How to Decide if You Need a Lawyer
These days, there are a myriad of reasons why you might need to bring a lawyer into the fold. From providing professional advice on how to best set up your new business to defending you in the court of law, a seasoned attorney is often the lone sentinel standing between you and an unpleasant combination of financial ruin and/or prison time.
Despite the important roles they play in facilitating the American justice system, there are times when you actually need a lawyer and instances where it would be superfluous. If you have questions regarding your case or you are looking for specific legal advice, working with a law firm may be your best option. So, if you’re wondering, “Do I need a lawyer?”, you’ve come to the right place.
Read on to discover how to make an informed decision about hiring a lawyer.
How to Decide if You Need a Lawyer
Before you delve into the nitty-gritty of the legal system, there are a few steps you should take to determine whether or not you need to enlist the services of a lawyer. These include:
- Define your issue – It’s important that you analyze your situation and define the problem you’re dealing with. If you’re facing litigation regarding a civil suit or a criminal charge, enlisting a lawyer’s support is almost a necessity. But that might not be the only reason you’d want to hire a lawyer.
Attorneys are also incredibly knowledgeable and can provide you with legal advice when it comes to understanding the complex rules and laws undergirding American life. They can protect you, your property, or your business, and prevent you from putting it all in jeopardy due to liabilities. In the vast majority of legal proceedings, ignorance is not an exculpatory excuse. So, having a law firm at your side will keep you on the up-and-up and save you from emotional or financial hardship.
- Perform a cost-benefit analysis – Be sure to see whether or not you can resolve the issue on your own, or if there are avenues you can take to avoid court proceedings. For example, if you have an issue with a company, say a defective product, this can often be handled by customer service or consumer protection without involving a lawyer. Regulated industries often have state-run agencies acting as watch dogs for violations and can often resolve disputes on your behalf.
At the same time, there are plenty of cases where a lawyer’s support or advice is well worth the investment, especially if it means that you stay out of prison and protect your livelihood.
- Consider the timeframe – Naturally, the immediacy of your situation will help you answer, “Do I need a lawyer?” If you’re just starting a business, you may not need an attorney’s help for a few months until you get closer to incorporation or hiring. However, if you’ve been accused of a crime, you’ll need to enlist legal services posthaste. Delaying your decision of hiring a lawyer could easily result in you paying more in the end.
Civil Law vs. Criminal Law
When it comes to the legal system itself, court proceedings are typically divided into one of two categories: civil law and criminal law. As you might already be aware, criminal cases are considered to be more serious than civil; however, if you’re deciding whether or not to hire a lawyer, it’s helpful to break them down into further detail.
Civil law cases involve disputes regarding behavior that’s considered to be injurious to another individual or private party, such as a company. Personal injury cases and other civil law legal matters are initiated by a private party (the plaintiff) filing suit and are almost always decided by a judge.
- Burden of Proof – The plaintiff is required to provide the preponderance of the evidence.
- Examples – Divorce proceedings, child custody, personal injury, unjustified firing, real estate transactions.
- Punishment – Monetary compensation for damages or injuries and disposition of property.
- Filed by – Private party.
An experienced personal injury lawyer would be extremely helpful in the vast majority of civil proceedings. They can help you navigate the entire trial process and ensure that you receive compensation for the wrongs that have been done to you.
Criminal laws relate to the violation of the laws of either local, state, or federal governments. This body of law deals with criminal offenses that are initiated by the state or federal government and must be decided unanimously by a jury of your peers.
- Burden of proof – The state or government is required to provide evidence that goes “beyond a reasonable doubt” in order to secure a conviction. In addition, defendants are protected from actions that violate their Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights.
- Fourth Amendment – The notion that “Each man’s home is his castle.” It states, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
- Fifth Amendment – “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”
- Examples – Theft, assault, drug trafficking, embezzlement, fraud, robbery, murder.
- Punishment – If found guilty, the defendant is punished by fines and/or incarceration.
- Filed by – Federal or state authorities.
If you’re being charged for a criminal offense, hiring an attorney is a necessity. A common trope in movies involves the protagonist successfully defending himself. In real life, there are few ways to better ensure that you wind up in prison, regardless of your guilt or innocence. Even experienced lawyers will hire other lawyers to defend them in criminal proceedings, especially since most attorneys specialize in specific types of law.
If you’re being charged with a crime, the specific classification can help you determine whether or not a lawyer’s services are required. In every state, charges are classified as one of three categories. They include:
- Infractions – Also referred to as violations, infractions are considered to be petty offenses that result in fines, but not jail time. In fact, some states consider infractions to be civil rather than criminal offenses. Examples include:
- Traffic violations
- Building permit violations
- Drinking in public
- Operating a business without the proper license
Since there is no jail time involved nor impact on probation, those charged with
infractions don’t have any right to a jury trial; instead, court proceedings are run and
determinations are made by a judge. A defendant charged with an infraction has the right to hire an attorney, but it’s often considered unnecessary. In addition, the government isn’t constitutionally obligated to provide you with an attorney.
- Misdemeanors – Considered to be lesser criminal offenses, misdemeanors can result in a year in jail, community service, fines, probation, and/or restitution. Examples include:
- Lesser DUIs (those without injury to other parties or with a low BAC)
- Assault and battery
- Possession of controlled substances
- Gun possession violations
Those charged with misdemeanors have the right to a jury trial and are entitled to government provided legal representation. In most misdemeanor cases, it would be a wise decision to hire a defense attorney to do everything in their power to help you avoid jail time or harsher sentencing.
- Felonies – The most serious form of a criminal offense, felonies typically involve grave bodily or financial harm. In addition, second-time offenders can have repeat misdemeanors that are upgraded to felonies. A felony conviction can result in time behind bars, fines, probation, community service, and/or restitution. Examples include:
- Aggravated assault or battery
- Tax evasion
- Sexual assault
As you can see, both white-collar crimes and violent offenses can be considered felonious, depending on the circumstances. Often, a felony conviction entails at least a year of time in prison with a possible max of life in prison without parole, or execution. If you’re being charged with a felony, you absolutely need to hire a lawyer as soon as possible since the penalties you face could impact the course of your life.
Cases You Might Want to Consider a Lawyer
Below, we’ll briefly discuss some examples of when you’ll need to hire a lawyer.
- Starting a business – If you have a small business, a business lawyer can help you navigate all your legal requirements. For tax and liability purposes, you’ll have to determine what business structure you want to integrate. Setting yourself up as an LLC or a partnership could greatly impact how much you pay and what you’re on the line for if sued. In addition, there are various steps you’ll have to take when it comes to hiring in order to be in compliance with both state and federal regulations. A business lawyer can give you the proper advice so take all the necessary steps to avoid getting sued.
- Wills and trusts – Few things can wreck a family as quickly as a shoddy or unclear estate plan. You can save your loved ones from infighting and legal disputes by clearly laying out your wishes in a will or trust with an estate lawyer. Further, your lawyer can help you set up your estate in such a way as to help your family avoid having to pay unnecessary taxes. Doing so ensures that they get to keep more of the money and property that you’ve already paid taxes on and that you’ve worked so hard to give them.
- Lawsuits – If you’re being sued in a manner that could result in jail time and or the loss of your money or property, you’ll need a lawyer on your side to help prevent financial ruin. You can best believe that the person suing will have enlisted a lawyer’s services—you’ll need to do the same. Even if you end up settling out of court, as it goes with many lawsuits, you’ll want an experienced lawyer there to facilitate and negotiate a resolution.
- Bankruptcy – It’s practically impossible to file for bankruptcy without a lawyer. If you are at the point where you’ve decided that declaring bankruptcy is your only option, hiring an attorney will be necessary to ensure that the proceedings are by the books.
- Criminal charges – As mentioned, if you’re being charged for a criminal matter, you need a lawyer. This is especially true since you might not even be aware of what your rights are. So, whether you’re guilty or not, you’ll want to have the best possible defense available to you.
- Divorce proceedings – Divorces tend to be drawn out contentious affairs filled with animosity, especially when it comes to the splitting of property, investments, savings, and child custody. The terms of divorce are binding, so if you negotiate a bad deal without a lawyer’s help, you’re on the line for it. It would be foolhardy to enter such negotiations without a divorce attorney on your team.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
There’s a time and a place for a lawyer—sometimes it’s preventative, others it’s after the fact. Regardless, enlisting the professional legal services of a lawyer could be the difference between success or failure, freedom or jail time. So, when you do decide that you need a lawyer, it’s essential that you find the right lawyer.
At Briggs Law Corporation, our boutique law firm specializes in small business law, government accountability, public-interest litigation, and environmental law. We’ve spent more than two decades going to bat for our clients. Whether you need legal advice on workers’ compensation, personal injury, or criminal charges, our professional team of lawyers can help. We care deeply about our clients and are committed to ensuring that every endeavor they embark upon is successful.
“This blog article is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for client- and fact-specific legal advice from a qualified attorney.”
Constitutional Center. The Fourth Amendment: Search and Seizure. https://constitutioncenter.org/interactive-constitution/amendments/amendment-iv
LSU Law. What is Civil Law? https://www.law.lsu.edu/clo/civil-law-online/what-is-the-civil-law/
Justia. Criminal law. https://www.justia.com/criminal/