CBA Blog

How do attorneys normally charge clients?

by Albert T. Brown Jr., Lawyer Referral Service Panelist

Lawyers who are retained to represent defendants in criminal matters frequently charge a flat fee payable in advance for the criminal representation, or for payment due at particular stages in the litigation. Those who handle criminal or divorce cases are prohibited from charging a fee that is dependent upon the outcome of the case.  Some routine matters are frequently billed on a flat fee basis.

The second fee system commonly employed is a contingent fee where a civil lawyer can charge a fee based upon the outcome of a particular project.  This could be the size of a verdict or settlement in a personal injury case, the amount of a tax reduction in a reevaluation case, or perhaps the amount of a tax refund in an income tax refund case.

Most other lawyers perform work on a time and materials basis, basing their charges on an hourly rate where the amount of time the lawyer spends on a case is multiplied by that rate to produce a fee due from the client plus expenses.

Lawyers are ethically prevented from charging an unreasonable fee and the factors which determine a reasonable fee are found in the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct 1.5(a)

1. The time and labor required, the novelty and difficulty of the questions involved, and the skill requisite to perform the legal services properly;

2. The likelihood, if apparent to the client, that the acceptance of the particular   employment will preclude other employment by the lawyer;

3. The fee customarily charged in the locality for similar legal services;

4. The amount involved and the results obtained;

5. The time limitations imposed by the client or by the circumstances;

6. The nature and the length of the professional relationship with the client;

7. The experience, reputation and ability of the lawyer or lawyers performing the            services; and

8. Whether the fee is fixed or contingent.

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What if I fire my attorney?

by Steven F. Stuhlbarg, Lawyer Referral Service Panelist

Firing your lawyer can have a high cost.  It may be difficult to find a new lawyer in the middle of a case, and it may be expensive to bring a new lawyer up to speed.  It may be difficult for your new lawyer to meet deadlines that may exist in your legal matter.  And there is no guarantee that you will be any more comfortable with your new lawyer than you were with your old lawyer.

If you do fire your attorney, the discharged attorney still has obligations to you.  He or she must cooperate with you or with your new lawyer in making the transition.  The discharged attorney must return important documents or evidence to you or to your new lawyer.  If you are facing a deadline, the discharged attorney may be obliged to assist you by either getting the court’s permission to extend the deadline, or by helping you or your new lawyer to meet the deadline.  The discharged attorney has a continuing obligation not to disclose confidential information about you, even after he or she no longer represents you, and may not use confidential information about you to take unfair advantage of you.

When you fire an attorney in the middle of a case, the fired attorney is generally entitled to be paid for his or her legitimate work performed on your behalf.  In contingency fee cases, the fired attorney may be entitled to a percentage of the proceeds eventually obtained through settlement or judgment.

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What determines a medical malpractice case?

by John D. Holschuh Jr., Lawyer Referral Service Panelist

In determining if a case involves medical malpractice, it does not matter what the potential client or I as a lawyer might think about the case. In Ohio, whether a case is medical malpractice or not depends upon the expert opinion of a licensed physician, who after reviewing the medical records of the potential case, makes a determination as to its merits. In Ohio, Civil Rule 10 requires that before a medical malpractice complaint may be filed against a physician, there needs to be a sworn affidavit from a physician stating that he or she has reviewed the pertinent medical records and that in his or her opinion there was medical negligence resulting in harm to the client (Kentucky does not have this requirement). There is a provision where you can file a motion to request additional time to file the affidavit.

Additionally, not only does there have to be an affidavit, but the physician signing the affidavit has to be a licensed physician who spends a majority of his or her professional time in the active clinical practice of medicine and/or its teaching at an accredited institution. Further, the physician has to be in the same field of practice or specialty as the area of the potential claim.

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What is a contract?

by Timothy P. Heather, Lawyer Referral Service Panelist

Everyone deals with contracts, almost daily.  Sometimes they are in writing; other times they are spoken.  A contract is a legally binding agreement between two or more persons to do, or not to do, a particular thing. There must be a “quid pro quo” which is a Latin phrase meaning “something for something else.”

There are three basic elements of a contract.  They are:

(1)   An offer;

(2)   An acceptance of the offer;

(3)   Good and valuable consideration to support that an offer has been made and accepted.

Further, there must be reasonable certainty as to what the parties to the contract are supposed to do, or not do, and when they are to do it and the amount of consideration involved.  Also, the parties must be competent to enter into a contract, being of sufficient a

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ge (18 in Ohio), of sound mind, and not under any legal disability.


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What do I tell the police when I am in a car accident?

by Timothy B. Heather, Lawyer Referral Service Panelist

If you are in a car accident, cooperate with the police, making sure to provide your driver’s license, vehicle registration, and insurance card.  Try to avoid discussing what happened with anyone other than the police.  Limit your discussions to only setting forth the facts and do not make accusations and do not admit that the accident was your fault, even if you think it was.  There may be some unknown factors which played a role in the accident which could make the liability situation different than what you initially perceive it to be.

Don’t assume that the responding law enforcement officer will compile a thorough and complete report and interview all witnesses.  Frequently, they don’t.  Get the names, telephone numbers and addresses of all drivers, passengers and witnesses involved in the accident.  Obtain license plate numbers and driver’s license numbers, the names of the insurance companies of all drivers involved, the registered owners of all cars, the year, make and model of all cars, and the names and badge numbers of all law enforcement officers and medical emergency personnel. 

You should also write a detailed description of how the accident occurred which you can rely on later if you forget any of the facts.  Include a map of the accident scene showing the direction of the vehicles before the accident and the positions where they came to rest.  If you have a camera, take pictures of the accident scene, vehicles and people.  If you don’t, as soon as possible after the accident, return to the scene to properly record all physical evidence, some of which will soon disappear such as vehicle debris and skid marks.

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What kinds of bankruptcy are there?

by Mark E. Godbey, Lawyer Referral Service Panelist

There are four types of bankruptcy cases provided under the law:

  • Chapter 7 is known as “straight” bankruptcy or “liquidation.” It requires a debtor to give up property which exceeds certain limits called “exemptions,” so the property can be sold to pay creditors.
  • Chapter 11, known as “reorganization,” is used by businesses and a few individual debtors whose debts are very large.
  • Chapter 12 is reserved for family farmers and fishermen.
  • Chapter 13 is called “debt adjustment.” It requires a debtor to file a plan to pay debts (or parts of debts) from current income.

Most people filing bankruptcy will want to file under either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13.  Either type of case may be filed individually or by a married couple filing jointly.

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What if I’m not happy with my attorney?

by Steven F. Stuhlbarg, Lawyer Referral Service Panelist

If you are not happy with what your attorney is telling you, you can obtain a second opinion.  You don’t need to fire your first lawyer before consulting with a new one, and a one-time consultation with a new lawyer may be a lot less expensive than firing your first lawyer and hiring a new one.  If you choose this option, confide in the second lawyer, and be honest about your concerns with the first lawyer.  It is possible that the second lawyer may have insights that may help to put you at ease, or that may assist you to work things out with your first lawyer.

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My employer is ignoring our employment contract, what can I do?

By Elizabeth S. Loring, Lawyer Referral Service Panelist

That depends primarily on the terms of the employment contract and what your employer is doing to violate it.  Again, you should seek the advice of an employment attorney. They will give you the advice you need to understand whether a breach of the contract has occurred, your rights and responsibilities under the employment contract, and whether challenging your employer on those rights is advisable.

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What is allowed in an employment contract (or what is not allowed)?

By Elizabeth S. Loring, Lawyer Referral Service Panelist

There is very little that is not allowed to be included in an employment contract in Ohio.  That is why it is very important to have an attorney look at your employment contract to make sure you’re entering into an agreement that is legal, as beneficial for you as possible, and protects you in the event things do not work out as you hoped.  It’s much easier – and thus typically less expensive – to protect yourself against potential problems before you enter into an employment contract than it is to correct issues after you sign it.

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If I get fired is my non-compete still enforceable?

By Elizabeth S. Loring, Lawyer Referral Service Panelist

Every non-compete agreement is different, so you really don’t know unless you seek the advice of an attorney.  In Ohio, the fact that your employer terminated you does not automatically mean that the non-compete is invalid.   This is why it’s very important to talk to somebody who understands the legality of non-compete agreements and can offer sound advice about what your rights and responsibilities are going forward.  Ideally, you should consult an attorney before signing the non-compete.  Often the terms are negotiable, but even if they are not, you should know what you are getting yourself into.  Whether you are terminated or you quit, it is especially important to have a lawyer review your non-compete prior to applying for employment that could violate the agreement.  A good employment lawyer will tell you what you can and cannot do under the agreement, and might be able negotiate your way out of the non-compete or minimize the restrictions.

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