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When Hiring An Attorney Is Your Best Option (And When It’s Not)


Nobody enjoys dealing with the legal system, especially when the matter at hand is contested. Having professional legal counsel is recommended (and sometimes even mandatory) whenever a case carries serious long-term consequences. On the other hand, the cost of legal representation can be quite high, so hiring an attorney for every minor issue is probably a waste of money. Deciding when to enlist the help of an attorney and when to navigate the legal system on your own isn’t easy, and many different factors come into play. To help you get a better idea when it’s appropriate to seek professional opinion and assistance, here is an overview of various scenarios in which an attorney might be beneficial, or even necessary.

Serious criminal cases

An attorney is definitely necessary when you have to defend against felony charges that potentially carry long prison sentences, as you don’t want to gamble with your freedom and future. In most jurisdictions, people facing criminal charges are entitled to public defenders, but for some it makes more sense to acquire a better attorney and increase the chances of a successful defense. Furthermore, certain lawyers specialize in particular types of crimes, so ideally you want someone with good experience — and a proven winning record — on similar cases. With this in mind, always make sure to do your research and interview multiple candidates before picking an attorney that’s most capable of representing your needs and interests in the courtroom.

Personal injury and private litigation

It is far more common that citizens are in need of an attorney when they are engaging in a private litigation against another individual or organization. The logic is similar to criminal prosecutions — since the outcome can be very financially significant, you are generally well advised to hire the best specialist that you can afford. For example, personal injury attorneys are very skilled at identifying cases where compensation might be warranted and presenting the arguments in such a way to make the favorable judgment more likely. In addition, a person going through a contentious divorce might benefit from hiring a specialist who knows how to secure a good settlement. In other words, there is an attorney for just about every type of private legal dispute you can think of.

High-end business deals

Business negotiations may be conducted in good faith, but when it’s time to sign the contract, it’s probably a good idea to have an attorney present. It’s difficult to predict all the possible negotiations and questions in advance, so having someone who can interpret the difficult legal language in the contract in an accessible, easy-to-understand way is a big advantage. You don’t want anyone to think they’re being tricked, and you definitely don’t want to appear unprofessional right before signing a big deal. This is especially the case for international deals, as rules might be quite divergent in different jurisdictions, so advice from an experienced jurist is simply necessary. While larger companies often have in-house attorneys on a permanent payroll, for up-and-coming organizations, it’s usually a better option to hire good professionals when needed in these circumstances.

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Tax reporting and exemptions

Personal income taxes and other obligations towards the government represent another area where a professional opinion can be worth a lot. In many countries, there are numerous online tax tool exemptions available for private citizens and businesses, so with the right guidance it can be possible to pay far less if you file the right paperwork on time. There are a lot of other taxable transactions (i.e. real estate purchases, stock market gains, family inheritance etc.), but some are very straightforward and only the most complex and require the involvement of an attorney. A good question to ask is how much is at stake. If potential gains from a more professional tax report can offset the costs of legal counsel, then it may be in your best interest to speak with an attorney.

Avoid calling an attorney for minor disputes

It’s certainly good to know that legal representation is available when you need it, but that doesn’t mean you should automatically call for it when something is not going your way in the legal system. First of all, it can be very expensive to litigate over every slight misunderstanding, especially if you fail to win in court. Any appeals process can take ages, which can really rack up your lawyer fees. In addition, getting lawyers involved can needlessly escalate matters and eliminate any remaining opportunities to find a compromise with the opposing party. Finally, you don’t want the reputation of a lawsuit-happy person, as this might deter associates, potential collaborators, and even family members from doing business with you. It’s a thin line between staying protected and overreacting, so always be careful not to cross it.


Sean Jacobson

I'm Sean, a former HR and business consultant providing you insights into the business world for Leader to Leader.

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