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How to Hire an Employment Lawyer – Steps 1 through 5


We get a lot of phone calls and emails. On most days, we hear form eight to twelve potential clients asking about discrimination, harassment, non-compete clauses, severance agreements, failure to pay overtime, and other employment issues.  Those calls range from local issues in Arlington, Fairfax, Alexandria, and other areas in northern Virginia and the District, to calls from individuals whose employers are defense contractors often based in Reston or Herndon, but the individuals themselves are personally located in Iraq, Afghanistan, or another foreign nation.

Every call is unique, but there are some things that will help you hire an attorney regardless of your reason for calling. Here’s a list of the first five steps:

1. Talk About Money – Seriously, folks.  Don’t be afraid to talk about money.  You are calling to hire a firm such as ours to do a service.  We, in turn, have a business to run.  Our decisions are not exclusively about money, but we cannot enter into any agreement without discussing it.  There’s no point in trying to avoid it.

Let’s cover the basic economic structures under which our firm usually takes cases:

  • Hourly – You pay the firm a retainer against which the firm bills by the hour to do a project, big or small.
  • Contingency – You pay the firm with a percentage of the final outcome of your case.
  • Flat fee – You pay the firm a flat fee for a service, regardless of how man hours it takes.
  • Hybrid arrangements – Some combination of the above.

These structures can also be updated or changed  depending on how circumstances play out and your needs.  The most important thing to do when it comes to figuring out finances is communication.  The single biggest mistake that potential clients make when they contact our firm is that they try to avoid talking about money.  We understand that the conversation is awkward, but the conversation is also necessary.

2. Understand What You Want and Establish Goals – This can be the most complicated issue for clients. Sometimes, it’s simple: a client wants money and nothing else will do.  But other times, and most times, it’s not at all that simple.  A client will need a workplace accommodation, a transfer, or some unique solution that we work towards over time.  If a client has received a cease and desist letter because of a non-compete clause or has been sued, the client’s goals are structured around a proactive defense and avoiding future liability and costs.

Establishing goals is a critical part of the early process of hiring counsel because your goals will often dictate the fee agreement that works for your case.  Your lawyer can’t work for a contingency percentage of your transfer or accommodation.  Those are great goals, and often the best goals, but if that’s what you’re looking for, you are almost certainly going to have to pay your attorney on an hourly basis.

3. Just Say What Happened – We need to know what happened in your particular situation at your workplace. What is or was the problem?  What was said?  Were you touched?  What happened to you as a result?  Our cases range from contract litigation to workplace sexual assault.  We cannot assist you until we understand the facts.

4. Tell Us About Your Evidence – Do you have documents?  Recordings?  Emails?  Pictures?  Texts?  It’s very easy to get caught up in what happened to you and forget to tell us that you can actually prove it.  And as much as we might believe you, it can be very hard for us to take a case without evidence.

5. Don’t Say the Words ‘Hostile Work Environment’ – Although you may feel the environment in your workplace is hostile, ‘hostile work environment’ is a very specific, complicated, and technical legal term defined by statute.  A hostile work environment, as defined by the law, is pretty rare.  I’ll defer to this article to do a better job of explaining the problems with this term, but let’s just say this: when you call an employment lawyer, tell the lawyer about the sexual, racial, or other protected class discrimination you’ve experienced.  The lawyer will determine if you’ve experienced a hostile work environment, as defined by the law.

We’ll follow this entry up with more steps to hiring an employment lawyer, but please use this list as a guide.  Use the Contact Us form on this page or call us at (703) 791-9087 and one of our attorneys will discuss your situation with you.

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