Top 5 Things to Know Before Hiring a Lawyer

What to consider when hiring an attorney…

Reputation – The reputation of your potential attorney should always be considered. Rely on the recommendations of your trusted friends, family and colleagues and pay attention to online reviews and testimonials. It’s important to have an attorney that you trust is looking out for your best interests and not just their bottom line.

Cost - Before you hire an attorney, you should consider the costs and make sure they are both worthwhile for your case and affordable to you. Different attorneys will have different rates which may or may not coincide with their experience so it’s not necessarily the case that the most expensive attorney is the best for you or a cheaper one must not be as good. You may be charged a flat rate, hourly, or on contingency. The attorney may or may not require a retainer that is paid up front. This will vary both by attorney and the type of case you have. There may be additional expenses such as filing fees, mailing, copying and travel. Be sure to ask your potential attorney approximately how much your case will cost and what additional expenses you can expect to be charged for.

Experience – Consider the experience of the attorney you are considering. If you’ve hired an attorney who only does estate planning to represent you in a divorce, they may be less efficient and may take longer on your case than an experienced divorce attorney would and may be less effective in getting a desirable settlement on your behalf. Perhaps you have a very simple case but simply don’t know how to get it done on your own. In this case, a newly hired associate with a substantially lower rate may end up costing you less than a partner with over a decade of experience.

Compatibility – It’s extremely important that you hire an attorney that you feel comfortable with and can speak easily and honestly with. Do they seem to understand what your issue is and what your desired outcome is? Are you on the same page with the strategy in which to get that done? If you disagree on the strategy, do you trust them enough to follow their lead? Follow your gut on this. When meeting with an attorney, you should be able to click with them right away. If you have any uncertainty or lack of confidence in them, meet with more attorney’s before you make a decision.

Expectations –Depending on your familiarity with the legal process as well as your personality, you will have different needs and expectations than other clients, and perhaps your potential attorney. Are you OK letting the attorney handle things and just contacting you when necessary, do you want daily updates or something in between? Do you expect detailed explanations of the process or would you rather stay hands off, so you don’t have to think about it? Can you expect most of your correspondence to be directly with the attorney or will most of your correspondence come from a paralegal or legal assistant? Is the same rate charged for paralegal time as attorney time? If you know that in order to feel comfortable, you are going to want frequent regular contact with your attorney, and they scoff at that idea or tell you that their schedule doesn’t allow for that and that most communication is delegated to office staff, they might not be the attorney for you. If it’s an attorney who is going to want to talk to you frequently (and charge you for it) and you’d rather keep the costs and your stress level down by having less direct communication, you’ll want to make sure you and your attorney have that understanding ahead of time. Having a clear understanding of the attorney’s expectations of you and making sure the attorney has a clear understanding of your expectations, will result in a much healthier work relationship.

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Mary McMullen

Paralegal

How does property get divided in a divorce?

Property division is one of several aspects of filing for divorce, along with child custody, child support and spousal maintenance.

When one spouse files for divorce in the State of Kansas, all property owned by either spouse becomes marital property, whether it was acquired before or during the marriage. This includes separately titled property, inherited property and gifted property.

However, if the parties entered into a valid premarital contract prior to marrying, those assets listed in the premarital agreement remain separate property and are not subject to division. Once marital property has been identified, the court then determines the extent of each spouse’s interest in the marital property.

To make a just and reasonable property division, the district court weighs several statutory factors, such as: the age of the parties; the duration of the marriage; the present and future earning capabilities of the parties; the time, source and manner of acquisition of the property; family ties and obligations; the allowance of maintenance; dissipation of assets; tax consequences and any other factors necessary to make an equitable division. It is important to note that equitable does not always mean equal.

Parties on their own can agree how to divide the property, too. The parties’ agreement as to the division of debts and assets is listed in a proposed settlement agreement for the court to consider and/or adopt as an Order of the court.

K.S.A. §23-2801 and K.S.A. §23-2802

 

Auto Accident - First Steps

I have been hurt in an automobile accident. What do I do now?

Because insurance companies begin investigating the circumstances as soon as they are made aware of the accident, you should talk to a lawyer before you talk with the insurance company’s representative or consent to their requests for information. 

You will most likely will be contacted by a representative of the insurance company, also known as an adjuster, who may wish to take a recorded statement from you either by telephone or in person. Their purpose may be to gain information that they will use later in time to deny liability or fault, or to decrease the amount they should pay. They may also ask you to sign releases for medical or employment information. Your insurance company may require you to report any accident to them within a certain time frame, which may also involve requests for recorded interviews, medical documentation, employment information or other relevant information.

If you have been injured as the result of someone else’s actions, or on someone else’s property, or as the result of a car accident, you may require medical treatment. The hospital, doctor, or physical therapist must be paid. Your personal injury protection policy, which is part of every automobile insurance policy in Kansas will pay your medical bills up to the policy limit.  After the policy limit has been reached, your medical insurance will cover part or all of your medical bills. You should present the correct information to the billing office of the medical provider.

When you visit Seaton, Seaton and Dierks, LLP, please bring the following with you to your appointment:  any information you got from the police about your accident, a copy of your auto insurance policy, any correspondence or information you have from the other person’s insurance company and any information you believe is related to your claim in any way. You should also have similar information about any umbrella or excess insurance policies you may have.

If your own insurance policy, whether it be your health insurance, car insurance, or disability policy, pays for medical services rendered to you for injuries as the result of fault of another, those entities may be entitled to statutory or contractual repayment if you are able to recover from the person at fault.

An injured person is entitled to recovery for the amount of reasonable and necessary medical bills for treatment. An injured person might be entitled to lost wages which result from missed time at work because of an injury. He or she might be entitled to other damages which are more difficult to quantify, such as pain, disfigurement, loss of enjoyment of life, or lost earning capacity.  If you’ve been hurt in an accident, your first responsibility to yourself is to do everything you can to recover from your injury. You should follow the advice of all of your health care providers

Do I need a lawyer during a criminal interrogation?

Should I talk to the cops?

Every day in the United States, police officers and other law enforcement agents interview witnesses and suspects about crimes. This is a big part of their jobs. Quite commonly, I am asked whether a person should talk to the police. The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution grants a person an absolute right not to be forced to speak to anyone and the absolute right not to incriminate themselves. In the real world this works much differently. Realistically, most people are intimidated by police officers and people in positions of authority. They carry guns, and have the authority of the government behind them. Not surprisingly, every day people voluntarily give statements to the police and get themselves into trouble that they could have avoided by invoking their right to remain silent under police scrutiny.

What most of these people want to do is explain their side of the events. The police officer's job is to make cases and make arrests, not give you a fair hearing. They are trained in interrogation techniques aimed at getting the answers they want. Additionally, you are at a huge disadvantage when speaking with the police because they do not have to tell you what they know and can legally lie to you about evidence that they have. To make matters worse, you have no idea what other people might have said about you and what you have been accused of.

This all leads to the best advice that I can give to anyone who is approached by the police as a suspect: Politely tell the officers that you appreciate their jobs, but you would like to speak to a lawyer before you answer any questions. If there ever comes a time to tell your side of the story, we can tell it to an impartial party like the judge or a jury. Don't give up your rights. And possibly your freedom. 

Two rules to remember:
1.    The police are your friend until they think you have violated the law.
2.    If it weren’t for snitches and confessions, police and subsequently prosecutors would be much less successful in their work.

If you are the subject of an investigation, do not speak to the police until you have consulted with a qualified criminal defense lawyer.

How much does an initial consultation cost?

One of the first steps in getting legal assistance is sitting down with an attorney and having an initial consultation. During this consultation you should inform the attorney of the basic facts surrounding your case so that you can get accurate advice and an accurate assessment of the cost you will incur. However, before you have an initial consultation you should always find out if your attorney charges a consultation fee. The best way to find out what your attorney charges for a consultation is to simply ask when you are making the appointment. Some attorneys charge consultation fees for every consult, other attorneys charge consult fees in certain cases, and some attorneys never charge consultation fees.

If your attorney charges for every consultation, then they will normally charge their hourly rate for the consultation. Some attorneys, on the other hand, charge consultation fees on a limited basis. These attorneys usually charge consultation fees when a client is planning on asking specific legal questions that require background research of knowledge. Other attorneys charge consultation fees for specific types of legal actions.

Finally, some attorneys don’t charge consultation fees. These attorneys usually will be more hesitant to give you a lot of legal advice in the initial consultation. However, this approach allows you the opportunity to talk to an attorney to find out if you want to choose that specific attorney to represent you, without costing you any money. Attorneys who don’t charge consultation fees will also be stricter regarding the time your appointment is scheduled to start and end.

The ideas surrounding consultation fees have their own various benefits. The important thing is to find an attorney that you trust as the consultation fee is usually substantially less than an entire legal action. You should make sure to ask what your attorney’s consultation fee policy is before you make your initial appointment with the attorney and be fully organized and on time to your consult so that you get the most for your consult.

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Trey Bryant

Associate Attorney

Trey Bryant, Associate

Trey recently joined our team and is licensed to practice law in the State of Colorado.  Trey graduated from Kansas State University in 2014 with a Bachelor of Science in Political Science, a Bachelor of Science in Legal Communication and a minor in Women's Studies. Trey earned his Juris Doctor from the University of South Carolina School of Law in 2017. Trey intends to focus his practice on Appeals,Civil Litigation, Family Law, Landlord-tenant Law and Contracts. 

The Do’s and Don'ts of your Initial Consultation

Meeting with an attorney for the first time can seem daunting and overwhelming. This guide will help you to arrive prepared and leave with valuable information.

Do ask about the attorney’s focused practice type and experience in dealing with your case type.

     People often seem to ask this question apologetically or skip asking together. You’ll want to make sure your attorney can confidently and easily handle your case and while talking about your case may give you a sense of that. Do not be afraid to directly ask about the attorney’s experience.

Don’t expect a whole lot of free legal advice in your initial consultation.

     A majority of this initial consultation will be used to get a grasp on your case, what your ideal outcome is, and discovering the process of what needs to be done to get there.  During the consultation, you should feel like you have a grasp on what the process is and if you want or need an attorney to get you there. Also, you will want to make sure that the attorney you hire seems to really understand your specific situation and is on the same page with you as to how you want the matter handled. For instance, maybe you are looking to settle as amicably as possible and keep costs low but the attorney you are meeting with seems gung-ho in taking your case to trial. This attorney probably isn’t the right fit for you. Or vice versa, maybe you are determined to have your day in court but the attorney seems less enthusiastic about litigating your case. That may be a good indication that you need to keep looking.

Do discuss fees and costs.

     During your initial consultation, you should expect to talk about the costs that are anticipated to take your case where you want it to go. Most attorneys will quote you a retainer which is paid up front at the time you hire the attorney. A retainer is kept in a trust account on your behalf and is billed from as the attorney and staff work on your case. In the event your retainer is depleted, you will likely be asked to refill it or billed from there on an hourly basis. Make sure you ask how far the attorney anticipates that retainer lasting in your case. Some will give a quote for the entire case up front, others may be looking for only about half, or in other cases, the attorney may even just a retainer to get things started in your case.  Keep in mind that the attorney you are meeting with is likely not the person that will do a majority of the work on your case or that you will correspond with the most. Most attorneys have a paralegal or legal assistant that does a majority of the drafting, scheduling and corresponding on the attorney’s behalf and their hourly rate will likely differ than that of the attorney. Additionally, you may have additional court costs, fees and expenses associated with your case. Make sure to discuss and consider these as well when making your decision of whether or not to hire an attorney.

Don’t lie or withhold the truth.

     When discussing your case with the attorney, honesty is always the best policy. Keep in mind that attorney-client privilege will apply to your initial consultation. It is not the attorney’s job to take sides, judge or determine who is the “good guy” and who is the “bad guy.” In order for them to do their best in representing you, and provide you with accurate information, it is important that they have all the facts, good and/or bad. It’s better to tell the truth up front than have your attorney be surprised with it later. This could also change the course of the necessary process of your case and also the costs. If you feel uneasy about sharing pertinent details of your case, don’t be scared to ask the attorney to explain what is and is not protected under the attorney-client privilege before sharing.

Do show up on time.

     Just like a doctor's office, an attorney's office runs on a very tight schedule. Showing up on time will ensure that you get an opportunity to make the most of your initial consultation. The last thing you need is to feel rushed as you will want to get all of your important questions asked before leaving. The last thing you want is to leave and realize you forgot to ask one of your most pressing questions as getting back in touch with the attorney promptly will likely be difficult and you will find yourself having to either have a follow-up appointment down the road or hiring the attorney prior to getting that question answered.

Don’t come empty handed.

     If you are seeking an attorney, you are likely dealing with an unfamiliar, complex and stressful matter. This can make anyone’s mind a little cloudy when it comes time to discuss these matters with an attorney. Having a list of questions you feel are important to have answered prior to selecting an attorney will ensure that you leave with the answers you needed and you don’t forget anything important. You will also want to be sure to bring any relevant paperwork or court documents with you as well, if there are any.

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Mary McMullen

Paralegal