When you hire a law firm to represent your interests, it's easy to think of your attorney in much the same way you pay any professional you hire. The nature of what a lawyer does, however, doesn't always lend itself to the same relationship as you might have with a roofer, a plumber, or even a doctor. If you're going through a divorce, for example, you can't just go to the law firm and tell them to make the situation go away. Before you obtain legal counsel, here's what you should understand about the nature of the relationship you'll have with a law firm.
"Give Me a Dollar"
There's an old half-joke in the legal profession where a lawyer, upon being asked for advice, tells the person seeking it, "Give me a dollar." The reason this statement has such staying power in the field of law is that it underpins the first thing that has to happen in order for you to have a binding relationship.
If you go to a law firm for a free consultation, something that a lot of practices offer, you don't have a meaningful legal relationship until two things have happened. First, you have to give them compensation. Second, they have to give you advice, file paperwork on your behalf, or otherwise do something of value for you. Until both of those happen and in that order, all you had was a friendly chat.
Protecting Your Rights and Interests
A lawyer's actual job isn't to make some specific thing happen. It's their job to protect your rights and interests. To the average person, that can sound like a rather nebulous concept. Before the law, however, it has a very clear meaning.
First, your rights are outlined by both the U.S. Constitution and the constitution of the state you live in. A criminal defendant has a right to a fair hearing. They don't have a right to assume their lawyer will go to court and get them off the hook for a charge. They do have a right to due process, though.
Second, a lawyer must represent your interests. This means they must provide you with the best counsel given your circumstances. For example, an injury attorney is expected to tell a client to settle a case if they feel an insurance company's offer is too good to pass up, even if the client wants to fight.