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The Maryland State Bar Association’s Public Awareness Committee has prepared this information. It is intended to inform the public and not serve as legal advice.

Do I Need a Family Lawyer?

Almost everyone will need the advice of a lawyer sooner or later in our complex society. These days, it is difficult to imagine buying a home, writing a will or transacting a business deal without professional legal assistance.

Why Should I Seek Professional Legal Advice?

To protect people, the law provides that only lawyers may give legal advice. A non-lawyer may not give legal advice even impartially trained in a specific area of the law. A lawyer’s license to practice is granted by the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals of Maryland. It is your assurance that the lawyer has met the standards required for admission to practice law and is qualified to properly represent you in legal matters. A member of the Maryland Bar, a lawyer is required to follow a professional code of conduct and urged to stay current on changing laws through continuing legal education. A lawyer is most importantly an officer of the court, authorized to explain and interpret the law for you and represent your interest both in and out of court.

How Do I Choose a Lawyer?

Selecting a lawyer is a personal matter. You may want to ask a friend, relative, or employee to recommend a lawyer they know and trust. In Maryland, most local bar associations will help you find an attorney in your area. If you cannot afford an attorney, you may be eligible for an attorney from the Legal Aid Bureau, which has branch offices throughout the state. Check your telephone directory for the office nearest you. You may also be eligible for free or reduced fee legal assistance through other legal services and pro bono providers throughout the state. For the name of an organization near you, contact the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland, Inc., at (800) 492-1964 or (410) 837-9379.

When Should I Seek Professional Legal Advice?

Never think of hiring a lawyer as the “last resort.” In most instances, it is better to visit a lawyer before you have a legal problem. By consulting with your lawyer before signing a contract, closing a business deal or moving ahead with any legal matter, you can avoid costly and often complicated legal hassles.

You should consult a lawyer:

  • before buying or selling real estate;
  • before signing a contract with major financial implications;
  • before organizing a business;
  • when you have an accident resulting in personal injury;
  • when your family situation changes through marriage, adoption or divorce;
  • when you have tax problems;
  • when you are being sued or initiating a lawsuit.

What Should I Tell My Lawyer?

Anything you tell your lawyer in the context of the lawyer/client relationship is confidential and may not be revealed to anyone without your consent. You should openly discuss your legal situation with your lawyer. It is absolutely essential that you provide him or her with all of the facts that are related to your case. Unless you are completely candid with your lawyer, he or she will not be able to give you the appropriate advice for your legal situation.

What if I Am Charged with a Crime?

If you are arrested or charged with a crime, you should consult a lawyer as soon as possible. Do not make any statements until you have received legal advice. If you cannot afford a lawyer, you have the right to contact the Office of the Public Defender to determine whether you are qualified to receive legal counsel through that office.

What Will the Lawyer Charge?

A lawyer generally charges only a nominal fee for an initial office visit. Subsequent charges are usually based on the number of hours your lawyer spends on your case, the difficulty of the case, and the attorney’s experience. When you hire a lawyer, you have hired an entire law office to work on your behalf; therefore, the lawyer’s office expenses may comprise 35 to 50 percent of the fee. Sometimes a lawyer may take your case on a contingent fee basis. If your case is successful, the lawyer receives a percentage of the judgement or settlement and out-of-pocket expenses. If the case is lost, you pay only the expenses. Your lawyer may not be able to tell you exactly what your fee will be, but should be able to give you an estimate, including the amount of time and work involved, for your type of case. Make sure that you understand the fee arrangement at the initial interview. To avoid misunderstandings, you should insist upon an explanation of the charges.

What If I Have a Complaint Against My Lawyer?

While most clients are satisfied with the services tendered by their lawyers, some clients occasionally are dissatisfied. Most complaints result from a misunderstanding between lawyers and clients and are usually resolved through open discussions, between the parties. But if you and your lawyer cannot come to an agreement, a formal grievance process is available to investigate your complaint.

A lawyer’s conduct is closely governed by the Maryland Rules of Professional Conduct. If a lawyer fails to follow the Maryland Rules, he or she may risk suspension from the practice of law or disbarment. If you believe that your lawyer has acted unethically, you may file a complaint with the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland, 100 Community Place, Suite 3301, Crownsville, Maryland 21032. The Commission will acknowledge your complaint and send it to the lawyer involved for comments. If the complaint is still not resolved between you and your attorney, the Attorney Grievance Commission will conduct an investigation to determine whether the lawyer violated the Maryland Rules. If the Commission’s investigation uncovers a violation, the attorney may be sanctioned by the Court of Appeals of Maryland.

Keep in mind that the nature of the law will always produce a winner and a loser in a lawsuit, and a lawyer cannot guarantee the results of a contested lawsuit. In most cases, an unsuccessful lawsuit is not sufficient grounds for a compliant against your lawyer.

Can I Handle My Own Legal Affairs?

It is illegal for anyone not admitted to practice law in Maryland to give you legal advice or to act on your behalf regarding most legal matters in Maryland. However, a number of do-it-yourself “kits” for getting a divorce, avoiding probate, declaring bankruptcy or forming a business are available for individuals who want to handle these matters on their own. While these forms may be legal for you to use for your own affairs, they often are designed for national use and not tailored to the laws of the state in which you live. On the surface, kits may appear to save you money, but without an attorney’s trained eye and knowledge of Maryland law, you may lose far more than you save by trying to be your own lawyer.

When You Need a Lawyer © 1986, MSBA, Inc. Revised 1996 All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the Maryland State Bar Association.