovery is obtained.)

Johnson & Vines handles a wide variety of auto accident and insurance coverage cases.

Do I Need an Attorney for a DWI or DUI?

The consequences of a conviction for driving while intoxicated or while under the influence are severe, but an arrest for DWI or DUI does not necessarily result in a conviction. As with all criminal charges, a person is innocent until proven guilty, and guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

An experienced DWI/DUI attorney can help you defend a drunk driving charge and, if you are convicted, help mitigate the consequences of your conviction. Without an attorney, your chances of successfully defending a DWI or DUI charge are greatly diminished.

Johnson & Vines attorneys are experienced in defending DWI and DUI cases.

Do I Need an Attorney for Child Support?

Child support obligations are based on child custody determinations, which are explained in the section above answering the question, “Do I need an attorney to file for divorce?” In short, because the laws relating to child support are complex, and because child custody involves a determination of what is in the best interests of your child, you should consider hiring an attorney to assist you in child custody matters.

As with divorce cases, Johnson & Vines has a limited child custody practice, meaning that we will only take certain types of cases. We routinely refer these matters to trusted colleagues in the legal community.

Do I Need an Attorney for Workers Compensation?

Workers compensation laws require employers to pay medical expenses and lost wages resulting from an injury that an employee suffers on-the-job. Many employers have insurance to cover workers compensation claims, and even self-insured employers typically handle claims with the assistance of an insurance company. For this reason, you most likely don’t need an attorney to assist you with a relatively minor workers compensation claim, as these claims are handled in much the same way as health insurance claims are handled.

For more severe injuries, you should consider hiring an attorney—especially if the injury involves long-term disability, an inability to return to work or a denial by the employer that the injury was accident related. Many states have an administrative process through which long-term or disputed workers compensation claims are handled, and an attorney can assist you in navigating the rules and protecting your interests. As with most injury claims, a workers compensation attorney will not charge you a fee unless a recovery is made on your behalf.

Johnson & Vines does not handle workers compensation claims, although we often refer them to trusted colleagues in the legal community. We do represent people injured in workplace accidents who have additional claims for compensation against third parties other than the employer, including auto accident claims and product liability claims.

Do I Need an Attorney for Traffic Court?

Whether you need an attorney for traffic court usually depends on the nature of the violation for which you have received a ticket. For a routine speeding ticket, you most likely will not need an attorney—especially if you have not gotten a ticket in the last few years.

However, if you have received multiple tickets for one offense, have received a number of tickets within a few months, or if your violation was severe (such as for reckless driving, for endangering a child or for causing an injury accident), you should consider hiring an attorney to assist you. Whereas most traffic offenses will just result in a fine and perhaps driving school, more severe violations could result in the suspension or revocation of your license. An experienced attorney can assist you defending the charges and mitigating the consequences of a conviction.

Do I Need an Attorney for Small Claims Court?

In some states, small claims courts are exclusive for individual litigants and attorney are not allowed to represent people there. However, if an attorney appears for a party in small claims court, the case will be automatically transferred to a non-small claims division of the same court. Accordingly, while small claims court can be an effective venue for private citizens to resolve their differences without the interference of attorneys, if your adversary in small claims court hires an attorney, then you should consider hiring one, too.

Small claims court is much less formal than other courts (where attorneys regularly appear), but they nevertheless are governed by a set of rules that an unrepresented party may be unaware of. Violating these rules could jeopardize your claim or defense to a claim made against you. An attorney can help you navigate these rules, even if he or she does not appear on your behalf.

Johnson & Vines has experience representing individuals and small businesses in a variety of small claims matters.

Conclusion

Representing yourself in legal matters can be perilous. The money saved by not hiring an attorney can be lost, often many times over, as you attempt to navigate the often complex legal landscape yourself, and unlike a botched home improvement project, sometimes the damage cannot be repaired.

If you find yourself asking whether you need an attorney, then most likely you do. At the very least, find an attorney who offers free initial consultations and set up an appointment to discuss your issue. If you do need to hire an attorney, see if they offer flexible fee arrangements to lessen the burden of legal costs.

Johnson & Vines offers free initial consultations and flexible fee arrangements. If you think you may need an attorney, contact us for more information.