As of 2019, the U.S. had over 1.35 million lawyers. Most people go their entire lives without ever hiring a lawyer. However, a professional lawyer can help with small problems, like a dispute with a neighbor over the exact location of your property boundary, and large problems, like an arrest for a major felony.
Law students are educated for three years in a full-time law school program or longer in a part-time law school program. During this time, all students take classes in the basics — property, contracts, criminal, and constitutional law. Most students also take elective courses in topics that interest them, such as wills and trusts, patent, tax, or bankruptcy law.
After the student graduates from law school, he or she can apply to practice in any state. Most states require students to pass a written test, called a bar exam, and a background check to become a lawyer.
Professional lawyer services include representation in court, but also drafting legal documents and correspondence, conducting legal research, and providing legal advice. Although most states do not certify specialists in any field of law, lawyers usually focus on a particular field that interests them. Here are ten situations in which you may need a lawyer.
Most lawyers focus on either civil law or criminal law. Civil lawyers deal with transactions and disputes between parties. Criminal lawyers deal with cases where the state is attempting to punish you for violating the law. For example, getting a DUI citation or being arrested for shoplifting may land you in court for a criminal case.
Criminal lawyers provide representation before the court to protect your constitutional rights and present your defenses. Providing a vigorous criminal defense may be critical to your future. Courts can sentence people found guilty of criminal offenses to imprisonment, fines, community service, and drug or alcohol treatment. A court can also order the suspension of your driver’s license, forfeiture of property, and restrictions on contact with victims.
Personal injury lawyers include car accident lawyers but can also include other forms of injury. Personal injury is a catchall term for cases in which you suffer an injury due to the actions or inactions of someone else. For example, personal injury can result from:
- Auto accidents
- Workplace accidents
- Intentional violence directed at you
- Negligence of someone that causes injury to you
- Hazardous conditions on someone else’s property
- Medical malpractice
- Unsafe products
- Toxic exposure
Professional lawyers who practice personal injury law usually advise clients to follow a similar process regardless of how they are injured.
First, seek emergency care. This will address any immediate medical problems
Second, document what happened. For example, for a car accident, photos of the scene that show the roads, road signage, and cars involved in the accident can help the lawyer piece together what happened.
Third, collect all documents that show medical expenses, property damage, lost wages and other damages you may have suffered as a result of the incident.
With all of this information, a personal injury lawyer should be able to tell you the likelihood of success. Lawyers have many options for seeking compensation. Car accidents are often resolved through an insurance company settlement. If insurance is inadequate or does not cover your injury, a lawsuit may be filed against a wrongdoer. Finally, workplace injuries usually require you to file a workers’ compensation claim rather than a lawsuit.
Some states require home buyers to hire a lawyer to draft sales documents, conduct title searches, and handle the closing. States that require you to hire a professional lawyer include Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia.
However, there are benefits to hiring a lawyer when you are buying property even if your state does not require it. A lawyer can spot issues that may interfere with your use and enjoyment of the property including:
- Structures that were not built or permitted according to local ordinances.
- Structures that cross over property boundaries.
- Problems found during a home inspection.
- Easements crossing the property.
- Liens on the property.
- Squatters in the home.
- An incomplete or muddy title history.
In these circumstances, a professional lawyer can structure a sales contract that protects you while still closing the deal. A lawyer can negotiate warranties or additional consideration for purchasing real estate that has problems. In this respect, a lawyer may not only protect your legal rights but may also get you a better deal on real estate.
Legal protection is particularly important when your purchase is an investment. When you invest in real estate, you do not need problems with the property to diminish its value. By obtaining guarantees from the seller, you can terminate the deal or seek damages if the property is not exactly as promised.
If you have been disabled and cannot work, the Social Security Administration or the Department of Veterans Affairs may be able to provide benefits. These benefits can be necessary to replace lost wages and pay for necessities such as medical treatment and equipment like hospital bed frames.
You can file a disability claim without hiring a lawyer. However, both these agencies have many rules and procedures that might trip up someone who does not deal with them frequently.
There are several points where you can use the services of a professional lawyer to assist in the process of obtaining disability benefits:
- Preparing the claim. The claim usually includes medical records and a doctor’s opinion about the impact of the medical disability on your ability to work. If the claim is incomplete or ambiguous, these agencies can reject your disability claim. A rejection may add months or years to your wait for disability benefits. If you hire a lawyer, you may increase your chances of getting approved the first time.
- Responding to a claim denial. Claims may be denied on the facts (such as insufficient or contradictory medical reports) or law (such as an insufficient explanation about how the disability justifies benefits). A professional lawyer can help you figure out why the claim was denied and how to respond to it.
- Responding to a notice to terminate benefits. Although you fought hard to obtain disability benefits, they are usually not permanent. The government can terminate your benefits if it obtains evidence that your condition has improved. Unfortunately, these notices sometimes feel like the agency is just trying to save money by cutting off your benefits. Working with a lawyer to respond to a termination notice can help you save your disability benefits.
Receiving mail from the IRS or your state tax agency is usually not a reason to celebrate. Tax law is complicated even for tax lawyers and accountants, and tax agencies can find errors in almost every filing if they look hard enough.
If you ignore a tax notice or fail to rebut a claim that you owe additional taxes, the IRS can garnish your wages, levy your bank accounts, seize property, and even send you to jail. On the other hand, if you respond to the tax notice, you or your lawyer may be able to negotiate a payment plan that can keep you in the IRS’s good graces.
Taxation is one example where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Working with a professional lawyer can help you to minimize mistakes in your tax filings and remain compliant with your tax payments. Remaining in compliance can substantially reduce the likelihood of receiving a tax notice.
When a supervisor deprives you of opportunities or creates unbearable working conditions due to your race, national origin, religion, age, gender, or disability, you may be able to file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC investigates violations of U.S. civil rights laws and can order your employer to remedy any discriminatory practices.
Moreover, the EEOC can order your employer to pay damages to you and other employees who experienced discrimination. For example, if you were passed over for promotions, pay raises, training opportunities, or other employment benefits due to discrimination, a professional lawyer may be able to petition the EEOC for compensation to make up for the lost benefits.
Open a Business
A lawyer can be indispensable when opening a new business. Many aspiring business owners do not even know where to start. They just have a dream and the drive to try to make it into a reality.
Hiring a lawyer gives you someone who can focus on the legal and regulatory issues that come up when opening a new business so you can focus on your dream. Here are just a few tasks a professional lawyer can undertake to support your new business venture:
- File and obtain business licenses.
- Create a workers’ compensation compliance plan.
- Write an employee handbook and help develop employment policies.
- Help you to comply with sales tax and employment tax laws.
- Review property leases and vendor contracts.
- File trademark applications or fictitious name filings.
- Prepare and obtain patents for new inventions.
- Form your business entity.
The last step may be the most important. There are various trade-offs when choosing the form of a business entity. Corporations may be subject to greater tax burdens than “pass through” tax entities like limited liability companies and S corporations. However, it is sometimes more difficult for LLCs and S corporations to bring in investors. Discussing your plans for your business can help you to avoid re-forming your business entity later on.
There are many services offer to repair your credit and reputation after identity theft. While it may be possible for you to detect fraud and work with credit reporting bureaus to fix incorrect entries, you will spend a lot of time educating yourself and making phone calls before you finally accomplish your goal.
When you hire a professional lawyer after identity theft, you get all the experience of the lawyer’s staff. A law firm that is experienced in detecting fraud and fixing credit reports can quickly and accurately accomplish your goals.
Moreover, a lawyer can work with law enforcement to identify the thief and attempt to hold the thief responsible. Once identified, a lawyer can file a lawsuit against the thief for both the property taken, but also the cost of repairing the reputational damage.
Family lawyers handle a wide range of cases. Some are emotionally difficult, like divorces and child custody determinations. Some are celebratory, like adoptions.
Divorces can be complicated and contentious. A divorce separates property, decides child custody, and imposes support obligations on the parties.
- Property separation. Some states use a community property theory of marital property which means that everything obtained during the marriage must be divided equally. Other states use an equitable division theory of marital property, which means that a judge weighs how to allocate property. In either case, a lawyer is essential to ensure that you receive your fair share in a divorce decree.
- Child custody. When deciding child custody, courts use a “best interests of the child” test. This is deliberately vague, allowing both parents to present reasons why their version of the custody arrangement will be in the child’s best interests. Having a lawyer to present a logical and coherent case can be the difference between a fair custody and visitation arrangement and estrangement from your children.
- Spousal and child support. Most states use a fixed table for deciding child support and spousal support. However, a divorce lawyer will often be needed to uncover all the marital assets, including assets hidden by the other spouse, so that the tables can be used accurately.
On the other end of the spectrum, family lawyers can also help smooth out happy legal situations like surrogacy arrangements and adoptions. Most states have many laws and procedures for regulating adoptions and surrogacy. These regulations are difficult to navigate without the assistance of a professional lawyer.
The only guarantees in life are death and taxes. You already know to call a lawyer about taxes. You should also know to call a lawyer about death.
Planning ahead for your estate can ease your death on your friends and relatives. You can ensure that they will not be slammed with taxes on your estate and that your property will pass the way you intended.
Failing to work with a lawyer can lead you into traps that can frustrate your intentions. Holographic wills, the technical term for handwritten wills, are usually not valid. This means that without a lawyer, you must educate yourself on how to write a valid will. Any mistake can turn family members against each other.
Worse yet, taxes can take a toll on property passed by will. If you have a lot of assets, much of it may end up being sold just to pay taxes.
Structuring your estate through trusts can help, but require some legal savvy. Hiring a lawyer can smooth the path to forming a living trust that can pass your assets to your survivors in a much less burdensome way.
You should not be intimidated from meeting with a lawyer when you face complicated and potentially life-changing legal issues. Whether these problems arise in the criminal legal system, family court, or civil court, hiring a lawyer can ensure that your personal rights are preserved and you receive a fair opportunity to present your case.