More than 1.4 million cases are filed in state and federal trial courts across the United States every year, and many of these cases involve overlapping areas of the law. Rather than hiring several specialized attorneys to handle each of these overlapping areas, you can hire a single general practice attorney near you to get the job done. General practice attorneys are attorneys that do not limit their practice to a particular area of the law and instead cover a broad range of legal practice areas.
These attorneys have an abundance of knowledge and experience in various legal matters and this legal diversity means that your attorney will be suited to handle any types of surprises that may arise during your legal matter. The ability of a general practice attorney to handle a wide variety of your legal issues also has the advantage of fostering a strong attorney-client relationship over time and saving you money in the long run. The types of legal issues that are commonly handled by general practice attorneys include:
- Personal injury matters
- Traffic violation matters
- Drafting wills
- Divorce issues
- Child and spousal support cases
- Minor criminal cases
- Business-related matters
- Landlord and tenant matters
However, before hiring a general practice attorney near you, it is necessary to make sure that this attorney is qualified enough to solve your legal problems. As such, any general practice attorney that you intend to hire should be able to correctly answer the following questions:
Where Are You Licensed to Practice General Practice in the State You Are?
Given the wide range of general practice legal matters, it is important to make sure that your attorney is licensed to practice law and appear before the state and federal trial courts located in your state of residence. Attorney licensing in the United States is done at a state level and it generally involves passing the Law School Admission Test, graduating from an accredited law school, and sitting for a state-administered bar examination. An attorney can only practice before a state court after passing that state's bar examination and being sworn in by its bar association. Once sworn in, this attorney can appear before any court in the state's judicial system.
However, general practice attorneys near you that wish to also appear before federal courts are typically required to be sworn in and admitted into practice by the particular court where the case in question was filed. Some federal courts admit licensed attorneys that are in good standing with any state's bar association while others only admit attorneys that were licensed by the bar associations of the states that they are located in. An example of the former is the Southern District Court of Texas, while examples of the latter include the Southern District Court of Ohio and the Northern District Court of California. Also, some federal courts have reciprocity arrangements that allow them to admit attorneys that were sworn in by other federal courts. An example of this is the District Court for Kansas, which admits licensed attorneys that have been sworn in to practice before the Western District Court of Missouri and vice versa.
Note, you can confirm the licensing status of any general practice attorney by contacting your state's bar association. If your matter is filed in a federal court, then you should also contact the court to make sure that your attorney has been duly sworn in and is therefore allowed to practice before it. Note that although a majority of cases are filed in state courts, federal courts generally have jurisdiction over certain matters. These include matters that involve the constitutionality of a law or statute, matters that involve violations of federal law, matters involving crimes committed on federal land, bankruptcy cases, and matters that involve parties from different states.
What Kind of General Practice Work Do You Handle?
The idea of general practice law is not being limited to specific types of law and instead being adequately skilled in a wide range of legal practice areas. As such, general practice attorneys do not typically specialize in a particular type of law. However, some general practice attorneys may decide to create a niche for themselves by focusing on two to four particular aspects of the law and honing their skills in these areas. Therefore, it is always a good idea to find out whether your general practice attorney dedicates more time to particular types of legal practice and if these practice areas are similar to your legal issue. You can do this by requesting a breakdown of your intended attorney's legal practice that lists the types and volume of cases this attorney, or the attorney's law firm in general, handles.
How Long Have You Been in Practice?
It is always in your best interest to hire an experienced general practice attorney near you over a less experienced one. General practice attorneys that have years of legal experience are usually more skilled and knowledgeable about legal matters both in and out of the courtroom. This includes knowing the judges that may be sympathetic to your predicament, having a good working relationship with prosecutors, law enforcement officers, and other court officials, and knowing the proper procedures for filing necessary court documents. Having access to this knowledge and experience can go a long way in ensuring that any legal issue that you may be involved in is resolved quickly and in your favor. General practice attorneys and law firms typically display their years of experience on their official websites and you can verify this information through your state's bar association. Note that experienced general practice attorneys tend to have higher fees than their less experienced colleagues.
Do You Charge Fixed or Hourly Fees?
General practice attorneys typically charge hourly fees at an average of $100 - $300 per hour. However, some general practice attorneys may charge flat fees for performing basic, straightforward, or well-defined services and tasks like drafting and reviewing documents or handling uncontested divorces. Flat fees typically depend on the type of service that your attorney will render and its level of complexity, and they can range from as low as $100 to as high as $5,000. If your case involves a lawsuit with monetary compensation, then your attorney may utilize a contingency fee structure. With this fee structure, your attorney takes a percentage of any amount that you win in a lawsuit or settlement. However, if you lose the case, then you do not have to pay the attorney. Finally, some general practice attorneys offer free or greatly reduced rates for their legal services to financially challenged individuals through legal aid and pro bono programs.
Always confirm the fee structure that your general practice attorney will utilize for your legal matter and what exactly you will be charged for. Some attorneys include the cost of copying documents and hiring expert witnesses in their cost estimates while others may require you to pay for these out of pocket. Many general practice attorneys will also require you to pay a retainer regardless of the fee structure that they utilize. It is also a good idea to discuss the option of a payment plan and to find out your attorney's preferred method of payment. This is usually either physical methods via cash and checks or digital methods via mobile wallets and debit or credit cards.
Do You Charge for an Initial Consultation?
Always determine whether your initial consultation with your general practice attorney will be free of charge or if you will have to pay for it. Whether or not you will have to pay for an initial consultation is completely dependent on your attorney. Some general practice attorneys offer free 30 minutes to one-hour first-time meetings with potential clients while others charge for these meetings as a way to eliminate individuals that are fishing for free legal advice. Whatever the case may be, it is important to note that initial consultations are a good way to gauge your compatibility with an attorney and vice versa. Information shared during an initial consultation is bound by attorney-client privilege and so it is a good idea to use this meeting to intimate the attorney on the details of your legal issue. This way, a general practice attorney can decide whether to take on your case or refer you to a specialized attorney. You should also discuss your financial situation and whether you qualify for free or low-cost legal services.
How Do You Keep Clients Informed about Their Case?
It is not just enough to hire a general practice attorney near you, you also need to be kept apprised of the status of your legal issue at various stages of the matter. It is for this reason that the American Bar Association mandates attorneys to always respond to any questions from their clients regarding their cases, promptly inform these clients of any changes in their ongoing cases, and generally keep them updated on the status of these cases.
To ensure that this happens, you should work out a communication plan with your general practice attorney that includes the following:
- An agreed mode of communication: this can be via phone calls, emails, physical meetings, or audio-video conferences.
- A defined line of communication: determine whether you will have direct access to your attorney, especially in the event of an emergency, or whether you will have to go through paralegals and legal assistants.
- A communication schedule: depending on the type of legal matter, you may require daily, bi-weekly, weekly, bi-monthly, or monthly updates from your attorney. Also, confirm if these updates will come from your attorney or via an assistant. Note that this schedule does not include any emergency updates that require immediate attention.
Who Will Actually Do the Work?
Many attorneys and law firms hire paralegals to help ease their workload, and general practice attorneys near you are no exception. Paralegals perform a broad range of duties that include maintaining and organizing documents and files, conducting research and investigating the facts of a case, filing documents in court, and helping attorneys prepare for trial. Paralegal fees are typically less than those of licensed attorneys and so it is a good idea to find out if having any paralegals work on aspects of your case instead of your attorney will reduce your overall bill.
Note that your general practice attorney determines the specific roles that paralegals will play in your case and is also liable for any acts of misconduct by these paralegals. As such, in addition to finding out the level of involvement that paralegals will have with your legal matter, you should also confirm that these paralegals will be adequately supervised. Also note that whatever their duties may be, paralegals are not allowed to give legal advice, represent you in court, or set their fees.
Can You Provide References from Former Clients?
Before hiring a general practice attorney near you, it is always a good idea to ask for references. You should never hire a general practice attorney that does not have positive reviews. These reviews can come directly from your attorney via a list of past clients or testimonials posted on the attorney's official website, from friends and family that have had dealings with the attorney, or even from other attorneys. It is also advisable to find out from your state's bar association if there are any past or pending complaints and disciplinary actions recorded against your attorney.
What Is Your Success Rate?
There is no specific database that can be used to determine an attorney's success rate. However, to give you an idea of whether or not a general practice attorney near you is a good fit for you, you should first decide what you consider a successful outcome of your legal issue. This typically depends on the type of matter that you are involved in, and it can be as simple as getting a business contract properly drafted, reviewed, and signed, or as complex as avoiding jail time or winning a lawsuit. Once you have determined this, then you can get a rough idea of how many times your general practice attorney has achieved this outcome in legal matters. Some attorneys display their success rates on their websites and provide you with contact details of past clients that you can reach to verify this information. You can also find out your general practice attorney's courthouse performance by visiting local courts and requesting copies of court records that involve this attorney. Note that access to court records is generally determined by your state's judicial branch and you may be required to pay a fee for these records.
When Should I Hire a General Practice Attorney?
General practice attorneys handle a wide range of legal matters ranging from routine and non-emergency issues to more serious and even criminal issues. If you find yourself in any of the following situations, then it may be essential to retain the services of a general practice attorney near you:
- You could lose money
- Your opponent has an attorney
- You are in over your head
- You could end up in jail
- Someone has been physically harmed
- You are involved in a messy divorce
- You want to adopt a child
- You have been served with a court notice
- You are facing traffic-related charges
- You need to prepare a business contract
- You want to start, buy, or sell a business
- You want to evict a tenant
- You want to create a trademark or patent an invention
In addition to helping you out with these issues, an experienced general practice attorney can help you determine the types of matters that may require the services of a specialized attorney and also refer one to you.
What Are the Typical Qualifications Held by a General Practice Attorney?
General practice attorneys are mandatorily required to obtain a bachelor's degree after at least four years of undergraduate study and a subsequent Juris Doctor (J.D.) law degree after three years of law school education. After obtaining a law degree, a general practice lawyer must pass a bar examination that is set by the state where the attorney intends to set up a legal practice and be subsequently sworn in by this state's bar association. Note that an attorney that wishes to practice before trial courts in more than one state must be sworn in by the bar associations of each of these states. Some general practice attorneys further their education by obtaining a Master of Law degree (LL.M. or M.L.). While it is not a mandatory requirement, obtaining a Master of Law degree goes a long way in boosting an attorney's international recognition and credibility.