Frequently Asked Questions


What will happen when I call the New York City Bar Legal Referral Service (LRS)?

When you call LRS, an attorney referral counselor will ask you some questions. This is necessary to determine what background and experience to look for in the lawyer we suggest. All of our counselors are attorneys. The information you give the referral counselor will be held in the strictest confidence. If you do need a referral to a private lawyer, our counselor will match you with a suitable lawyer from our pre-screened panel. The attorney referral counselor will take your name and address and give you the name, background, address and telephone number of a lawyer appropriate for your particular situation. You then contact the lawyer to schedule an appointment. If a lawyer is not necessary, or you cannot afford to pay an attorney, the attorney referral counselor may offer other options to help you resolve your problem.

How much does this cost?

There is no charge for your conversation with the attorney referral counselor, or for the referral to an lawyer. If you are referred to a lawyer and schedule an appointment, you are entitled to an initial consultation of up to one-half hour with the lawyer. That consultation will be free if you are calling about an injury due to an accident or a faulty product, the negligence of a doctor, a worker’s compensation or a Social Security claim. If you are calling about any other legal problem, a one-half hour consultation with an experienced lawyer will cost $35. This fee is sent to the LRS to defray operating costs. The lawyer will not charge additional fees for the initial one-half hour consultation.

Many clients find the consultation is all they need to remedy their problem. If further consultation or representation with the lawyer is needed, it is your choice whether to retain the lawyer or not. The fees to be paid for the lawyer’s services are agreed upon by you and the lawyer.

How do lawyers bill for their services?

There are different ways that lawyers may charge for legal services. We recommend that you sign a written fee agreement with any lawyer you hire. This agreement, known as a Retainer Agreement, states what services the lawyer will provide and how the lawyer will be paid for those services. In New York, a lawyer is required to have a written fee agreement in matrimonial cases and in contingency fee matters. When you hire an lawyer who was recommended by the LRS, the lawyer will provide you with a Retainer Agreement that covers your situation.

  • Hourly Basis: A lawyer may charge for his or her time on an hourly basis. Most business and matrimonial matters are handled on an hourly basis. A deposit, known as a retainer fee, is usually paid when the lawyer is hired. In certain matters, the lawyer may be unable to predict how many hours of work or how expensive the entire case will be, but he or she should be able to give you an understanding of the process ahead and some ballpark figures regarding the costs at different stages. Some disbursement expenses may be additional. [A “disbursement” is money paid out for expenses such as costs for filing fees, court reporters, photocopying, travel, or long distance telephone calls.]
  • Contingency Fee Basis: A lawyer may handle a matter on a contingency fee basis. This means a client does not pay any fees unless the lawyer wins or settles the case. Matters such as personal injury, collection matters, products liability, malpractice and some sexual harassment cases are handled on a contingency fee basis. In some contingency fee arrangements, the lawyer may require the client to pay for certain expenses, such as fees for expert witnesses [An “expert” is a person who, because of his education or specialized experience, possesses superior knowledge about a subject. A person who is qualified as an “expert witness” will be allowed to testify in court to assist the judge or jury in understanding complicated or technical subjects not within the knowledge or understanding of the average person.] and disbursements [see definition above].
  • Flat or Straight Fee Basis: A lawyer may handle a matter on a flat fee basis. This means that there is a specific dollar amount for which the lawyer will handle the matter regardless of the hours spent. Bankruptcy, real estate purchases and uncontested divorces are often handled on a flat fee basis.
  • Combined Approach: A lawyer may combine several of the above options for a particular case. It is important to understand clearly what fee arrangement you agree to.

What are my rights and responsibilities as a client?

Statement of client’s rights and responsibilities (as adopted by the Administrative Board of the Courts)

  • You are entitled to be treated with courtesy and consideration at all times by your lawyer and the other lawyers and personnel in your lawyer’s office.
  • You are entitled to an attorney capable of handling your legal matter competently and diligently, in accordance with the highest standards of the profession. If you are not satisfied with how your matter is being handled, you have the right to withdraw from the attorney-client relationship at any time (court approval may be required in some matters and your attorney may have a claim against you for the value of services rendered to you up to the point of discharge).
  • You are entitled to your lawyer’s independent professional judgment and undivided loyalty uncompromised by conflicts of interest.
  • You are entitled to be charged a reasonable fee and to have your lawyer explain at the outset how the fee will be computed and the manner and frequency of billing. You are entitled to request and receive a written itemized bill from your attorney at reasonable intervals. You may refuse to enter into any fee arrangement that you find unsatisfactory.
  • You are entitled to have your questions and concerns addressed in a prompt manner and to have your telephone calls returned promptly.
  • You are entitled to be kept informed as to the status of your matter and to request and receive copies of papers. You are entitled to sufficient information to allow you to participate meaningfully in the development of your matter.
  • You are entitled to have your legitimate objectives respected by your attorney, including whether or not to settle your matter (court approval of a settlement is required in some matters).
  • You have the right to privacy in your dealings with your lawyer and to have your secrets and confidences preserved to the extent permitted by law.
  • You are entitled to have your attorney conduct himself or herself ethically in accordance with the Code of Professional Responsibility.
  • You may not be refused representation on the basis of race, creed, color, age, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin or disability.

Statement of Client’s Responsibilities (as adopted by the Administrative Board of the Courts)

Reciprocal trust, courtesy and respect are the hallmarks of the attorney-client relationship. Within that relationship, the client looks to the attorney for expertise, education, sound judgment, protection, advocacy and representation. These expectations can be achieved only if the client fulfills the following responsibilities:

  • The client is expected to treat the lawyer and the lawyer’s staff with courtesy and consideration.
  • The client’s relationship with the lawyer must be one of complete candor and the lawyer must be apprised of all facts or circumstances of the matter being handled by the lawyer even if the client believes that those facts may be detrimental to the client’s cause or unflattering to the client.
  • The client must honor the fee arrangement as agreed to with the lawyer, in accordance with law.
  • All bills for services rendered which are tendered to the client pursuant to the agreed upon fee arrangement should be paid promptly.
  • The client may withdraw from the attorney-client relationship, subject to financial commitments under the agreed to fee arrangement, and, in certain circumstances, subject to court approval.
  • Although the client should expect that his or her correspondence, telephone calls and other communications will be answered within a reasonable time frame, the client should recognize that the lawyer has other clients equally demanding of the lawyer’s time and attention.
  • The client should maintain contact with the lawyer, promptly notify the lawyer of any change in telephone number or address and respond promptly to a request by the lawyer for information and cooperation.
  • The client must realize that the lawyer need respect only legitimate objectives of the client and that the lawyer will not advocate or propose positions which are unprofessional or contrary to law or the Lawyer’s Code of Professional responsibility.
  • The lawyer may be unable to accept a case if the lawyer has previous professional commitments which will result in inadequate time being available for the proper representation of a new client.
  • A lawyer is under no obligation to accept a client if the lawyer determines that the cause of the client is without merit, a conflict of interest would exist or that a suitable working relationship with the client is not likely.