Resources for Seniors Article

Tips for a Successful Client-Attorney Relationship

Whether you are an employer or employee, business owner or consumer, it is likely that you will one day find it necessary to hire an attorney. The following are tips to help you find an attorney, and once you do, how to work effectively with him/her to resolve your legal issues. There is also an explanation of the different legal fees and costs you might encounter during your case.

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Many attorneys have expertise in specific areas of law, so you should select a lawyer who has experience in the area of your legal issue. Choose a lawyer carefully as you would a doctor, dentist, accountant or any other licensed professional who provides you with an important service. And remember only a lawyer can keep your information confidential.


State Bar of Arizona Web site

The State Bar offers a “Find a Lawyer” feature on its Web site,  This option allows you to search for Arizona attorneys by name, practice area, office location, language spoken and more.


Personal recommendations

One of the best and most frequently used ways to locate a lawyer is to ask your friends, family, coworkers or professionals in your community if they can recommend a lawyer who has experience with your type of legal problem.


Lawyer Referral Services

The Maricopa and Pima County Bar Associations offer lawyer referral services and will direct you to a lawyer for a small consultation fee. For more information call 602-257-4434 in Maricopa County, or 520-623-4625 in Pima County.


Certified Specialists

Some lawyers have obtained State Bar certification within eight areas of law, and are called certified legal specialists. To be a certified specialist, attorneys must meet minimum requirements based on experience, training, and written examinations. To obtain lists of specialists, go to the State Bar’s Web site,, select “Legal Resources” and scroll down to “Find a Certified Specialist.”



One of the best ways to have a successful first meeting with your attorney is to be prepared. Before your initial appointment, gather and organize all the important documents that pertain to your legal matter. Be prepared to answer detailed questions regarding your legal matter. Accurate details and truthful answers will ensure that your attorney can give you the most effective assistance.


Questions to Ask Your Lawyer

  1. What is your experience in this area of practice?

  2. How many cases like mine have you handled?

  3. What are your rates and how will the billing be handled?

  4. What is the estimated total expense for costs and fees of my case?

  5. How can we keep the costs and fees down?

  6. What are my alternatives in resolving this matter?

  7. How will you keep me informed of progress and how often will I hear from you?

  8. Who else in your office can I contact about my case?

  9. What documentation do you need from me?

  10. Approximately how long will it take to resolve my case?


When you are talking about legal services, you need to understand the difference between “fees” and “costs.” Fees refer only to the money you pay to the lawyer for the time spent by members of the legal team working on your case. Costs/Expenses are the other charges involved in the handling of your legal matter that are above and beyond the legal fees. Your lawyer should provide you a written copy of your fee agreement, which should describe the fees and costs/expenses that you may incur, and how you will be billed.



There are many ways to pay for professional legal services. Here are the most common methods.


1. Hourly Rate

The lawyer charges a set amount per hour for the time spent working on the legal issue.

  • Most lawyers round off their work to the nearest tenth or quarter of an hour.
  • Some members of the legal team who have less training and experience than your lawyer generally bill at a lower hourly rate.
  • Ask your lawyer to tell you everyone who is likely to work on your legal matter and their hourly rate.
2. Contingency Fee

The lawyer agrees to take a specific percentage of he money you receive if you win the case or settle the matter out of court.

  • If the lawyer does not collect any money, the client may not have to pay the lawyer for the time spent working on the case. You will, however, still be responsible to pay all costs and expenses incurred during your case.
  • This type of fee is often used in personal injury cases or other cases when you are suing to collect money from the person or entity responsible for injury or damage.
  • Contingency fees cannot be charged in criminal cases, child custody matters or dissolutions.
3. Flat Fee

The lawyer charges a set amount to complete the legal assignment no matter how long it actually takes to do the job. This fee is for routine legal matters such as the preparation of a simple will or filing a bankruptcy. When you agree to a flat fee, be sure you know what it does and does not include and if there could be additional charges.


4. Retainer Fee

This fee can be used to guarantee that a lawyer will be available to take a particular case and could mean the lawyer would have to turn down other cases in order to remain available. A retainer fee can also mean that the lawyer is available to handle your legal issues over a specified period of time. The lawyer must tell you in writing whether it is a traditional retainer that is just paid to hire the lawyer or whether the lawyer will use it as an “advanced fee” from which he or she will deduct fees as they are earned.



Costs vary considerably from case to case, depending on the nature of your legal matter. They could include items such as filing or recording fees, mailing and copying costs, money necessary to hire outside consultants or experts, jury and witness fees, travel, and couriers.

  • The client, not the lawyer, is usually responsible for paying most costs.
  • With contingency fee agreements the client must pay the costs out of his or her share of the money that is collected by the lawyer. Even if no money is collected, the client is still responsible to pay the costs.
  • The lawyer may advance costs for the client, who remains responsible and must pay the lawyer back. In some cases, the repayment of costs may be contingent on the outcome of the case.
  • Your lawyer should be able to give you a reasonable estimate of the type and the amount of costs that will likely be incurred in the handling of your legal matter.
  • Insist that your lawyer contact you with an explanation if there are any major changes in his or her estimate of the costs.
  • Your lawyer should also talk with you before making major cost expenditures, such as for an expert or outside consultant.
  • Let your lawyer know that you want to be kept informed about costs as they accrue, and ask your lawyer to explain options you might have for holding costs down as much as possible.
There may be other types of fee agreements or variations of the ones described here. Ask your lawyer to explain your fee agreement to make sure you understand how it works.


Ways to Reduce Costs and Fees:

  • Gather information before meeting your lawyer. Write down names, addresses and telephone numbers of all the people involved in the matter.
  • Be organized. Bring letters, documents and other important papers to your first meeting.
  • Write down questions you want your lawyer to answer. (Our “Questions You May Want To Ask Your Lawyer” will be helpful).
  • Keep your lawyer informed, but don’t make unnecessary calls about minor details. If you are being charged an hourly rate, it is likely you are being charged for your call.
  • Ask if you can reduce costs by obtaining documents, contacting witnesses or providing other assistance.
  • Keep track of all papers sent to you by your lawyer, including receipts for cash payments and monthly billing statements.


On 4/20/10
Cheri  said
Great information. Thanks


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  • Please select your county of residence below.



  • State Bar of Arizona
  • Maricopa County Bar
    Referral number 602-257-4434
  • Pima County Bar
    Referral number 520-623-4625
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline
  • Bankruptcy Court Self Help Center
  • Certified Legal Document Preparer Program