Christine N. Schnarr Chiarello,
Good question. Maybe you don't. Like other specialized service providers, lawyers bring to the table education, experience and talent relating to a specific field. You can use a tech designer to set up a website and a CPA to file your tax returns, or you can figure it out yourself. In most cases, this is the same with law. However, setting up a website, filing your own taxes and handling your own legal matters may not be the best use of your time and may not result in the best outcome. Consider your needs, then call me for a no-charge consultation.
Have a look at my Services and Credentials pages. Do these offerings fit with what you think you need? If so, consider how you expect to interact with your lawyer, and what you expect your lawyer's advice and work product to look like. I served as an in-house attorney for over 7 years. My business colleagues taught me that they don't have time for legalese, that the "big idea" should be delivered first, and not to throw up a roadblock without also offering some suggestions for a detour. If I sound like the kind of lawyer you would like to work with, please call me for a no-charge consultation.
Lawyers are obligated by ethics rules to ensure their clients are clear on things like the scope of representation and the associated fees. An engagement letter is the best way to do this and to confirm the establishment of an attorney-client relationship. Want to see a copy of my engagement letter? Just ask.
A retainer is an amount of money paid to a lawyer up-front, at the beginning of a representation. The amount of your retainer will be based largely on how much time your matter is likely to take. The retainer funds go into a special trust account that I am ethically not allowed to access, except as appropriate to offset my invoices for services rendered, to refund to you any funds not earned by me, or to pay fees associated with your matter, like government filing fees. Where your matter is limited in scope, you and I may agree to use your retainer like a debit card. In that case, your invoice will show no balance due; but if your retainer becomes depleted, you will need to replenish it. In most cases, I will deduct the amount of each of my invoices from your retainer. You then pay the invoice and your payment replenishes your retainer. I refund you any leftover retainer amounts after we settle up at the end of the representation. This is included in our engagement letter.
I want to help you meet your goals and objectives. If the scope of your representation is broad, or if your new matter is related to your first, then it's likely that I will be able to help you with your new matter under our existing engagement letter (although we may need to revisit the retainer). If your new matter is not related to your first, then we will need to assess our fit the same way we did when we evaluated your first matter. If your new matter is not within my area of expertise or if it involves other people or companies who are already my clients, then you will likely need a different attorney.
If you own 100% of the company or the legal matter does not relate to the company, then I may be able to represent you. On the other hand, if the legal matter relates to the company and you are anything other than the sole owner, I will likely not be able to represent you personally. Legally, the company is considered a "person" and if you are not its sole owner, it's likely that your interests will conflict with those of the company and/or of its (other) owners.
No, it's real. Each state has its own ethics rules that lawyers must abide by, usually called Rules of Professional Conduct. In New Jersey, these rules can be found here. A lawyer's failure to abide by applicable Rules of Professional Conduct can result in fines or disbarment.