Need an attorney? Yellow Pages directories are full of them – over 250 pages worth between the Las Vegas and Reno phone books. But is thumbing through the phone book a smart way to find legal representation? According to some of Nevada’s most prominent law firms, asking questions is the only answer.
Bankruptcy is big business. In fact, the Administrative Office of the Courts reported 1,654,847 bankruptcy filings in the United States between March 2003 and March 2004. But because of the intricacies and rules regarding bankruptcy, consumers must do their homework first.
“The biggest thing any consumer of legal services should look for is experience,” said Nancy Allf of Allf, Paustian & Szostek, a Las Vegas-based firm specializing in bankruptcy law. “Attorneys are all very specialized these days. Even bankruptcy lawyers have sub-specialties.”
Allf advises consumers to learn specifically what their needs are: Do you need a debtor or creditor lawyer? Then, is your bankruptcy a Chapter 7, 13 or 11? Hourly rates range from $150 to $350 per hour.
Civil litigation encompasses almost every area of law. According to George F. Ogilvie III, partner at McDonald Carano Wilson LLP, clients should interview attorneys with questions such as how many similar cases the attorney has handled, how many similar cases he or she has taken to trial, what strategies the attorney would employ in this matter, and more. Ogilvie’s firm represents publicly traded corporations, national and regional companies and large and medium-sized local businesses in the vast majority of their legal needs,
“When it comes to qualifications, ask about the number of jury and non-jury trials the attorney has first-chaired, the types of cases those trials handled, and his or her knowledge and familiarity with the judges,” said Ogilvie. “Generally, the attorney should have a great deal of courtroom and deposition experience.”
While rates will vary depending on the area of law, hourly rates for experienced attorneys in Las Vegas range from $200 to $550 per hour.
According to Greg Gilbert, a partner at Snell & Wilmer in the firm’s business and construction and litigation practice, construction law is a complex area that involves many disciplines.
“A potential client should inquire about the attorney’s experience in the construction industry, client repertoire, and past transactional and litigation experience, along with the type of seminars the attorney frequently attends,” said Gilbert. “Find out whether the attorney represents contractors, subcontractors, owners, material suppliers and so on. The answers to these questions can have a significant impact upon the attorney’s perspective and approach to construction issues. Look for an attorney who is well-rounded and understands construction matters from all perspectives.”
Gilbert said rates depend on the case and the jurisdiction, but the lawyer should be flexible depending upon the amount of time, energy and investment the case will require.
“Family law involves intensely personal issues and often emotional responses, as well as difficult issues,” said Thomas J. Standish, a partner with Jolley Urga Wirth Woodbury & Standish, a firm with a widely diversified practice. “The challenge for any good family-law attorney is to balance the aggressive representation of the client with a conscientious approach to constructive solutions in the case, particularly with the best interests of children in mind.”
Standish advises consumers to ask questions about the attorney’s general background and the makeup of the firm and to determine whether or not the attorney being interviewed will be the lead attorney on the case.
“The attorney must be intimately familiar with the local court system, the judges hearing the cases, the procedures of the courthouse and the likely opposing counsel in the family-law bar,” said Standish. “If you have a matter which you anticipate will be difficult or complex, I strongly recommend you select only those attorneys who specialize in or devote the vast majority of their practice solely to family law. ”
Standish said hourly rates vary widely, but those for contested family-law matters can range from $150 to $400 per hour.
According to two top firms, intellectual property law is a unique mix of legal and technical expertise. “I would ask about the attorney’s experience in the field. This is especially true concerning patent law, which is the most-encountered species of intellectual property law,” said Ken D’Alesandro, founding shareholder of Northern Nevada’s Sierra Patent Group, a firm providing counseling in intellectual property matters including patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade-secret matters. “Patent lawyers are required to have a technical undergraduate degree or equivalent. It is extremely important to match the technology background of your patent attorney with the technical field related to the invention. It is also desirable that the lawyer have actual experience in that field.”
Mark G. Tratos, co-founder and president of Quirk & Tratos, a firm offering a full range of intellectual property and entertainment services, said it is appropriate and advisable to ask for a representative list of the firm’s clients, especially in the area in which the consumer is seeking representation.
“Keep in mind, however, that the attorney and law firm are required by law to keep their clients’ information confidential,” said Tratos. “Because of the confidential nature of legal services, you cannot expect to get a full report on specific matters handled by the law firm. Instead, you can ask about types of clients and types of matters handled.”
As for rates, Tratos said they range from $175 to $400 per hour in Las Vegas. However, an initial retainer is usually required by intellectual property firms, primarily because the services offered require payment to third parties, such as the U. S. Copyright Office. Retainers vary according to anticipated work and costs associated with each case.
LABOR & EMPLOYMENT
Gregory J. Kamer is a founding partner of Kamer Zucker & Abbott, a firm that advises and teaches clients how to operate their employment systems to maximize profit and productivity while avoiding legal entanglements. Kamer said there are approximately 20 federal statutes and additional state statutes that directly impact the workplace and employment issues. Some of these award attorney fees to successful plaintiffs, which can easily reach six figures in employment litigation.
“Choosing your lawyer could be the most important decision you make in your legal matter,” said Kamer. “You should always ask for references, and the lawyer should willingly take time to explain his or her credentials and experience at no charge to a new client.”
One credential to look for is the LLM, which is a specialty degree awarded by several prestigious universities. This degree is awarded after a lawyer has graduated law school and often includes experience at one of several federal government agencies.
Experienced labor and employment counsel in Nevada ranges from $250 to $500 per hour.
“For partnerships, corporations and limited liability companies, which are the most popular forms of business organizations, you should ask about the lawyer’s background and experience providing advice about the advantages and disadvantages of each type of business organization, as well as his/her experience forming such organizations,” said Martha J. “Marti” Ashcraft, supervising partner with Lewis and Roca, LLP, a full-service law firm. “It is also important for a lawyer to have a good understanding of the business venture to be undertaken, in order to determine the best form of business organization for your venture.”
Ashcraft cautions that if the lawyer does not explore specific details about what type of business the client is entering into, whether a profit is anticipated in the near term, who the principals are, what their contributions will be, and how they are to be rewarded for their contributions, then the client should be suspect about whether this lawyer has sufficient knowledge and experience.
Rates range from $250 to $400 per hour, and many firms charge a flat rate for basic business organizational documents.
Any licensed professional who extends services to the public based on his or her profession needs malpractice insurance and may at some point require the services of a malpractice attorney, according to Mark Hutchison, senior partner with Hutchison & Steffen, a full-service law firm based in Las Vegas. “In determining the best person to handle a malpractice case, I would first find out his or her level of experience in litigating for that profession,” said Hutchison. “For example, experience with medical malpractice doesn’t necessarily translate to other professions, such as engineering or real estate.” He also suggested finding out about actual courtroom experience, not just experience in cases that were settled out of court. “Most of these cases never go to trial,” he pointed out, “but if yours does, you would be better prepared if your attorney has courtroom experience.”
“In looking for a professional malpractice attorney, ask about years practicing, former insurance companies who have hired them, number of trials, types of cases handled, scope of the practice, and success rates at trial through settlement and via dispositive motion,” said David J. Mortensen, partner with Alverson Taylor Mortensen Nelson & Sanders, a civil practice offering expertise in various areas of law and a defense firm in professional malpractice law. “The advantage of a large firm is that you’re going to have various areas of specialty and knowledge in a larger attorney population. Two or more minds are always better than one.”
Rates vary depending on experience and type of case, but generally range from $150 to $350 an hour.
In looking for a taxation-law attorney, Douglas Edwards, partner with Cobeaga Tomlinson LLP, a firm offering tax planning, tax counseling and representation in tax disputes, recommends seeking an attorney with an LLM in taxation, CPA or more than 10 years of tax practice as a lawyer.
“Ask: what the attorney’s experience is in the particular area of tax law in which you have a problem; what the expected process, timeline and outcome with resolution of your problem is; and what the attorney expects of you during representation,” said Edwards.
Rates range from $300 to $500 per hour.
TRUSTS, WILLS & PROBATE
According to Julia Gold, shareholder with Hale Lane, a full-service practice with statewide offices, estate planning is a field that is constantly changing and often encompasses tax planning, business and exempt-organization planning, and planning for incapacity. A master’s degree in tax and/or certifications of specializations in estate planning may be indicative that the attorney has adequate expertise to assist with the client’s planning.
“Determine whether the attorney’s practice is significantly concentrated solely in the area of estate planning and tax,” said Gold. “Because of the complexity of this area of law, you do not want to hire someone who is a generalist, as the attorney may not have the experience and technical expertise to adequately assist with planning.”
Gold said estate planners often charge a flat fee when preparing a basic estate plan. Expect to pay anywhere from $1,500 to $5,000.
The State Bar of Nevada offers a lawyer referral and information service (LRIS), which can be accessed by calling 702-382-0504 or 800-789-LRIS. It’s a free public service program designed to help consumers find Nevada lawyers who provide competent and effective legal service.
Another valuable resource is Martindale-Hubbell, a respected resource for information on the legal profession that features a database of more than 1 million lawyers at martindale.com.