What Does a Lawyer Do?

Reprinted from Public Service Information Provided by Mass. Bar Association

What Are a Lawyer’s Duties?

By their oath of admission to practice, lawyers are sworn to uphold the Constitution and laws and to render the highest fidelity toward their clients. They are prohibited by law from disclosing any information communicated in confidence.

More importantly, a lawyer’s principal duty is to see that clients are given the benefit of all legal rights, cases must be conducted in an orderly manner, and no agreement may be made which may jeopardize your interests.

Why Should I Consult a Lawyer?

There are many different areas of law. Sometimes people give legal advice who are not authorized by the Mass. Supreme Judicial Court to practice law. Lawyers know the law varies according to the case. A non-lawyer may know one aspect of the law, but the facts may make other laws applicable to the case. Sizeable sums of money are spent to develop a library and keep it current with Legislative changes and in Court decisions. It is far better to rely on an expert in any technical field.

What Is Your Duty to Your Lawyer?

You should give your lawyer all the facts concerning your case making a full and fair disclosure of the entire situation. What you reveal to your lawyer is considered privileged communication and cannot be divulged. All the facts are needed because the application of the law may vary with each fact and circumstance concerning your problem.

How Do Lawyers Charge for Services?

A lawyer generally makes only a nominal charge, if any, for a first visit. Only when actual time is spent working on a matter is a fee charged. Charges are usually based on time and work involved, the difficulty of the problem, the dollar amount involved, the result, and the lawyer’s experience and standing.

More and more lawyers are setting their fees on a hourly computation. Depending on the experience and expertise of the lawyer as well as the case circumstances, an hourly fee can range from $50 to $150 an hour. There are many factors which are considered in computing a fee:

  1. Although most lawyers work a minimum of eight hours a day, only about 65% is billable to a client. The remainder is devoted to keeping abreast of the changing law; and to other unpaid professional and civic activities.
  2. Operating expenses, such as rent, equipment, law libraries, professional and non-professional staff range from 40-55% of the gross annual income derived from legal fees.
  3. Ability, reputation and experience are natural considerations in setting a fee. One should expect to pay a higher hourly rate for a lawyer whose expertise in a specific area is in demand.

Often a lawyer cannot tell you exactly what the charge will be because it is unclear how much work is involved. But your lawyer can usually estimate what the minimum and maximum limits of the fee will be, give you some idea of the problems involved and the time that will be required. The subject of fees may and should be discussed frankly with your lawyer preferably at the first meeting (see Finding A Lawyer).

The time for payment of legal fees depends on the arrangement with your attorney. Usually attorneys request a down payment (retainer) to cover the initial work and disbursements. You will be billed at the end of the month or at the completion of the service, for services and disbursements.

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