When You Need a Lawyer

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With over 35,000 practicing attorneys in the state of Georgia and more than 400 in the Gwinnett county area alone, deciding which law office to contact when you need legal counsel can be overwhelming. Should you find youself in need of a lawyer, you will, of course, want to consult someone whose area of expertise coincides with your specific needs. Familiarizing yourself with the areas of legal specialization will save time and lessen confusion when you need a clear head.

The broadest line that divides types of law in the United States runs between civil and criminal. Essentially the differences in the two depends on the end result that is desired from litigation. Civil law seeks to redress wrongs by awarding compensation or restitution to the victim, while criminal law seeks to punish the wrongdoer for the sake of the satisfaction of society and/or to attempt to reform the individual. Civil suits deal with disputes between individuals and between individuals and organizations; a judge will find the accused liable or not for damages. Compensation for injury or damages in a civil suit is generally financial. Individuals who seek to hire a criminal lawyer, on the other hand, have been accused of a crime. Instead of an individual or organization seeking compensation, however, the government itself brings the case against the accused and will generally seek punishment by imprisonment, fines, and/or community service. A jury likely declares the accused innocent or guilty. If you feel you have been wronged by an individual or group, knowing the difference between civil and criminal law will mean the difference between a phone call to law enforcement or a lawyer.

Once you determine the type of attorney that best suits your needs, you”ll want to make sure the individual lawyer is the right match for you.

Once a decision is made to seek compensation through a civil lawyer, one is met with a mind-boggling array of subcategories or specialties. Some of the most commonly-used specializations are:

Family Law
Attorneys specializing in family law deal with issues involving marriage, prenuptial agreements, civil unions and domestic partnerships as well as adoption, child support, alimony, divorce, property settlements, child custody, paternity testing, and other situations related to family.

Labor and Employment Law
Labor law deals with resolving disputes between workers and employers or trade unions and in maintaining employment standards that dictate the conditions under which employees work. Those who seek counsel from labor attorneys may do so for a number of reasons; they may feel that the terms under which they were hired have been violated; they perceive problems in their compensation or hours; or they may feel that the reasons for which they have been dismissed from their job are unfair and in violation of the law. Labor law also deals with allegations involving discrimination based on age, race or gender. Workman”s compensation also falls under labor and employment law and usually involves an employee being injured at work due to hazardous conditions.

Personal Injury and Wrongful Death
This specialization, also known as tort law, deals with loss or harm suffered at the hands of another. The accused might not have necessarily broken the law but might have caused another to suffer due to negligence or carelessness. Legal injuries are not limited to physical harm or loss of life; they may include emotional distress, copyright infringement, or loss of potential income, privacy, or personal property. Tort law covers a very wide a range of injuries; tort lawsuits may stem from automobile accidents, defamation of character, false imprisonment, or harmful environmental pollutants, for instance.. Tort law differs from criminal law in that the proof of injury can show a “preponderance of evidence” rather than needing to be shown to be true “beyond a reasonable doubt” as in a criminal case. For this reason, a personal injury lawsuit can be brought in civil court even after a case has been exonerated in criminal law, such as O.J. Simpson”s acquittal in criminal court while he was later found liable in civil court.

Tax Law
Though many tax attorneys work for large corporations, some deal exclusively with individual clients A tax lawyer must be familiar with tax laws at the federal, state and local level. They may see clients who are having disputes with the IRS or advise recent lottery winners or heirs on how to best manage their money to optimize the best possible outcome. A tax lawyer will also be able to advise clients on changing tax laws and how the laws affect individuals.

Real Estate Law
Anyone who is purchasing real property (land, home, or business) will need a real estate lawyer to preside over the closing of the property, but real estate lawyers also deal with disputes between landlords and tenants, between neighbors regarding property lines or pets, disputes involving homeowner”s or neighborhood associations, and commercial leases, to name a few. Real estate transactions tend to be governed by a wide range of federal laws coupled with specific laws that may differ substantially from one state to the next. Along with needing a lawyer to oversee the closing of a property, people may seek legal counsel when they feel the Federal Fair Housing Act has been disregarded in cases of discrimination on the basis of race, religion, gender or national origin. In addition, the agreement between a buyer and seller of a property falls under the general principle of contract laws. The Statute of Fraud requires that the contracts for real property be in writing, and these contracts are normally drawn up by real estate attorneys.

Bankruptcy Law
Bankruptcy lawyers help people who can no longer pay their creditors get a fresh start by liquidating assets to pay debts or by creating a repayment plan, depending on the chapter of bankruptcy. Federal courts have jurisdiction over bankruptcy, which means that a case cannot be filed in state court.

Business and Corporate Law
The role of a corporate lawyer is to ensure that commercial transactions are conducted legally. Because of the wide-ranging complexities involved in this branch of law, a typical corporate lawyer will have knowledge in areas of contract law, tax law, accounting, securities law, bankruptcy, intellectual property rights, zoning, and licensing.

Mediation and Arbitration
Mediation and arbitration arose in response to concerns that conventional litigation had become too expensive, too slow, and too cumbersome for many cases involving civil suits. These alternatives to resolving disputes outside of court, methods known collectively as alternative dispute resolution, or ADR, have increased in use over the past twenty years. Mediation uses a neutral third party to guide those involved in the dispute through several stages in an attempt to find common ground in order to resolve the dispute in a way that is amenable to all involved. If agreement can be reached, there are no delays, appeals, or additional expenses. Arbitration, on the other hand, is more akin to traditional litigation since a third party presides over the dispute and imposes a final decision that is enforceable by the courts. ADR”s immense popularity stems from the fact that it focuses more on problem-solving than on defining a victim and perpetrator; however, ADR can be easily abandoned if either party feels that the dispute could better be resolved in a traditional court.

Questions for Hiring Attorneys
Once you determine the type of attorney that best suits your needs, you”ll want to make sure the individual lawyer is the right match for you. Before signing a contract with an attorney, don”t be hesitant to find answers to your questions, either by looking at the law office”s website or asking the office directly:

  • How many years has the attorney who will be handling your case practiced law?

  • Will he or she personally handle your case, or will you be consulting with junior partners, paralegals, or paraprofessionals?

  • Is the attorney available after-hours and on weekends?

  • How long does it generally take for the office to return phone calls or emails?

  • Will you receive frequent status updates on your case?

  • Can the office provide you with references from past clients whose cases are similar to yours? If a firm is unwilling to offer references, it might have little experience with your type case, or perhaps past clients have not been satisfied with the representation.

  • How many other cases does the attorney representing you have at one time?

  • If your case has a possibility of going to trial, how much experience does the firm and your attorney in particular have in the courtroom?

  • What sort of record does the attorney have with winning cases like yours? What is the largest settlement awarded on a case like yours?

The Small Business Administration advises business owners to begin their attorney search online with the American Bar Association”s Guide to Legal Help where they can click on a state to access resources. Most of the resources available online can be used to guide both business owners and individual in their search for legal advice. Commercial law directories seek to provide objective advice on the best type of legal help for a particular problem, and, if possible, a referral to a lawyer with appropriate experience and expertise. Case-bidding services require that the potential client post a legal problem on a web site, where lawyers review descriptions and contact posters if they are interested in representing them. If you use such a service, be sure to describe your situation in very general terms; posting specifics online is not protected under attorney/client privileges. The internet is an incredibly useful resource for locating information and is where most people start their search for a lawyer. However, the yellow pages are still a reliable source for local attorneys, and some people feel more comfortable asking family or friends for referrals. Perhaps an obvious advantage of asking for advice is getting a referral and reference in one package!

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