About Legal Counsel

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Attorney advising clientsThe term “legal counsel” refers to a lawyer or attorney, a legal professional with a license from the government to practice law by assisting and representing clients in legal matters.

When an individual is arrested, they are often eligible for bail and would require the help of legal counsel for their court date. To become licensed, applicants must complete a four-year academic undergraduate degree curriculum, three years of graduate law school study, and a state bar examination successfully.

Bar Examinations

Each state and territorial jurisdiction sets rules for admission to its bar. Applicants for admission must earn Juris Doctor degrees from law schools approved by the jurisdiction and then pass its bar examination. Character and fitness evaluations by bar examiners include background checks. Lawyers admitted to one state bar may not practice automatically in any other. Some states with reciprocity agreements allow attorneys admitted in other states to practice without completing another bar examination.

What Legal Counsel Do

A lawyer or attorney at law in the United States is a professional practitioner legally qualified to prosecute and defend actions on behalf of clients. A 2012 survey * reported that 58 million American sought attorneys in the previous year. Legal counsel can advise clients in situations where they need guidance or represent them in courts and advocate for their claims, interests, and positions in disputes.

When to Use Have Legal Counsel

Some legal tasks are well within the abilities of amateurs who prefer to do things themselves whenever possible, but it is advisable to consult with legal counsel whenever in doubt about the correct course. As a general rule, consult legal counsel whenever a life change occurs, whether an accident, an arrest, a divorce or child custody dispute, a new business startup, or a matter involving valuable property.

Types of Legal Counsel

There are as many types of legal counsel as there are legal fields of practice. There are specialists in bankruptcy, business, criminal, environmental, immigration, and family law, to mention but a few. If in need of legal counsel, it is always advisable to retain lawyers with experience in actual practice in the area of law involved.

Specialization

Many American attorneys limit their practices to specialized fields of law. There are some common distinctions among lawyers according to roles or positions, but these are neither fixed nor formal. Most if not all major corporations employ lawyers as house counsel in their legal departments, or they may retain outside counsel from law firms. Plaintiff and defense lawyers represent opposing sides in civil litigation. Some lawyers handle only cases in their specialty areas of personal injury, domestic relations, and so on. Some litigators may argue cases before trial courts only, others before appellate courts only, and still others before both. Despite these distinctions, some states discourage or even prohibit claims of specialization in particular legal fields without certification as such by state bars.

Selecting and Retaining Legal Counsel

Referrals and recommendations from friends or family members can be useful. Prepare for an initial interview with a prospective lawyer by listing several detailed questions about the legal case or problem needing help. Find out how the lawyer’s practice operates and what to expect as a client. Get specific quotes on legal fees and case costs, and learn about what the range of probable results may be as law is a predictable but not an exact science. In personal injury cases especially but in other cases as well, ask whether contingency fees as percentages of any actual recoveries of damages are available.

Client considerations:

  • Lawyers have two obligations, to uphold the law and to protect client rights. The former, courts say, supersedes the latter.
  • A common misconception is that lawyers spend lots of time in court. Some do, but most spend most of their time out of court in legal research, factual investigations, document drafts, business meetings and conferences, and the like.
  • For clients on tight budgets with relatively simple, uncomplicated legal matters, paralegals may be able to help at lower flat or hourly rates.
  • Instead of a legal professional, consumer advocacy organizations, human resources departments, and other dispute resolution agencies may be able to help.
  • If legal assistance is necessary, there should be no unnecessary delay in seeking it. Clients with meritorious claims should be mindful of filing deadlines under statutes of limitations in force in all jurisdictions. Once those deadlines pass, their potential claims perish and never come to court