This pamphlet is available on-line or a printed version may be requested from the WSBA. It offers general advice on consulting an attorney.
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Working with Lawyers
When you hire a lawyer, you are making a contract. This can be done orally, but written agreements are generally preferable. Some types of representation require written agreements. The contract sets out the rights and responsibilities of both the client and the lawyer. The contract is supplemented by rights and responsibilities established by the Rules of Professional Responsibility which govern lawyers. These rules create certain ethical obligations with respect to service, handling of client funds, your access to your files and many other issues.
A variety of fee arrangements are possible. Most services are provided on an hourly billing basis. However, some matters may be done on a fixed fee or on a contingent fee basis. You may be asked to pay a retainer or to make a deposit into a trust account to cover fees and expenses. You will be responsible for certain costs in addition to the fees charged. A pamphlet explaining legal fees is available from the Washington State Bar Association, see the Resource link below. It is important to clearly spell out in your agreement the basis for charges. You are entitled to detailed billing statements explaining the charges made and accounting for funds held in trust.
Good communication with your attorney is crucial. This is a two-way street. You should ask questions and expect answers both about the handling of the case and the charges being made. Unspoken expectations are often the basis for problems. Direct communication is often adequate to resolve these problems. If the working relationship breaks down, you have the right to terminate the attorney's employment. You will remain responsible for the fees and costs you owe.
The vast majority of attorney-client relationships proceed without serious problems. However, should a serious problem arise, you may have one or more avenues of recourse. In the event of a fee dispute, you may ask the Washington State Bar Association to arbitrate the dispute. You may file a complaint about the attorney's behavior with the bar. If funds have been misappropriated, you may be able to file a claim with the bar for compensation from the Lawyer's Fund for Client Protection. You may also consult an attorney knowledgeable in attorney malpractice about potential claims for attorney negligence.