Relationship Timeline Between You & a Lawyer

Typical timeline of finding and hiring a lawyer.

Unlike the doctor you see once a year, your relationship with a lawyer can be long and more involved.  Also, there is a definitive start and end to the relationship.  Here are the typical stages of finding and hiring legal representation:  

Before it's official... 

Image courtesy of Giphy.

Image courtesy of Giphy.

Stage 1. There is an issue or a problem. 

Life happens and you have an issue or a problem on your hands.  Do you need a lawyer?  Some things to consider:

  • Lawyers can FIX and PREVENT problems.  Lawyers aren't just for when you get arrested or sued.  You can need them for preventing problems too (e.g., preparing a will to include a new baby). 
  • Some legal issues you can DIY.  For certain simple matters, you can DIY without hiring a lawyer.  For example, there are platforms like Wevorce (divorces) and SimpleCitizen (immigration visas) that help with simple filings.  For more complex matters including those involving the court system, statistics show that it's better to get a lawyer.  
Image courtesy of Giphy.

Image courtesy of Giphy.

Stage 2. Search for potential lawyers.

The two most common ways to look for a lawyer are through (1) personal recommendations and (2) online platforms.  There are several factors to consider, including location, type of issue, type of lawyer, costs, and whether you trust the lawyer. Because of all these, you should gather more than one potential candidate to start. 

Image courtesy of Giphy.

Image courtesy of Giphy.

Stage 3. Have initial consultations with potential lawyers. 

Initial consultations are simply an introductory meeting between a lawyer and a potential client. These are important because they serve two purposes:

(1) for the lawyer to hear the facts of your situation and make an initial assessment of the issue and if there are any potential legal solutions; and

(2) for you to learn not only more about your issue (such as feasibility, costs, and timing) but also about the lawyer. For example, is this a person you can trust? 

Note that many lawyers offer consultations for free; some do not.  Make sure you ask before you head to their office for a consultation. 

During an attorney-client relationship*...

*Note: Being in an "attorney-client relationship" is a big deal under the law.  Once the relationship is official, the lawyer is required to act with complete fairness, loyalty, honesty, and good faith with you. 

Image courtesy of Giphy.

Image courtesy of Giphy.

Stage 4. Hire or retain your lawyer. 

After you've done consultations, you're ready to hire or retain a lawyer. To make it official, you'll sign an engagement letter.  This is a contract between you and the lawyer laying out what services will be provided, as well as your legal rights and responsibilities (e.g., fees).  

These contracts are narrowly tailored to just apply to your specific issue.  If you hire a lawyer for your divorce, for example, she isn't automatically your lawyer for everything else. A separate matter would require a separate engagement letter.

Image courtesy of Giphy.

Image courtesy of Giphy.

Stage 5. Your lawyer works on your issue.

The type of work that your lawyer does for you depends on your specific issue.  This may involve preparing for and going to court.  It can also involve drafting documents and negotiating it with a counterparty. The range of work can vary widely, but your lawyer should keep you informed of next steps, the actions that she is taking, and any updates. 

After the relationship...

Image courtesy of Giphy.

Image courtesy of Giphy.

Stage 6. Your lawyer is done with the matter and you officially end the relationship. 

After the lawyer is done handling your issue, the next step is to formally end the relationship. The lawyer will provide a closing letter for you to sign that officially ends your relationship for that particular matter.  

No hard feelings - this is normal procedure to protect lawyers from potential malpractice.  It doesn't mean you can't hire the lawyer again for a different matter. If that's the case, you'll just have another engagement letter for it.

Image courtesy of Giphy.

Image courtesy of Giphy.

Stage 7. Share your experience and spread the word about your lawyer.

Approximately 1 in 4 people are currently dealing with some sort of legal issue right now.  A lot of them don't think about reaching out to a lawyer and it's not just about cost: it's about a lack of information.  

You can make legal help more accessible by reviewing and recommending your lawyer. Your experience and insight will help others make an informed decision and give them leverage when deciding on a good lawyer.  

To recommend a lawyer, go to   Together, we can make legal services more approachable and accessible for everyone.

For more information, check out:

Stage 1 - There is an issue or a problem.  Is Your Problem a "Legal" Problem? and  Roundup: Success Rates of Getting a Lawyer vs. Representing Yourself.

Stage 2 - Search for potential lawyers. Areas of Law and The Making of a Lawyer.

Stage 4 - Hire or retain your lawyer. How Lawyers Charge.

Stage 7 - Share your experience and spread the world about your lawyer. Do's and Dont's of Reviewing.

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