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How to Research and Employ an Attorney
At some time in their life, most New York City residents will need to employ an attorney. This may reflect the need to make a will, a landlord-tenant dispute, a divorce, an accusation that one has committed a crime or as a result of a foreclosure or a business dispute. While there are certain legal resources available to those who have limited financial means and there are always attorneys from the larger and more expensive law firms who are employed by landlords, banks, corporations or the wealthy, many other New Yorkers may have a need for legal representation and may not know how or where to find it.
In New York City, there are resources for those of moderate means who need to find an attorney, and then wish to find out more about that attorney. For example, one can obtain the name of a lawyer or law practice, contact information and often certain other background information including education and practice specialties at the Science, Industry and Business Library ("SIBL") of the New York Public Library by consulting the current and back editions of the Martindale-Hubble Law Directory in print or online. It is also possible to do one's own legal research at SIBL. Other online directories that permit you to search for an attorney by practice area and location are the FindLaw Lawyer Directory and HG.org.
If you are thinking of employing any attorney — whether obtained from a directory or other source — you should first verify the most basic information about him or her: whether the lawyer is licensed to practice in the State of New York; office location, the number of years in practice, and law school. This information is always available at the Attorney Search database maintained by the Uniform Court System of the State of New York or by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org or 212-428-2800.
You may wish to contact the Referral Service of the New York City Bar ("LRS") that is available by telephone at: (212) 626-7373 and in Spanish at: (212) 626-7374. There is no charge for the conversation or the referral. Any attorney that LRS refers you to holds a license, is not the subject of any malpractice or disciplinary proceeding and has experience with the relevant legal issue. You are then entitled to an initial consultation of up to a half hour with the lawyer you are referred to. That consultation is free if it concerns an injury due to an accident or a faulty product, the negligence of a doctor, or a worker's compensation or Social Security claim. If you obtain a referral about any other legal problem, a half hour consultation will cost $35.
The LRS also frequently runs at no charge a "Monday Night Clinic." At this clinic — which does require an appointment in advance at LRS telephone numbers above — an attorney will meet with you for a half hour at no charge to discuss specific issues: Landlord-Tenant; Family Law (Divorce; Child Support; Domestic Violence); Consumer Rights (including Foreclosure, Credit Card Debt and Consumer Fraud); Bankruptcy Proceedings and Employment Rights and Discrimination in the Workplace (as to Race, Sex or Sexual Preference).
Other ways a New York City resident may obtain legal representation:
- If you employ an attorney to represent you, any fee — whether in a civil or a criminal action — may be the subject of a negotiation.
- There are a number of programs for those over age 60 with no means test, including those of the New York City Department for the Aging. Other programs address: Medicare, Medigap and Medicaid, Consumer Fraud, Living Wills and Powers of Attorney and other legal issues that affect those over 60.
- Contingent Fee Matters where there is no "upfront" payment by the client. If you have been harmed by another (e.g., in an automobile accident, at the workplace, or by a doctor) an attorney may represent you on a contingent fee basis (at no cost to you — unless you obtain a Judgment or Settlement from the responsible party — in which case the attorney may receive up to one third of the recovery.) Attorneys advertise to obtain clients on this basis. However, it is always a good idea to check the attorney's level of experience, areas of expertise and honesty.
- There is also an effort to provide those of moderate means with greater access to legal assistance on certain matters: Consumer's Rights, Family Law Issues, Home Mortgage Foreclosures, Bankruptcy, and Small Business issues. Many organizations that provide legal assistance to those of lesser means are flexible with respect to means tests.