The decision to hire an attorney can be one of the most frightening decisions a person can make. This decision is often made while the person is in turmoil, either with a criminal charge or civil matter pending, or the need to immediately file a civil matter to address an urgent concern. Now is not the time to put your head in the sand and try to wish away the circumstances. Now is the time to meet with one of our attorneys so that we can help you or your business you get your head around the issues and move you toward a positive resolution.
This section provides you, the potential client, with an overview of the litigation process, from the initial meeting with your attorney to trial. The information contained herein is general in nature. The process used for your particular matter may vary depending on your goals.
Before you call Spencer & Jensen, LLC, or any law firm for that matter, it will be helpful for you to formulate some specific goals. Depending on your situation, some goals you may want to accomplish are:
- Evaluation of a legal claim against you
- Evaluation of your legal claim against another
- Legal advice about the consequences of a particular counsel of action
- Creation of a Will or Trust
- Formation of a business
Most attorneys, including the attorneys at Spencer & Jensen, LLC, will answer questions posed by a potential client over the phone without charging a fee. These initial contacts generally last between five and fifteen minutes. It is during this call that a you, as a potential client, have the ability to assess whether one of our attorneys has both the time and experience to assist you with your legal matter. It is during this telephone call that you should ask questions about the scope and expected cost of your legal matter.
Most legal matters are completed with an attorney charging an hourly rate, although fix price services are available for some tasks, as you can see from our website. An attorney will bill for each hour (or portion of an hour) when work is completed on the file. An attorney with more years of experience will charge a higher hourly rate, as that attorney will need to spend less time on an issue than an inexperienced attorney. Along the Wasatch Front, hourly billing rates are generally $200.00 to $375.00 per hour, depending on the type of case and the experience of the attorney. You should discuss hourly billing rates with one of our attorneys during your initial telephone contact and/or at your initial consultation. Hourly billing rates at Spencer & Jensen, LLC, run between $195.00 per hour and $300.00 per hour, pending on which attorney you work with and the type of work involved.
In order to make the most out of your initial face-to-face meeting with one of our attorneys, it is a good idea to gather materials that would be helpful to the attorney before your meeting. Spend some time thinking about the kind of documentation that might be helpful, and how you can logically explain your situation to the attorney. A list of initial face-to-face materials for particular types of cases can be found elsewhere on this website.
During your initial face-to-face meeting plan to get all of your questions answered. Depending on your situation, you should consider asking the following questions:
- What kind of cases do you normally handle?
- What percentage of your practice is devoted to this area of law?
- How many situations similar to mine have you handled in the past year?
- How many of these types of cases are resolved short of trial? (Either through mediation or other means of settlement)
- What aspects of my case are the most difficult to resolve?
- How do you keep in touch with your clients?
- Are you available after hours?
- Will other attorneys be working on my case?
- How do you bill your clients?
- Do you require a retainer? If so, how much?
- What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of my case?
Every client would like to believe that his or her case is the only case an attorney has to work on. However, unless you are someone like Donald Trump, your attorney has more than one case to keep track of. Don't expect your attorney to provide you with minute by minute updates. All law suits are deadline driven. The Court will set a schedule under which the various stages of a litigated matter must be completed. When the deadlines are met, no party or attorney (except in cases of an emergency) is permitted ambush the other side. If you have hired an attorney to answer a complaint, expect that the answer will be filed timely, but don't expect it to be done in the next five minutes. Your attorney will provide you with the Court imposed schedule when it is received by the Court. If you do not understand what those deadlines mean, then meet with your attorney and get a clarification.
If your matter involves litigation (going to Court) as opposed to a transactional matter (such as the negotiation of a contract or mediating a dispute), the party who has the claim will electronically file what is called a Complaint" or "Petition" with the Court. This document will layout all the claims and allegations associated with case. The other party will then have the opportunity to file a document called "Answer" to the allegations set forth in the Complaint or Petition. The party filing an Answer can also file a document called a "Counterclaim" to layout any claims or allegations the Answering party may have against the party who filed the Complaint or Petition.
Discovery is the collection of information in the context of a lawsuit. Discovery can either be completed in written form or through the taking of in-person depositions or oral examinations. For all Utah law suits filed in District Court, each party is required to complete and provide what are called "Initial Disclosures." These consist of the names and contact information for all potential witnesses and the provision of a specified list of relevant documents. After the Initial Disclosures are provided either party to a law suit may seek additional information by submitting to the other party written requests for information (interrogatories, requests for production of documents, and/or requests for admissions), or by scheduling a deposition. The deposition can cover any information which is either directly relevant or information which may lead to admissible evidence. Thus, the questions which can asked at a deposition are almost limitless. Because depositions are recorded and transcribed into written form, there is a cost associated with them. Please discuss with your attorney the expected cost.
After all the information related to the case has been collected by your attorney and the parties have attempted Alternative Dispute resolution, your attorney may request in writing from the Court a Pretrial Conference. This conference is usually held at the Courthouse and all issues to be resolved at trial are discussed. On a timetable set at this Pretrial Conference, the parties will exchange final witness lists and all documents to be used at trial.
Trial is the time when all the information gathered by both sides are presented to the Judge. This is where the experience of your attorney is key, as law school does not teach a student how to perform in the courtroom, its all on the job training. Knowing how to cross-examine witnesses and stop the other party from having damaging documents entered into evidence as part of an overall trial strategy can make or break your case. Put another way, do you want to be your heart surgeon's first heart operation or do you want the surgeon who has already completed ten thousand or more?
If you live in a city of any size, you can find dozens of attorney webites by simply typing your city name and the word attorney. The question is: How do you choose an attorney from those available in your geographic area? The answer is good-old-fashion leg work. Call the attorney you are considering hiring and ask him or her the following questions:
- How many years of experience do you have?
- How many matters of this type have you handled?
- If the matter involves litigation, how many cases have you taken to trial?
- How do you handle correspondence with your clients?
- Are you available for consultations after hours or on the weekends?
- How much of the work on my case will be delegated to office staff?
Think of a retainer as a down payment against which future costs are billed. It is from this retainer that costs such as filing fees, service fees and the preparation of initial paperwork, are paid. The cost of services are deducted from the retainer as they accrue. Many attorneys will not do additional work for a client unless there is money in the retainer account or other payment arrangements have been made. Along the Wasatch Front, attorney retainers generally run from $1,500.00 to $10,000.00, depending on the type of matter involved and the experience of the particular attorney. Your retainer amount will depend on estimated time needed to address your issues, the assets or debts involved, and other case specific factors.
- Price: In determining which law firm should be given the opportunity to provide services to you, there is a trade-off between the high priced law firm which provides services to clients in dozens of practice areas and the moderately priced law firm which provides services in a limited number of practice areas. The cost savings associated with a smaller firm can be substantial, as much as 50%-60% in many cases. At Spencer & Jensen, LLC, we provide services in a limited number of practice areas (those listed on the front page of this website) and provide a good value for the client dollar.
- Experience: Attorneys come with a wide variety of experience, both in years and in the courtroom. If your matter involves litigation You should look for someone who has the experience to handle your specific type of matter. Terry R. Spencer has been practicing law for 24 years and is licensed to represent clients in both Utah and Idaho. He has substantial litigation experience in representing clients in administrative hearings, in both district and justice court and before the Utah Court of Appeals. He has handled cases in almost every county in the State of Utah and in several Idaho counties.
Be prepared to provide your attorney with all of your contact information, including an email address, and an alternative number, such as the number of a parent or co-worker. For many types of cases, identifying information, such as Social Security Numbers, will also be requested by your attorney, as they must be provided to the Court or to Government agencies as part of the litigation process.
In addition to your personal contact information, Utah attorneys are required to provide the opposing party with what are called Initial Disclosures. Part of Initial Disclosure process in each Utah case requires each party to provide contact information for potential witnesses and relevant documents. Please come prepared to provide this information to your attorney.
The costs associated with litigation can be classified as either known or unknown. Know costs include Court filing fees, document service fees and deposition costs, so far as a per page cost is concerned. All other costs, including the cost to prepare pleadings to be filed with the Court, depend on the type of case, the number of claims, and a thousand other factors.
On an on-going basis, you should have regular contact with your attorney. Depending on the type of matter and any deadlines that are relevant to your matter, that contact can be monthly, weekly or even more often. Because there will be a cost associated with communication, in your initial client meeting you should discuss when and by what means communication will take place.
Before a matter may be certified ready for trial (see below) the parties must attempt to resolve the matter through "Alternative Dispute Resolution." Alternative Dispute Resolution usually consists of "mediation," a process by which neutral third party attempts to find middle ground between the two or more parties to the law suit. Please see the Alternative Dispute Resolution tab of this website for additional details as all forms of Alternative Dispute Resolution.
Following the Pretrial Conference, you and your attorney will meet to create the final list of witnesses, compile all necessary trial documents, and draft trial questions for friendly and hostile witnesses. At Spencer, Philpot & Jensen, LLC, in order to accommodate our client's busy schedules this trial preparation can takes place on a weekend or after regular business hours to allow you and your attorney the uninterrupted time necessary to compile this information. A good rule of thumb is two hours of trial preparation time for each hour of trial time. In other words, if trial is set to last one day, trial preparation will usually take two days. This is the time to have a frank discussion with your attorney about your concerns as they relate to both witness testimony and documents the other side may attempt to introduce at trial.