How Do People Select Rhode Island Divorce Attorneys to Interview?

Let’s face it. Rhode Island lawyers and lawyers in general are officers of the court. We’re supposed to be servants of the public. Yet at the same same we’re independent practitioners and we we’ve got a job to do and money to bring in through our private practice or we don’t survive.

It’s no wonder Rhode Island Lawyers are viewed with skepticism and even cynicism, especially when it’s time to hire one and you’re not sure who to hire or what to do. Here you are, you have a legal issue that needs to be addressed and you take the time to try to identify an attorney who will meet your needs.

It’s easy for questions to surface as to whether the attorney you’re interviewing is looking out for your best interests or simply looking out for his or her own interests and making some money to put food on his or her own table. It is, in fact, appropriate for you to question the attorney’s motives. The best time to do that is at the time you interview the attorney.

You should know that when you set up an appointment to see an attorney, YOU are interviewing the attorney just as much as the attorney is interviewing YOU.

So how do people generally go about choosing an attorney?

1) A referral from a friend or family member.

This is a good source of referrals for the attorney, but is the attorney right for YOU? What did the attorney do for that friend or family member who made the referral? Did the attorney settle a personal injury case? That’s not going to do you much good if you need someone for a family law matter. If your referral isn’t to an attorney that regularly practices in the area of law you need and it isn’t from a person who used those same type of family law services then the referral is “empty”, in other words a referral should be better than just hunting around in the yellow pages. It should provide some valuable reassurance that the attorney you’ve been referred to, can and has already provided valuable an competent services to the person who is making the referral to you, and that those services are in the area of law that you need help with. Without that criteria, the referral is “Empty”.

2) An advertisement in the yellow pages.

This is of course an even less effective way to select a suitable lawyer to interview than the referral from a friend or family member who did not use the attorney for the same type of legal services that you are in need of. When you just select attorneys out of the yellow pages you will most likely do like everyone else does. You select the attorney based on the advertisement itself, particularly its size and its wording. Unfortunately neither of these are indicators that the attorney is competent or will serve you well in the area of law you are in need of. Imagine that you are in need of a divorce attorney and you select the attorney’s advertisement that is the largest and includes the words “Estates”, “Personal Injury Cases”, and Divorces, etc… with 15 years in practice”.

First, that advertisement probably cost quite a bit since even small advertisements in the yellow pages run $3,000 to $5,000 a year. From there you can take a guess who has to pay for just that single marketing ad. That’s right…that attorney’s clients. You can almost certainly plan to pay more for an attorney with a decent sized yellow page ad. Conversely, that attorney might be worth it if you select just the right one.

Second, the “15 years in practice” tells you one of two things. Either that you are going to pay more for those years of experience or that he has been doing “something” law-related for 15 years. I know attorneys who have been in practice for 20 years and have handled perhaps 10 divorces in that amount of time. By the same token the advertisement above wouldn’t seem as impressive if you knew that the attorney only handled 4 divorces within his 15 years of practice. That might not want to be the attorney you want to represent you if you need a Rhode Island Divorce attorney and complex divorce issues regarding pensions, alimony and tax consequences on the sale of a home come into play.

3) Search for the kind of Rhode Island lawyer you want on the internet.

This is becoming more and more the method of searching for attorneys in the technoliterate sector of society. Those who choose this method of searching can go to Google.com or another search site of their choice and type in the various terms they want to search on. Searchers can also vary their search terms if the results do not suit them. The main benefit to searching the internet to find Rhode Island attorneys to interview is the third party nature of the ranking system. In a search system such as Google.com, the primary listings are ranked by criteria that are not controlled by attorney. It is Google’s system that analyzes the attorney’s websites and/or pages and determines from there whether the attorney’s website matches the criteria you are looking for. In this way you are getting an unbiased selection of attorney websites to review.

Secondarily, if you are searching on the internet for an attorney, you will know if the attorney has a website or not. This will at least give you some indication that the attorney has kept up with technology. If he or she has done so then if it is important to be able to communicate with your attorney by email this may be a factor in your decision to interview that particular attorney. The information on the website of the attorney is also likely to be the most focused regarding what his or her primary practice areas. In some instances the attorney’s website will provide the most valuable information about the attorney in order to decide which attorneys to interview.

Does Having an Attorney Determine Whether You Win or Lose Your Social Security Disability Case?

Did you know you can increase your odds of winning your Social Security (SSA) Disability case by more than 50% if you are represented by an attorney? Simply put, that’s a dramatic difference and one that every Social Security disability applicant should heed.

Congressional and SSA’s own statistics confirm this statement is true. The statistic came to light in November 2001, during Congressional testimony provided by Congressman Robert T. Matsui of California. During the hearing Congressman Matsui provided the following testimony:

“Professional representation is a valuable-and indeed vital-service. The disability determination process is complex. Claimants without professional representation appear to be far less likely to receive the benefits to which they are entitled. For example, in 2000, 64% of claimants represented by an attorney, but only 40% of those without one, were awarded benefits at the hearing level.”[1]

At the same hearing, Congressman E. Clay Shaw, Jr. of Florida provided the following testimony:

“As many of you know, filing for Social Security benefits-especially disability benefits-is so complicated that many claimants must hire attorneys to guide them through the process.” [2]

Please understand I am not suggesting that you must have an attorney in order to win your disability case. People can and do win their cases on their own. In fact, SSA does not require you to have an attorney, you can represent yourself; but why on earth would you? Congressional and SSA’s own statistics show dramatic differences in the outcomes of cases depending on whether an attorney is involved.

I have debated for years on whether to write an article on why one should hire a disability attorney. I did not want the article to be viewed as self-serving for either myself or my profession. I am aware of the unfortunate stature attorneys hold in our society, some of which is deserved. I always enjoy the look in a person’s eyes when they learn I am an attorney; it is clear they are searching their mind to share the latest attorney joke…and most are very funny!

However, the testimony of Congressmen Matsui and Shaw confirms what SSA and many disability attorneys have known for years. With such a compelling statistic, it is my hope this article is viewed as educational, rather than self-serving.

So you know the difference a disability attorney can make in your case…what can do you do about it? For those of you who are now considering hiring an attorney, let me provide you with some basic information to assist you in your decision.

1. You only pay an Attorney’s fee if you win your Case!

The number one question on people’s minds is, “How can I afford an attorney when I am not working?” The answer is simple…you only pay the attorney a fee if you win your case. You do not pay an attorney upfront. Generally, every disability attorney will represent you on a contingency fee basis. Simply put, this means you do not pay an attorney’s fee unless you win your case. Thus, everyone seeking disability benefits can afford an attorney. The question you should be asking yourself is “can I afford not to be represented by an attorney?”

2. General information regarding the attorney’s fees

The SSA and federal law set the attorney’s fees in disability cases. The standard fee agreement most attorneys use states the attorney’s fee is contingent upon winning your case. The fee is 25% of all past due benefits for you and your family, up to a maximum of $5,300, or whichever is less. Some attorneys may use a fee agreement which provides for a maximum fee of $7,000.

It is worth noting that on February 1, 2002, SSA increased the maximum standard fee amount to $5,300 from $4,000. This is the first time the fee has been increased since 1990 and simply represented a cost of living adjustment.

Thus, the attorney’s fees are usually only a fraction of the benefits you receive; depending on the amount of your past due benefits, it can be a very small fraction.

3. What is my case worth if I win?

The answer to this question depends on a number of factors including…how long you have been disabled, when or if you will ever return to work, the amount of your monthly benefit and whether you have eligible dependents.

For example, if you are 45 years old, your monthly benefit amount is $1,000, and you do not return to work before age 65; your case can easily be worth $250,000! This amount does not include the value of the Medicare or Medicaid insurance you will be eligible for after being found disabled. As many of you know, the price of medical insurance in middle age, with pre-existing medical conditions, can be staggering and not affordable. This of course assumes that an insurance company is willing to insure you.

4. Why you increase your odds of winning your case if you hire a Disability Attorney

There are many reasons hiring an attorney can significantly increase the odds of winning your case. One significant reason is that disability attorneys understand the complicated laws and regulations that determine success or failure. Two questions I always ask potential clients are, “Do you know what you need to prove in order to win your case?” and “If you do not know, how are you going to go about proving it?

You should hire an attorney who specializes in Social Security disability law. Furthermore, I believe it is important to hire an attorney who has expertise in representing people with your type of diagnosis. It is important that your attorney believes in your case and that they can win it. I suggest you ask the attorney how much experience they have with your type of diagnosis and how often do they win? Any disability attorney should be willing to provide you with this information.

5. What an Attorney should do to increase the odds of winning your case

From the beginning, the attorney should set forth a strategy that you both of you should follow to win your case. It is critical to understand what is necessary to prove your case and how you will go about winning it. The sooner you know this, the sooner you can take steps to execute the strategy and thereby increase your odds of winning. Thus, you should consult with and hire an attorney either when you file your claim or as soon thereafter as possible.

Based on my experience in representing clients nationwide (remember Social Security is federal law and not state specific); literally none of them had a strategy or plan on how to win their case before they hired me. This is important because most of them were simply “doing whatever SSA told them to do” while their claim was being processed. This included seeing SSA’s doctors for an examination that often results in a denial of their claim.

It is important to understand that SSA is only obligated to investigate your case and is not charged with approving it. I am not suggesting that SSA denies every claim; I’m simply stating that my experience after having successfully represented many clients whose claims were previously denied by SSA because evidence was not obtained, not reviewed or SSA focused on what it wanted to in order to support a denial.

In conclusion, if you are contemplating filing a claim for SSA Disability benefits, I encourage you to consult with an attorney as soon as possible to help you understand the process. The consultation should not cost you anything except your time. By understanding the process and having a strategy, you will significantly increase your odds of winning your case.

Congressional and Social Security’s statistics do not lie – it is penny wise and pound foolish not to hire a disability attorney.

[1] November 16, 2001 CONGRESSIONAL RECORD, Testimony of Honorable Robert T. Matsui of California, regarding the Attorney Fee Payment System Improvement Act 2001.

[2] November 16, 2001 CONGRESSIONAL RECORD, Testimony of Honorable E. Clay Shaw of Florida, regarding the Attorney Fee Payment System Improvement Act 2001.

Selecting a Divorce Attorney

Selecting a divorce attorney is a critical decision making process. The person who you hire will be responsible for obtaining or maintaining your custody rights to your children, your property interests, and depending upon the side you are one, either minimizing or maximizing your support rights.

In reality, selecting a divorce attorney is also an incredibly stressful experience. Do it right and you can breath easy. Do it wrong and you will spend years making up for losses that might have been prevented.

There are a few tried and true tactics that you should be using when you select a divorce attorney. Before you even begin, you need to identify the type of case that you will be involved in. Will you be mediating your divorce? Will you be negotiating? Or, will your case be one of those cases that goes to court and becomes a knock down, drag out divorce litigation?

There are divorce attorneys who specialize in these different types of cases and you need to hire the type of divorce attorney who is best suited to the type of case that you have. If you need to deal with a knock down, drag out litigation, you do not want a mediation attorney trying to protect your interests. Likewise, if you are going through mediation, the last thing you want is a divorce attorney who will try to create issues and move you towards litigation.

So, step one in the process of selecting a divorce attorney is to identify the type of case that you have. Next, start asking people for help. Since the divorce rate in the United States is at about 50%, chances are you know at least several people who have been through a divorce. Ask about their process, how they selected a divorce
attorney, and how their attorney performed for them.

AFter you have received the names of several divorce attorneys that you received from asking other people, go online and start researching those attorneys and others. Many divorce attorneys have websites, write articles, and advertise on divorce portal websites. You can get quite a bit of information about how an attorney approaches cases and treats clients by reviewing their website.

After you have reviewed the divorce attorney websites, make a list of at least two and as many as five divorce attorneys who you think you will be comfortable speaking with. Call the offices of those divorce attorneys and schedule consultations. Some of those attorneys will charge you for a consultation; the more experience the attorney has, the more likely that you will have to pay for time with that attorney.

When you attend a consultation with a divorce attorney, be prepared. Make an outline of the history of your marriage and the problems facing you now. If you or your spouse has filed any papers in court, make sure you bring them with you. Bring one or two years tax returns or a recent financial statement so that the divorce attorney can review some of your financial data before being asked questions about “results”.

Make sure you ask each divorce attorney questions about how that attorney’s office operates in response to client phone calls, emails, or other inquiries or needs. If you will be working with a divorce attorney who has no other attorney in their office, be prepared to wait in line when you have a need for a response. That attorney will have other clients who have needs just as significant as yours, and an attorney can be responsive to only one client at a time. Even with that drawback, there may be a divorce attorney who you feel is just right for you who is also a solo practitioner. That is a trade off that you may have to get comfortable with.

After you have completed all of the consultations and reviewed the answers to all of your questions, decide which divorce attorney you felt most comfortable with and which one you believe will work with you to get the type of results that you want.results that you want.