We often must advise people as to whether they actually need an attorney. Not surprisingly the answer is that it depends. Often, we get calls from prospective litigants, in other words, people who are thinking about filing suit. Other times we get calls after a lawsuit has been filed. There is a similar but distinct analysis depending on which side of the “V” you find yourself on.
Looking first at the Plaintiffs side, or our potential clients who call us seeking to commence litigation, the question isn’t simply do you need to hire a lawyer. It is more properly framed as should you hire a lawyer to deal with whatever situation you find yourself in. We spend a lot of time talking people out of contemplated litigation. That is often not because their potential claim lacks technical merit, though sometimes that is the news we have to deliver. Rather, often we advise potential clients against litigation because it will not make economic sense for them. Consider a situation where a person has a claim worth approximately $15,000.00. The attorney can either take that matter on a contingency fee, or bill by the hour. If a contingency fee arrangement is selected the attorney will likely only be paid a fee of $5,000.00 if they obtain every dollar of their client’s damages and spend substantial time doing so. Thus, for smaller dollar amount cases an attorney will likely only work by the hour. Billing at the rate of $300.00 an hour or more, it will not take long for the attorney’s fees in the matter to surpass the potential recovery. We routinely pass on such cases, even if there is potentially a means to recover attorney’s fees. The reason being is that there is no guarantee that the Court will award your fees or that you will ultimately recover them even if the Court awards them.
We always attempt to explain the economic realities of cases to our potential clients, but especially on the Plaintiff’s side. If you are considering hiring a lawyer to sue, you should consider their anticipated fees in light of what you stand to recover and ask yourself whether it is really worth it to be involved in litigation if your potential net gain is minimal or non-existent. Sometimes people are unconcerned about the economics of the situation and want to proceed no matter what on principal. That is a fine mentality to have, but you and your attorney need to have a candid conversation that the only person who may “win” from a financial standpoint on the case is the attorney representing you.
The analysis is somewhat different on the defense side. You did not choose to be involved in a lawsuit. However, your failure to answer a lawsuit could result in severe adverse consequences, even if the underlying lawsuit had little merit. So, our answer on the defense side when we are asked whether you need an attorney is almost always “yes.” Perhaps the attorney can buy you some time to get your affairs in order to take care of the situation that resulted in you getting sued. Perhaps you have a meritorious defense whether factual or procedural. Sometimes people call us thinking they can just go “tell their story to the judge” and everything will be okay. Rarely does that strategy work when serious claims have been asserted.
In any event when you have been sued you should likely retain counsel to deal with the lawsuit. It is often said that a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client. If that is true of lawyers with legal training and experience, it must also be true for non-lawyers. For that reason, we typically recommend that even the most sophisticated people, even those with legal training and licensure, retain counsel to resolve disputes. This is true whether you are a potential Plaintiff or a Defendant. Additionally, under the law of North Carolina a Corporation (or similar business entity) generally cannot represent itself in court. That is to say, an officer or member of the company cannot appear on the company’s behalf, unless they happened to be a licensed North Carolina attorney.
Like with so many things in life, hiring an attorney requires judgment and discernment on your part. Be skeptical of the lawyer you called about filing lawsuit does not attempt to poke holes in your potential case. Good lawyers are almost always talking themselves out of work. Similarly, be wary if you are looking to hire a lawyer to defend you and there isn’t an early discussion about possible resolutions. Rarely is litigation for the sake of litigation beneficial to the clients. If you would like to speak with an attorney about whether you need to hire an attorney to pursue a claim, or defend against a claim, one of our experienced litigations would be glad to speak with you.