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How Can You Tell If You Need a Lawyer?

Written by Teresa Te on September 6, 2017

Nobody likes the idea of needing a lawyer. If you do, it likely means you’re in trouble, or something negative has happened to you. It means you may be responsible for extensive legal fees, and you may be tied up in court for a period of weeks or months.

Still, lawyers provide an important service, and if you’re in a precarious legal situation, it’s generally better to hire one than it is to try and resolve the situation on your own. So how can you tell if a situation warrants a lawyer?

General Tips

There are some general strategies you can use to determine if a lawyer is necessary in a given situation:

  • If you don’t know what’s going on. Yes, it is possible to learn the law and become your own lawyer, but this is almost always inadvisable. Lawyers spend the better part of a decade learning the ins and outs of highly complex laws; you can’t hope to attack your problem with the same level of expertise, even after months of studying. If you don’t know what you’re doing, and you’re in a legally demanding situation, it’s best to hire a lawyer.
  • If you’ve been hurt or taken advantage of. If you’ve been taken advantage of in some way, such as being harassed, being exploited, or being stolen from, it’s probably in your best interest to get help from a lawyer. You may be able to present your case on your own, but a lawyer will fight tirelessly on your behalf to make sure you get what’s fair to you.
  • If the cost of a lawyer is less than the costs you’re facing. This is a fantastic rule of thumb for hiring a lawyer; if you’ll pay less in legal fees than you’ll stand to win in the court decision, go for the hire. For example, if you’re fighting to get back $20,000 you paid for a home repair, and a lawyer costs you $5,000, it’s worth the investment.
  • If you know your issue will have long-term consequences. If you know your decision on a legal matter is going to affect you for years to come, such as splitting ownership of a business or finalizing a divorce, you should hire a lawyer. It’s worth the investment to know the far-reaching consequences of your actions.

If you still aren’t sure, many lawyers offer questionnaires or free consultations to help you decide if their services are right for you.

Specific Situations

If the general guide above doesn’t answer your question, these are some of the most important situations that demand legal representation. This doesn’t list every possible situation that needs a lawyer, but almost all of these common situations are grounds for seeking legal help:

  • Criminal defense. Attorneys are so important for criminal defense that you’ll be appointed one if you’re unable to find one for yourself. If you find yourself arrested for a crime, or facing trial for breaking the law, you should have a lawyer on your side.
  • Tax issues. Tax issues can be particularly damaging. You may end up owing back taxes, or be accused of lying on your tax forms and be charged with a criminal offense; in any case, you’ll want a tax lawyer on your side.
  • Personal injury. If you’ve gotten hurt and someone else is at fault, you should have a lawyer fighting to get your medical bills paid (and compensate you for any work you’ve lost).
  • Divorce. Divorces get messy, especially when it comes to splitting assets fairly and agreeing on custody. Without a lawyer on your side, you may end up with the unfair end of the deal.
  • Business planning. If you’re working on starting and/or growing a business, you should have legal counsel on standby. There are too many zoning and operational issues at stake to trust to your own personal judgment.
  • Harassment. If you’ve been harassed or discriminated against in some way that negatively affects your life, you deserve to be represented by a lawyer in a formal case.

If you’re in doubt about whether or not you should seek a lawyer, it’s okay to go with your gut. Instinctively, you probably realize how severe this situation is, and how it might play out with or without a lawyer involved. Talk to other people in your life, especially if they’ve had experience working with lawyers, and trust your final decision.