Thursday, October 18, 2007

Understanding the legal system: What most attorneys do not tell you

Whether or not you choose to utilize the legal system (i.e., suing someone) or it chooses you (you are sued or you are arrested) it unfortunately helps to understand that (and I hate to admit this) justice is a business. What this means is that no matter how you enter the system, it is most likely going to cost you a substantial amount of money to see your case through. Many attorneys do not fully disclose how much your entire case will cost, and often lead you to believe your initial payment covers all your legal fees. It is important to ask your attorney what exactly you are paying for; if costs are additional; how much are trial fees (if necessary) and a general ball park question of how much this entire matter will run.

What most people do not understand is what you are paying your attorney for. Plain and simple you are paying them for their advice, much like a doctor. They may not actually "do" anything but simply listen to your problem analyze it and then give you a response. Sometimes their responses and advice can save you, make you or cost you thousands and thousands of dollars. This advice has a certain value, as because of it you are relying on them to help you make your decision. In criminal matters this advice can also mean saving you from going to jail.

Additionally, this advice and cost is not only based on years of going to law school (the average law school degree costs about $70,000), but experience in handling your matter once out of school; as well as the building of a reputation and relationships within the legal system. Additionally you are paying them for their time and their costs of running a law practice (i.e., research materials, office costs, etc.)

Before hiring an attorney it is always best to meet or talk to a few to get the best perspective on which one is best for you. The most expensive rarely means "the best." I have personally found, much like doctors, you can never pay someone to legitimately care about you and your matter. Some attorneys naturally care and some don't, its up to your instinct and the attorney's actions in speaking to you to decide if this is simply a business transaction, or the lawyer legitimately cares for your best interest.

Ask the attorney if he or she has a strategy on how they plan on handling your matter and make sure it is one you agree with. You can also check online to see if your attorney has ever been disciplined or is currently licensed, by checking them on which is the California Bar website.

It is almost always best to hire an attorney that you or someone you know personally has used in the past. The attorney/client relationship much like the doctor/patient relationship is a unique one as you often have to discuss highly personal matters with someone you hardly know. However if you do not feel comfortable discussing such matters with this person, perhaps that is not the right attorney for you. It is also important to realize that unless you waive "the attorney/client privilege" you can tell your attorney just about anything and they cannot reveal this information to anyone.

Court Room Protocol

Whether you willingly choose to enter a court room by suing someone, or you have the setting imposed upon you by being sued or you are facing criminal charges; court rooms are very intimidating places. Regardless of your reasoning for being in this environment, it will probably put you more at ease if you have the opportunity to visit the court room, prior to your required court date. Each court room is like its own country with its own ruler (the judge), and its own rules of functioning. Being familiar with these protocols before you are in the spotlight will ease the entire experience for you. The key is understanding that the legal system is largely based on respect.

Time is a valuable commodity in a court room, as the legal system is jam packed with cases. It is imperative that you respect the court's time and arrive at court when ordered. You may also call and find out what time the court room opens and what time the judge takes the bench. Do not be late. If you have a court date set and you do not appear on time, that in and of itself may cause you a multitude of problems in addition to the ones you are there for in the first place. If you are going to be late, you MUST contact the court room and advise them of your situation. A failure to do so could result in your civil matter being dismissed, fines being imposed; or in a criminal matter, a warrant for your arrest being issued.

Court room attire is of the utmost importance. Judgements about you are often made very quickly in a court room. Many individuals in the court room are looking at you and evaluating you, and some of these individuals also may be largely responsible for deciding the outcomes on your matter as well. A court room is a very conservative and formal environment and its important to act and dress accordingly. A court room is not a place to show your individuality, or make a political statement. So you may want to think twice about wearing your nose ring or chaps.

Individuals are often referred to as sir or madame and the proper way to address the judge is "your honor." If asked a question by the judge a proper response would be "yes (never yeah) your honor." When you stand before a judge, your hands are at your sides, not in your pockets. If you have an attorney, it is not proper for you to address the judge directly. Your attorney is your representative and will speak, and in most cases answer, on your behalf. Do not let that concept intimidate you. If your attorney says something you do not agree with or the judge says something you do not understand, you may halt the proceeding and question your attorney accordingly.

Lastly, an important note about court room staff. Although the court room staff (the bailiffs, clerk, court reporter, interprater) may seem like minor players in the court room, they often are responsible for various important aspects of your case. You must treat them all with respect at all costs, as one error committed by them, either intentionally or unintentionally, may detrimentally effect you and your case in various ways.

If you have questions about this or any other legal matter, please do not hesitate to contact me at the Law Offices of Carl Simons (310) 749-4529.