Why Won’t Anyone Take My Case?
Problems with Hiring a Lawyer

The following information was discussed by Attorney Whitney Hughes on the January 4, 2010 edition of Legal Briefs on KDKA's Pittsburgh Today Live Show.

Even over the holidays, the Lawyer Referral Service continued to receive calls from clients who were having difficulty with finding a lawyer or getting in touch with them once they’ve been hired.

Many of the calls received through the program are questions about the attorney-client relationship and the problems that may come from it.

Below are some common questions, common sense answers, and some helpful tips as well.

1. How do I know if I need a lawyer of if I can handle something myself?

The fast answer to this is don’t assume you can.

Usually the answer to this question depends on the situation you find yourself in and how far along in the legal process you are.

Many times it helps to just run a situation by an attorney to find out if there would be greater consequences by either letting a matter go or by handling it yourself.

In many civil cases which would be heard before a local magistrate (otherwise known as small claims court), many people do decide to represent themselves because there is usually a small amount in dispute and often the fees you would pay to an attorney are greater that what you would stand to recover. Keep in mind that you are not required to do so — you can retain an attorney. For larger civil cases which either go to arbitration or to the Court of Common Pleas, most will retain a private attorney.

For criminal cases, it is usually advisable that you retain an attorney. Many times the charges could be either reduced or dropped at an early proceeding by an attorney. A layperson would not know the arguments to be made or the procedure to be followed, so it is best to have some help.

2. I know I have to hire an attorney, but where do I start?

Steps in finding a good attorney:

  • Ask for recommendations from neighbors, friends and family, etc.
  • Call the bar association (Lawyer Referral Service).
  • Schedule a consultation with the attorney / find out if there is a fee to do so.
  • Find out how long they've been practicing, what kind of experience they have.
  • Be up front with them about exactly what you need them to do.
  • Find out what their fees are up front.
  • Ask if they carry malpractice insurance.

3. I’ve decided on an attorney to hire and I’ve scheduled my first consultation. What types of things should I look for and what questions should I ask?

Typical questions include:

  • How does the attorney structure his/her fees?

All fee agreements must be in writing — make sure you are presented with a fee agreement that you understand.

If you don't understand the fee agreement, ASK — you have the right to ask questions

4. I’ve hired an attorney but it always seems like we’re speaking different languages and working at cross purposes. What can I do?

Make sure you're clear about what you want the attorney to do for you. You may both have very different expectations of what the outcome should be.

Tell them everything — even that bad stuff. Keeping things close to the vest and not disclosing certain pieces of information may not only end up hurting your case, but may also end up costing you more in the long run.

If you don't understand something, ask about it.

Keep in mind though, that attorneys do charge for their time; continuous calling will probably end up costing you time and money.


1. Arrogance will work against you. Do not assume that you know what is best. You are not an attorney. You have sought out the help of a professional because at some point in time you have either felt overwhelmed and in over your head or someone has specifically told you that you will need representation. While you shouldn’t feel that you are just following blindly, you have to be willing to let your attorney do his/her work.

2. There may be very good legal reasons why attorneys are not willing to accept your case. You may be past a filing deadline, the amount you are trying to recover may be too small to justify expending money on attorney’s fees, or the person you are trying to sue may not have enough money to pay any amount you may be awarded. While you may want your case handled just on principle alone. Attorneys are not willing to do that. They must be sure that a case is not only legitimate, but worth pursuing and expending their time and your money.

3. Don’t be a jerk — continuous calling, yelling at support staff, or showing up at an office without an appointment will do nothing but harm your case. Your mother always told you; you catch more flies with honey.

4. Attorneys are people. They have lives outside their office and concerns other than your case. If you call an attorney on Friday afternoon at 5:30 pm, it is not unreasonable for them to call you back on Monday morning. Just as you value your vacations and family time, so does your attorney. Be mindful of that and use a little common sense.

As always, if you have any questions about consumer law, call the Allegheny County Bar Association's Lawyer Referral Service at 412-261-5555 or visit our online Lawyer Referral Service.