When Should You Spend Money on an Attorney?

One of the most common pieces of legal advice is also the one people in a jam least want to hear. This advice is, “Hire an attorney right away,” and people dread hearing it because, frankly, attorneys aren’t known for being cheap. It can also be hard to predict how much you’ll spend before the bill arrives. In some cases, you can get an attorney on retainer for $300 or $400, but in other cases, it’ll cost you $3,000 or $4,000. That’s frustrating, so here are some factors to consider when deciding whether to hire an attorney.

Are You Being Criminally Charged?

This is the big one. If you get arrested and end up in jail, you need to find an attorney as soon as possible. A shoplifting charge is obviously better than an armed robbery charge, but if it’s something that could leave you with a criminal record, you should never try to represent yourself. Judges see defendants who try to go “pro se” every day, and they can tell you that it rarely goes as well as the defendants think it will. Reading a few legal articles online doesn’t make you a legal scholar. The law is complicated, and a criminal attorney can present the case to you in a way that makes sense but also doesn’t sugarcoat anything.

What about a public defender? You can ask for one, but you’ll have to meet certain income requirements, and even then, you may still have to pay some fees for that public defender. Public defenders are capable but perpetually overworked, which means that it might be worth going into a little debt to hire a private attorney with enough time to focus on the details of your case. That’s especially vital if you’re charged with a felony. You may not like the idea of going into debt to pay a criminal defense lawyer, but it’s better than serving a lengthy jail sentence.

How Complicated Might This Get?

Believe it or not, there are some couples who divorce using attorneys. In 2009, a writer for the Boston Globe declared, “Many miserable couples are just too poor these days to get a proper divorce.” Of course, the economy was on a lot shakier ground back then, and things have improved in the past nine years. That said, there are still a lot of DIY divorces today. Experts say this approach works best if the spouses have no kids and not many assets to divide.

Unfortunately, a divorce is a lot like marriage in that it only takes one person to truly upset the apple cart. Divorce attorneys regularly talk to people who might say, “I wanted to just divorce fast, but my spouse wants to make this hard.” If the other party shows signs of being combative, get an attorney. They have the legal training necessary to talk to your ex without things getting personal. When the situation gets messy, it’s worth paying someone to talk to your ex for you.

Can You Be Honest with Your Attorney?

To be blunt, hiring an attorney is useless if you aren’t willing to be blunt with yours. They’re not here to listen to you concoct a fantasy; they want the truth. That’s why you need to get to the point as soon as possible. Lawyers are good at spotting lies, especially if they’ve been around a while. For the relationship to really work, you can’t be so embarrassed that you fudge certain details.

If the police asked for your name and you were so drunk that you originally identified yourself as Alexander Hamilton, your lawyer needs to know. They won’t laugh at you, although if you manage to laugh at yourself, they might join in. Lawyers are used to representing people at low points in life, and a flawed yet cooperative client is much better than a delusional client who insists they’ve never done anything wrong in their life.

Adam Hansen

Adam is a part time journalist, entrepreneur, investor and father.