Smith, Burnett & Hagerman, LLC

Choosing a Lawyer

Naturally, we'd like everyone who needs a lawyer in SW Kansas to consider our firm. On the other hand, this firm handles certain matters and not others. Most lawyers and their law firms are that way. Part of the initial conferences between lawyers and clients determine the scope of legal services the lawyer can provide to you.

These conferences also allow the lawyer to get enough information from you about possible adverse parties to determine if there might be a conflict of interest in representing you. Or, they can perhaps assist with referring you to another attorney.

Going through the phone books isn't always the best way, although most lawyers list themselves there. Start with the basics. The Kansas Bar Association has a statewide lawyer referral service. Try 800-928-3111. Or visit this link:

This KBA website lists some other options too. Check with other professionals in the area for their recommendations.

Discussing Fees. If the lawyer doesn't mention fees at your initial interview with the lawyer, ask about them. While discussing the total cost of legal representation is important, unless the lawyer is charging a set fee for a given legal service, discussions of total fees are just educated guesses. Fees depend on what kind of legal need you have and the degree a legal matter might be contested. Lawyers generally charge either fixed amounts for services, such as a contract or a legal deed of property from a seller to a buyer. They can charge by the hour, or other forms of compensation such as a contingent fee. There might be combinations of hourly rates and contingencies. All fee discussions are about contractual relations and the attorney may ask you to sign a contract. That is appropriate.

We often see contingent fee contracts in personal injury matters, like car accidents, medical malpractice, product liability, or workers compensation issues. Kansas rules of professional conduct for lawyers require contingent fee contracts to be in writing and signed by the parties.

Other firms use engagement letters on all types of matters. Some firms use engagement letters detailing the fee structure and what will be done for the client. The client is often asked to approve the document by signing it and returning a copy to the lawyer. Other firms will send you "nonengagement" letters if they cannot handle your matter.

A lawyer might turn down your representation for a host of valid reasons. One reason might be the lack of a "fit." Do you and your lawyer share the goals of representation? A lawyer who is a city or county prosecutor may not feel comfortable taking a criminal defense matter. A lawyer may decline if the lawyer does not handle the sort of case, you bring him or her. Perhaps a personal injury attorney will not represent you on your claim for damages because the damages are too small. Nobody likes being told that. However, keep in mind most personal injury lawyers pay for investigative expenses "up front," and are facing well-funded insurance companies. The risk-reward analysis becomes significant. If you have $25,000 in out-of-pocket medical expenses but the claim is so complex that it requires use of expert witnesses that may cost $75,000, your claim may not be accepted.

Sometimes a lawyer cannot handle your matter now because the lawyer is too busy at that moment for other clients. A lawyer preparing for trial on a lengthy and complex matter might be so busy that there is no time to handle a new matter for a new client. If you want that attorney to handle your matter, you'll have to wait and work your way into the attorney's schedule.

Persevere. If you have a valid legal matter, there is usually a lawyer "out there" who can handle your legal matter. Keep looking.