Personal Injury Case FAQs

Q:  I think that I’ve been injured and have a claim for monetary losses.  What should I do?

A: Your highest priority should be to immediately seek medical treatment for your injuries.  Once you have received medical care, there are a few things you could do to ensure any potential claim can be investigated. First, make sure that the evidence is preserved.  Second, do not give any statement or sign any document without first consulting with your lawyer. Third, prepare detailed notes about how the incident occurred, the names and addresses of the witnesses to the incident, the medical facilities and persons treating the injuries, and, if possible, have photographs taken of the scene and of your injuries.   Your lawyer will assist you with all aspects of your case including investigation and dealing with insurance carriers.

Q:  How much is my personal injury case worth?

A: The value of your case depends on your specific factual circumstances; beware of anyone who puts a value on your case without having reviewed all the relevant documentation and without having conducted a thorough investigation.  For example, the value of your case will depend on the extent of the injuries, the cost of medical treatment (including future medical treatment), lost earnings, contributory fault on your part, your credibility, and numerous other factors.  Your lawyer evaluate should evaluate all of these factors and provide you with honest advice you can trust regarding the value of your case.

Q:  How much do lawyers charge for their services?

A:  Personal injury lawyers general handle damages claims on a contingent-fee basis. This means that you do not pay your lawyer for lawyer fees in such cases unless compensation for you is recovered on your claim.  Payment of lawyer expenses varies, with many lawyers requiring no payment of select or all expenses even when compensation is not recovered.  This is best done on a case-by-case basis.

Q: If I can’t make it to your office, will you still meet with me?

A:  Of course.  I or someone else from my offices will meet with you at a time and location that are mutually convenient.

Family Law FAQs

Q:  Is there a Divorce Retainer and if so, how much is it?

A:  Lawyers universally require retainers which really ought to be called “retainer deposits”.  Far less frequent are true retainers designed merely to guarantee availability of the lawyer for the retaining clients.

In family law the process of a case involves a beginning, middle, and an end. In order for lawyers to devote their energy and attention to the business of a case, they need to be assured of continuing payment as services are rendered. Clients don’t want their lawyers doing superficial work out of fear that they won’t be paid. They need to be on an equal footing vis-a-vis the other spouse’s lawyer, meaning it is appropriate that both parties’ fees are being covered.  Parity and equality is assured through a retainer deposit.

The amount of a Retainer Deposit is typically the minimum amount the lawyer is willing to accept to take on the responsibilities of a client’s case, and so set aside the time to work it and forego other cases and to begin work. Lawyers determine the amount based upon their perception of the complexity of the case, how much they estimate it may take to handle the matter through completion or some other stage, the timing of their involvement (i.e., is a trial scheduled next month?), the identity of the other lawyer (i.e., does that lawyer have a reputation for aggressiveness and sharp tactics?), the attitude of the other spouse (likely to resist disclosing needed information?  high conflict personality?), whether there are sufficient resources available to take the case to its conclusion, creditworthiness, how long the lawyer must wait to be paid in full, whether the client has a history of hiring and firing prior lawyers, and the lawyer’s perception of how cooperative or conflicted a potential client may seem.

Sometimes setting an exorbitant retainer deposit ($15,000 or more) is a way of saying “I’m not sure I want to accept your case, but I can’t resist that big of a fee”.  Some lawyers demand large divorce retainers to feel and make their clients feel that they are important – it can be a sale’s technique.

For the simplest of cases with the least experienced family law practitioners, the minimum retainer deposit tends to be at least $2,500. Sometimes less will be accepted for simple or limited appearance cases.

The unused portion of a retainer deposit is always refundable to the client upon termination of the lawyer’s services to the extent the fees have not been earned.  In other words, retainer deposits are never earned upon receipt.

Q:  Does the Retainer need to be replenished from time to time?

A:  Retainer Agreements often provide for the replenishment of the retainer deposit, by new deposits, under certain circumstances as when the case seems headed for trial. There are “evergreen” retainers where the client is required to maintain a fixed amount in trust at all times, and to replenish that amount when it dropped below an agreed upon number.

Q:  Do lawyers take credit cards?

A:  Most lawyers accept credit cards.  Understand though that they must pay a fee to the credit card company to process the charge, which can be substantial.

Q:  Will lawyers accept partial retainers or payment plans?

A:  Lawyers have differing practices on accepting partial payments. This depends upon their perception of you. If they worry that you could become unreasonable or that you have destructive expectations, a prudent lawyer will not accept part payment. The person who wants to cheat the other side will be distrusted by the person’s lawyer.

On the other hand, once a relationship is established lawyers tend to work to help their clients afford their services. If you meet your promises and treat your lawyer honorably, your lawyer should reciprocate.  This includes all types of creative arrangements, including installment payments work, on a case-by-case basis.

Q:  What about other sources to pay lawyer fees? Can I secure the fee obligation with real property and so pay later?

A:  Generally, other than cash, credit cards, or borrowing, the only other way to secure representation is through a F.L.A.R.P.L. (pronounced “flarple”). This is a lien, or security interest, against equity in real property.  It is disfavored by Judges and lawyers, and is hard to secure over the objection of a spouse.  But it is a viable way to get an lawyer on board in a difficult case if the lawyer is willing to accept it.  Erosion of equity in the real estate market explains why attorneys are reluctant to utilize this method to secure fees.

Q:  What will a family law case cost?

A:  This is a difficult question to answer because no one has a crystal ball and each person’s needs differ according to circumstances.  Lawyers resist answering this question.  Any estimate can change as the case progresses.  Much depends on how the other side behaves, and many things aren’t known at the outset.

Still, an experienced lawyer can provide projections.  You have every right to press this question before you retain the lawyer, but beware: Some lawyers may understate reality and give you an unrealistically low projection, and while your tendency might be to go for the cheaper estimation, you might want to trust the lawyer who over-estimates as being more credible.

Cases which can be amicably resolved usually should cost under $4,000, including your filing and process service fees of about $500. The average case where one side or both starts out conflicted, or where there are some mildly complicated financial or custodial issues to straighten out, costs at least $4,000. Obviously, cases involving businesses, other complexities, unusual facts, or 2 or more parcels of property can cost more.

When you hire a lawyer, they should tell you how they plan to tackle the issues. Setting a strategy, goals and a timeline can significantly improve efficiency, and it is certainly a source of relief for clients.

Q:  What are unbundled legal services?

A:  The California legislature has made it easier for family lawyers to get in and get out of a case to perform specific tasks like making court appearances. This allows people to get the help for select matters without being forced to pay the lawyer for all pending matters, thus making services more affordable.

Probate Court FAQs

Q:  What types of cases are mostly commonly heard by the Probate Court?

A:  Administration of decedent estates, supervision of Trust administration, guardianships of the persons and estates of minors, and conservatorships of  the persons and estates of adults.

Q:  How long does the probate process take?

A:  From one to two years.  If the probate is contested, it may stretch out for many years.

Q:  How are lawyer fees determined?

A:  Ordinary probate lawyers fees are set by the Probate Code and are based on the gross value of the estate.

  • 4% of the first $100,000 of the gross value of the probate estate
  • 3% of the next $100,000
  • 2% of the next $800,000
  • 1% of the next $9,000,000

The schedule applies to lawyer and executor fees separately. In other words, the cost to the estate will be doubled if the executor takes her fee.

Ordinary fees in guardianship, conservatorship, and trust cases, as well as extraordinary fees in all cases, are determined per Chapter 16 of the San Diego Superior Court Rules.

Q:  Can probate be avoided?

A:  Yes, easily.  Unfortunately, alternatives to probate, such as use of a living trust, tend to result in disputes resolved though litigation in the Probate Court.

Q:  Who is given notice of probate proceeding?

A:  Fifteen days before the hearing, the probate petition must be served on known heirs, devisees, nonpetitioning executors, alternative executors, and, if a charitable gift, on Attorney General.  Notice to creditors must be published in a newspaper of general circulation (Government Code § 6000) in city where decedent had property or resided at death. During administration, notices must be given to the taxing authorities and to Medi-Cal.