FAQs


  • How do I find an attorney?

    The Massachusetts Bar Association can help you find an attorney or legal resource to meet your needs with the MBA’s Lawyer Referral Service. Contact the MBA LRS online or call (617) 654-0400 or toll-free in-state at (866) 627-7577.


    Back to questions
  • How do I know if an attorney is licensed to practice in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts?

    The Board of Bar Overseers is the licensing entity for practicing attorneys for Massachusetts. The BBO can be reached online at www.state.ma.us/obcbbo/bboreg or by phone at (617) 728-8800.


    Back to questions
  • Where do I call to find out if an attorney has any grievances/complaints filed against him or her?

    For lists of all current disciplinary decisions online, contact the Board of Bar Overseers(www.state.ma.us/obcbbo/decisions.htm). You also may find out if an attorney has any grievances/complaints filed against him or her by calling (617) 728-8800.


    Back to questions
  • How do I know if an attorney is in good standing in Massachusetts?

    Contact the Board of Bar Overseers online at www.state.ma.us/obcbbo/bboreg or by phone at (617) 728-8800.


    Back to questions
  • How do I file a complaint against an attorney?

    Contact the Board of Bar Overseers online at www.state.ma.us/obcbbo/complaint.htm or by calling (617) 728-8750.


    Back to questions
  • Do I have other options besides going to court?
    Although the courtroom continues to provide the public with an important means of justice, other options exist that may result in a quicker result and a solution that better meets the needs of the disputants. As the name implies, Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is a means of settling a legal matter without taking the matter to a court. Advantages of ADR include the potential of a substantial savings of time and money, availability of creative solutions, confidentiality and the ability to manage the risk of a legal dispute.

    There are several types of ADR, including but not limited to, arbitration, case evaluation, facilitation and mediation:

    Arbitration
    Arbitration is a formal process in which parties submit their dispute to an impartial arbitrator or panel of arbitrators. The arbitrator or panel considers the evidence, often presented during a hearing, and then issues a decision resolving the dispute. The decision is ordinarily binding and is not subject to appeal, except for a few limited circumstances. Arbitration offers a more efficient and private alternative to courtroom adjudication of disputes.

    Case Evaluation
    Case evaluation is a non-binding process in which parties to a dispute present the facts and the issues to be determined to an experienced neutral case evaluator. The case evaluator advises the parties on the strengths and weaknesses of their respective positions, and assesses how the dispute is likely to be decided by a jury or other adjudicator. The parties may then use this feedback to help reach a mutually agreeable resolution.

    Facilitation
    Facilitation is a process in which a trained individual assists a group of two or more people to discuss issues to be addressed by the group. This may include assistance in defining and analyzing issues, developing alternatives and executing the agreed upon solutions. A facilitator can help to enhance communication, consensus building and decision making among individuals in a variety of settings, including community, corporate, educational and family groups.

    Mediation
    Mediation is an informal process in which parties agree to work together, with the assistance of a trained neutral mediator, to explore their respective interests and generate options for resolving their dispute. The mediator helps to facilitate communication but has no power to impose a resolution. Mediation is a flexible process that allows the parties to confidentially discuss any issues they choose to address and determine the outcome.

    If you think your legal matter could be resolved through an ADR approach, ask your attorney if he or she has experience in these areas or can give you a referral.


    Back to questions
  • When do I need a lawyer?

    The following are examples of circumstances when you should seek a lawyer's advice:

    • You're buying or selling a home, adopting a child, signing an important contract, making a will or organizing a business;
    • You've been in an accident where someone was hurt or property was damaged;
    • You are the victim of an abusive spouse;
    • You are accused of a crime;
    • You've been injured at work;
    • You are going through a divorce; and
    • You are having problems with your landlord or tenant.

    The best time to consult a lawyer is before, not after, you have legal problems. It can save you money in the long run and keep any legal difficulties to a minimum. A lawyer can help by offering you legal counseling and advice, preparing documents and, if necessary, representing you in court and other legal proceedings. Contact the MBA Lawyer Referral Service to get a referral today.


    Back to questions
  • How can a lawyer help me?
    The law can be very complicated and lawyers are trained to deal effectively with these complexities. In Massachusetts, a lawyer must have attended a state-accredited law school, be licensed by the state Supreme Judicial Court, and must abide by strict rules of legal procedure and ethics. In some cases, a lawyer may agree that you can do some of the work yourself (like making certain telephone calls and obtaining documents), to save you money, while he/she handles the more complicated aspects of your case.

    Many laws are complex and frequently change. Lawyers are trained to explain the law, provide legal assistance, and be aware of court procedures, filing requirements, deadlines and other details that a non-lawyer could easily overlook.
    Back to questions
  • How do I find the right lawyer?

    Your goal is to find a lawyer with whom you are comfortable as both a person and a professional. Your case may involve very personal information and your lawyer will often need to know confidential details about you, your family and your finances to be effective in helping you.

    One of the best ways to find a lawyer is to seek a recommendation from people whose opinions you respect: an employer, lawyer at your workplace, teacher, minister, doctor, relative, neighbor or friends.

    The nature of your legal problem will help define the type of lawyer you will want to hire. Often lawyers have one or more specialties, and you want to make sure your lawyer has experience in your type of case. The lawyer who did a terrific job with your friend's divorce may not have the expertise to take on your auto accident injury matter.

    Another excellent means of determining if you need a lawyer's help and obtaining a referral to a lawyer is by calling the MBA Lawyer Referral Service (LRS). Depending on your matter, an LRS representative may recommend a lawyer or suggest alternatives such as contacting a state agency.

    If a lawyer is recommended, you will be put in touch with a lawyer in any Massachusetts community you prefer who has experience in the type of law in question. Your initial discussion with the lawyer will cost no more than $25 for the first half hour. If for any reason you choose not to hire the lawyer, the LRS will refer you to another lawyer. You may get up to three referrals for the same case. There is no fee for the referral service.

    To contact the LRS, call (617) 654-0400 or (866) MASSLRS.

    Before meeting with a lawyer, make notes about your problem and gather all of the related documents to take with you. This will allow you to present your legal problem in the clearest and most organized manner possible. It will also allow you to focus on evaluating the lawyer's response to your case and your questions.


    Back to questions
  • What should I ask a lawyer?

    At the first meeting you should ask about the following topics. Keep in mind, some lawyers charge a fee for your first consultation, some don't.

    • The amount of experience the lawyer has in your type of legal matter;
    • A preliminary outline of how the lawyer believes the case should be handled and the time frame for its completion;
    • Whether or not the lawyer carries malpractice insurance;
    • How you can or will be expected to participate in your case;
    • How you will be kept informed about the status of the matter;
    • Whether or not the lawyer will provide you with a fee agreement that details fees, expenses, billing and payment;
    • The lawyer's hourly fee (if applicable); and
    • An estimate of the lawyer's total fee.

    After meeting with the lawyer ask yourself the following questions:

    • Will I be comfortable working closely with this person?
    • Am I confident that the lawyer has the experience and skill to handle your case?
    • Do I clearly understand the lawyer's explanation of what my case involves?
    • Do I understand the proposed fee agreement?

    Back to questions
  • How will I pay a lawyer?

    Fixed fee
    This type of charge, sometimes called a “standard” fee, is used most often for routine legal matters. For example, a lawyer may charge all clients the same amount to handle a “simple will.” When you agree to a fixed fee, be sure you know what it does and does not include and if there could be additional charges.

    Hourly fee
    Many lawyers charge by the hour and the hourly rate varies from lawyer to lawyer. Your total bill can be estimated by having the lawyer project the amount of time your case will take and provide a list of filing fees and other costs.

    Retainer fee
    A retainer fee may be used to guarantee that a lawyer will be available to take a particular case and could mean that the lawyer would have to turn down other cases in order to remain available. With this type of fee agreement, you may be billed separately for the legal work that is done. A retainer fee sometimes is considered a down payment on any legal services you may need. Since this type of fee arrangement can mean different things, be sure to have the lawyer explain the fee arrangement.

    Contingency fee
    This type of charge often is used in personal injury cases when you are suing someone for money. It means that you will pay your lawyer a certain percentage of the money you receive if you win the case or if you settle the matter. If you lose, your lawyer doesn't receive a fee. In some cases, your lawyer may pay some of these costs for you when they are due, but you may have to repay the lawyer.

    If you agree to a contingency fee, be sure you know what your lawyer's percentage will be. Some agreements provide for a varying percentage depending on whether the case is settled, goes to trial or has to be appealed. If so, those varying percentages must be stated in the agreement as well. While obtaining a fee agreement from your lawyer is always a good idea, in contingency fee cases, they are required.

    Statutory fee
    The cost of some probate and other legal work is set by law. For certain other legal problems, the court either sets or must approve the fee you will pay. Often, a lawyer cannot tell you exactly what the charge will be, because it is difficult to estimate how much work is going to be involved. But a lawyer can usually estimate the minimum and maximum limits of the fee and give you some idea of the work involved.


    Back to questions
  • What if I can't afford a lawyer?

    If you are the defendant in a criminal case and can't afford a lawyer, the government must provide you with one. If you need legal assistance in a civil matter and can't afford to pay lawyer, there are programs that may be able to help.

    If you meet certain economic guidelines, the MBA Lawyer Referral Service can refer you to a lawyer who offers reduced fees (no more than $75 an hour) for qualifying clients.

    If you cannot afford a lawyer's fees, even at reduced rates, there are state and federally funded programs that may be able to provide you with free legal assistance. There are legal services (sometimes called legal aid) offices located around the state. Some types of cases that legal services lawyers will handle include eviction defense, divorce, custody, and Social Security and other government benefit matters.

    You can call the Legal Advocacy and Resource Center (http://www.larcma.org) at (617) 603-1700; or toll-free, at (800) 342-LAWS, or the MBA Lawyer Referral Service at (617) 654-0400 or (866) 627-7577 for the contact information for legal services office in your location.


    Back to questions
  • How can I help my lawyer and keep expenses down?

    There are several steps you can follow to help your lawyer work for you and keep the cost of legal services at a minimum:

    • Gather in advance all information that you think your lawyer may need;
    • Carefully weigh the advantages and disadvantages of your case: could court costs and legal fees be more than the amount of money you would likely recover?
    • Write down the names, addresses and telephone numbers of all people involved in your matter
    • Bring any written materials relating to your legal situation, such as receipts, contracts, medical bills, repair estimates, checks, traffic tickets, deeds, wills and letters from the opposing side to the first meeting with your lawyer;
    • Ask if there are some aspects of the case that you can handle yourself (e.g., some telephone calls);
    • Bring a written summary of the facts exactly as you remember them;
    • Write down the questions that you want your lawyer to answer;
    • Avoid calling your lawyer unnecessarily;
    • Inform your lawyer of any changes to your address, telephone number and to any situation that may have a bearing on your case;
    • Ask the lawyer about ways to resolve your case without going to court; and
    • Reveal all information, even if it may not be in your favor.

    Remember that your lawyer must keep all information you discuss confidential.


    Back to questions
  • Can I get legal help without hiring a lawyer?

    There are legal resources that may be able to help you resolve your legal problem without hiring a lawyer. The MBA has several programs that can help answer your basic legal questions.

  • The first Wednesday of each month you can get free legal help, via telephone, from the MBA Dial-A-Lawyer program. On those days, from 5:30 p.m. until 7:30 p.m., lawyer volunteers staff phones at the MBA to take your calls. Dial (617) 338-0610.

  • If you have a fee disagreement with your lawyer that you are unable to resolve, consider arbitration as an option. The MBA's Legal Fee Arbitration Board can help resolve disputes involving lawyers' fees. Contact the board at (617) 338-0552.
  •  

    Small claims court
    Small claims courts offer citizens the chance to resolve minor problems without the need for lawyers. Most small claims courts limit cases to those with claims up to $2,000, and exclude certain types of claims, such as divorce, cases involving title to property, and cases involving the state or city. In most small claims courts, anyone with a grievance can bring suit, using everyday language, for a relatively low filing cost, usually less than $50. However, you should file suit only after you have exhausted other avenues, for example, writing directly to the person or company involved or discussing the matter with the Better Business Bureau.

    Private, consumer service organizations
    Your local Better Business Bureau, credit counseling service, consumer advocacy group, alternative dispute resolution center, or another private agency may be able to assist you, and provide an effective and economical alternative to hiring a lawyer. These organizations were created to resolve or correct situations that frequently recur and affect the public. Through such agencies, without the expense of hiring a lawyer, you may be able to obtain a statement of your rights, a fast recovery of property or money you have lost, or relief for other damages that you have incurred.

    Government organizations
    In many instances, government organizations and offices can also provide answers or assistance on legal matters. For example, you may be able to consult the state attorney general's office or the Department of Revenue for answers to general business, investment or tax questions. State and local governmental agencies or departments, such as local government offices that administer permits and licenses, and state boards that regulate health professions, social service professions, contractors, lawyers and others, may be able to provide information about rules and standards governing such professions and may also assist in resolving disputes or settling damages.


    Back to questions
©2014 Massachusetts Bar Association