Do You Think Lawyers Charge Too Much or Too Little?

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To determine whether a lawyer is charging you too much or too little, you need to look at the value of what you are getting for your money. Are the services you are receiving worth the money you are paying out? If you hire a less expensive attorney, will you get the same quality of service? How important is the end result to you?


You need to find a lawyer who will give you a comfortable balance of the highest level of service at the lowest price. Contact several attorneys and ask for an estimate to determine what is a reasonable cost based on your needs. Never forget the old adage that you get what you pay for.


Obviously, if you are suing someone over a matter of a few hundred dollars, you don’t want to rack up a thousand dollars in legal fees. But as the value of your lawsuit grows, the higher fees may seem worth it. Because a win is not guaranteed, using a higher profile law firm with more resources and a good track record may be the difference between a judgment in your favor or a dismissal of your case.


Remember, you will pay for the name and reputation of the law firm you hire, but that still does not guarantee a legal victory. If you’re dealing with a criminal case, you have more at risk than just money. Your personal property and even your liberty may be at stake. You need a lawyer who will give you the best chance of beating any charges against you.


When you are determining what value you are receiving for your legal fees, you need to look at the whole picture. You may only spend a few hours with your attorney and have a bill well over a thousand dollars. You may ask how someone can justify billing hundreds of dollars per hour. No one makes that kind of money in the non-legal world!


Chances are your lawyer is not making that kind of money either. Your payment does not go directly into the lawyer’s pocket. He or she has to pay their secretary, their paralegal, the rent, the electricity, the phone bill, the janitor, and any other overhead. Your fee pays for everyone who worked on your case, and that’s not a lot per person per hour now.


Also take into consideration your attorney. You are paying for his or her expertise. This person studied for many years (and accrued a vast student debt) to provide you with a level of service that you may not get elsewhere. This is the true value of your lawyer’s time, and the bang for your buck, so to speak.


There are shysters out there who will gladly take your money and provide you a low level of service. Yes, they charge too much for their services. But if you take a close look at what value you are receiving for your legal investment, you can find a lawyer who will give you the level of service you require at a price that won’t break your budget.


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What Makes up a Legally Binding Document?

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A document that two or more people sign and notarize is legally binding and is one form of agreement that can be upheld in a court of law. In fact, any agreement between two parties can be enforced legally, whether the contract made was verbal or written.


However, a signed document is valuable proof that such an agreement exists and that both parties have agreed to the same terms. In the absence of such a document, it’s difficult to determine exactly which conditions were agreed upon in the event the two parties remember the terms differently.


The document that describes the agreement is your contract. When both parties fully understand and agree to the terms outlined in that contract, each will signify his or her acceptance by signing it. Even if the agreement has not been notarized, the signatures alone legally bind both parties to the terms in the contract,


Having the contract notarized provides evidence that each party actually signed the document. Since a notary must witness the signatures, no one can claim that his or her signature was forged or otherwise illicitly obtained. Furthermore, the document bears a notary’s mark and seal. A notarized document is a more secure way of signing the contract, but the contract itself is still legally binding with or without being notarized.


Wording your document is another story, however. Once signed, this document becomes the entire scope of the agreement. If something is not included in the document, it does not exist in the agreement. The wording does not make the document more or less legally binding, but it does clarify exactly what you are legally bound to do.

A vague or poorly worded contract leaves room for interpretation, and more dangerously, misinterpretation.


Regardless of poor or inadequate wording, the contract is still legally binding and can be enforced by a court of law, but in court the judge must interpret the terms that were documented. Without clearly written terms and details, the judge may construe them differently than you originally intended them. More specific terms create less chance that a judge would favor the opposing party’s portrayal of the agreement over yours.


A good contract will describe in detail the offer, the acceptance of the offer, the value or payment to be exchanged for the offered product or service, and the timeframe in which the transaction will take place. The more clearly each of these items is documented in the contract, the easier it will be to enforce the terms in court.


If you are creating your own contract without the advice of a lawyer, make your wording clear and easy to understand. Do not try to add fancy legal or Latin terms unless both parties fully understand them and their legal ramifications. Contracts do not need to be fancy or use long, intricate words and phrases to be effective. The most effective contract will demonstrate that both parties entered into the agreement in full understanding of each of the terms set forth.


One point to note, however, is that no matter how well worded your contract is, and no matter how specific the terms, if the contract involves any type of illegal activity, it is not enforceable in court. No party can make a contract to break the law.

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I Want to Take Someone to Court in Pennsylvania, but I Live in a Different State. Can This Be Done?

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Where you take someone to court depends on a few things, but not on where you live. There are several different factors that determine where you can take a person to court, including where that person lives, where the event or dispute about which you are suing took place, and whether that person was acting on behalf of a company. As long as your case meets one of these criteria, then yes, you can sue the person in Pennsylvania.


If you are suing a person who has hurt or wronged you and you sue them in small claims or state court, then you can take them to court in the state in which they live or in the state in which they wronged or hurt you. These courts only handle local cases. So if your defendant lives in Pennsylvania, you can sue him or her there.


If they committed the act about which you are suing them or your dispute with them arose in Pennsylvania, you can sue them there. If this person does not live in Pennsylvania and the event or dispute over which you are suing did not happen in Pennsylvania, then you cannot sue them there. The location of the lawsuit must be related to the defendant who wronged you or the location of the event where you were wronged.


When you sue someone, the court will serve that person with a summons informing him or her of your complaint and that they are being sued. The person must be served with the papers in the state in which they are being sued. So even if you are able to sue someone in Pennsylvania, if they are never within state limits to receive the summons, your case cannot proceed. You would need to sue them in their home state. Exceptions would be if your lawsuit involved a motor vehicle incident or an out of state landlord who owns property in the state. Then they can be served out of state.


If the person you wish to sue lives in Pennsylvania, your first step would be to file a complaint in that person’s home county. Some counties may allow you to send paperwork through the mail, but at some point you will need to travel to the site of your lawsuit. Take travel time and expense into consideration as you pursue your suit, and keep your receipts. Be sure to include any applicable court costs in your suit, such as fees for serving the summons and filing the complaint.


If this person was acting on behalf of a company and your lawsuit is against the company, then there is a slightly different set of rules. If the company is licensed to do business in Pennsylvania and has a presence in that state — a store, an office, a warehouse, or any other facility — then you can sue that company in Pennsylvania.


Even if the person’s headquarters is in another state, as long as you can provide a valid in-state address for the court to serve the defendant, you can sue them in that state. But if the company is completely based in another state and has no presence in Pennsylvania, then you need to sue them where they are located.

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When to get an attorney and when not to get one!

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To Hire or Not to Hire?


“Your Honor, I object!” How many times have you heard that on a TV show? Often times the judge’s response is along the lines of “On what grounds?” It is then the attorney’s job to explain why he thinks what the other attorney is doing is wrong. The reasons can range anywhere from leading the witness, to badgering the witness, to showing off. The fact of the matter is, however, that it is the attorneys who know what to look for in these cases.


It is their job, and they have received a high level of training in order to make themselves qualified for the position of defending you. The question many people ask themselves, especially in today’s economy, is “when do I get an attorney involved?” The truth is, attorneys are expensive, and many times people don’t see a need for them.


If a person has the time to do his own research and the case is not a serious one, a diligent person could probably run the case mostly on his own. But how many people have the time to thoroughly do the necessary research? How many people even know where to start when it comes to researching their case?


Most of the time, people who try to run their case on their own tend to create a bigger mess than they had to begin with, and wind up hiring a lawyer in the end anyway just to clean up the mess for them. When this happens, fixing the mess often leads to more expenses than would have normally been incurred, and the client would have been better off hiring an attorney from the start.


Some of the benefits of hiring a lawyer are:


  • Getting the work done: That is, after all, what attorneys are being paid to do. They have the resources and the time to focus on the research for your case and have a vast amount of knowledge regarding different cases, so they generally know what they are doing.


  • Resources: Have you ever tried to work your full time job while trying to learn something completely new without a teacher? You just won’t have the time to do one of them properly, and most likely it won’t be your day job. Most law firms are equipped with several attorneys as well as paralegals that have nothing better to do than work on your case. Doing research and determining how specific laws apply to your case is what they are in business for.
  • Education and experience: Lawyers have at least three years of law school, in addition to however many years of work experience they have acquired. This means that they have exposure to obscure cases that may apply to you, in addition to knowing what each law says and how to apply it to your case. They  know what they are doing, and in this business, that is hard to beat.


The only real downside to hiring a lawyer is the cost. However, when you look at the benefits of having an attorney, it is difficult to choose not to. So the answer to the question “When do I get an attorney involved?” is  “As soon as possible.”

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What happens if there is a problem with Probate?

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In Pennsylvania probate is a simple process.  Your attorney will prepare a Petition for Probate and an Estate Information sheet in most counties but in some, like Philadelphia, your attorney must pre-register with the Register of Wills.  The main function of the Register of Wills is to ascertain the correct party to administer the Estate.  If the decedent died with a Will the Register will examine the Will, have the Witnesses sign affidavits if the Will is not self proving and swear in the Executor or Executors.  If the decedent died without a Will the persons that will inherit under the Intestate Laws have the right to be appointed Administrator.  The Register could ask those who want to serve to provide proof of relationship, usually a birth Certificate.  If there is more than 1 party who is named in the Will as Executor or there are more than 1 beneficiary who could serve as Administrator and only 1 of those wants to serve the party who does not wish tom serve must sign a Renunciation before  notary.  Probate in Pennsylvania is usually a simple process and, with the aid of an experienced attorney, it should be completed within an hour.


There are situations where more than 1 person eligible to serve cannot agree or there are questions of the validity of a Will.  This will result in litigation before the Register of Wills.  The Register will not interpret clauses in a Will which may be ambivalent but will only determine if the Weill is valid and the person or persons name in the Will are qualified to serve.  In a case where there is no Will but more than 1 of the Intestate heirs want to serve without the other the Register will determine if one is more qualified to serve.  If the Register finds there is so much animosity between the parties that they neither can serve he will name a neutral party to serve.  The neutral party will retain an attorney to represent him or her, both charging fees.  A contest is commenced either by filing petition for Citation (similar to a complaint in civil court) and the Respondent will be given time to file an answer.  If there is a contest then a hearing will be scheduled before an Assistant Register who will hear evidence and make a determination.  If there is a question of the validity of a Will a party opposing the probate will file a Cavaet requesting the Register not probate the Will.  That will be followed by a hearing similar to the other forms of contest.  Any party can appeal the Register’s decision to the Orphan’s Court division of the Court of Common Pleas.


Although probate is a simple process in most cases it is important that a party be represented by a qualified attorney.  Decisions regarding the information on the Petition for Probate will determine the fee charged by the Register of Wills.  If the Decedent died without a Will and the Administrator does not reside in Pennsylvania a bond must be filed with the Register of Wills which your attorney can arrange to be done at probate.

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Should I retain an Estate Lawyer in Philadelphia to guide me through settling an Estate?

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If you had to cross a beautiful meadow but there was a big sign saying “Beware, this is a mine field.  An experienced professional guide is available to guide you through the field and you are guaranteed you will not strike a mine if you retain him.”  Would you risk serious injury, maiming or death to save the fee of the experienced guide?  I doubt it but many people do just that and try to administer Estates without the guidance of an experienced Estate Lawyer inPhiladelphia. Do you know how to marshal a Decedent’s assets, how to find out what assets a decedent owned, how to obtain a federal tax ID number, which obligations can be settled at a fraction of the debt, how to prepare the documents required by the Register of Wills and the Orphan’s Court, how to prepare a Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax return, a United States Fiduciary tax return, a Pennsylvania income tax return?

These are things that must be done even in the smallest Estates.  But retaining an Estate Lawyer in Philadelphia can, in addition, reducing the Pennsylvania Inheritance Taxes paid by the Estate, you can save future income taxes because of his knowledge of the interrelation of the Inheritance tax and the federal income tax, he can settle debt obligations for a fraction of the claim even through there are enough assets to pay the debt in full, elect to shorten the statute of limitations available to creditors to file claims.  The list goes on and on.  The Administration of an Estate without the guidance of an Estate Lawyer in Philadelphia is a mine field as the layman will not even be aware of any problems until they strike.  2 recent examples of people who called me because they found my web sight come to mind.  An executor administering an Estate without the guidance of an Estate Lawyer in Philadelphia made decisions on her Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax returns designed to save Inheritance tax.  She was unaware of the effect that made on the Estate’s income tax until she was presented with a very large bill from the IRS.

Another example was an Administrator who believed she was the Decedent’s next of kin, transferred the Decedent’s home to herself and, when she had it under agreement of sale found out that she was required to get the Orphans’ Court’s permission and ended up loosing the house. These and other horror stories are too common and they could have been avoided by retaining an Estate Lawyer in Philadelphia.  Avoiding situations like the ones described here are part of the routine services that are offered by an Estate Lawyer in Philadelphia.

I accept fees based upon a fee schedule setting forth the guidelines of the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue and/or the Pennsylvania Attorney general. These fees are based upon the size of the gross estate and start at 7% of the first $25,000 of the gross estate.  That means that if your gross estate is $25,000 the fee will be $1,750 leaving $23,500 to pay debts, taxes and inheritance.  The percentage falls as the value of the estate grows.  The fee also reduces as the Estate Lawyer inPhiladelphia saves you Inheritance taxes, income taxes and settles debts at a fraction of the face value.  Please do not walk into a mine field but retain the services of an experienced Estate Lawyer inPhiladelphia to make sure the path is easy and safe.

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How does an Estate Lawyer inPhiladelphiaset fees?

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Our courts have ruled that Estate Lawyers inPhiladelphiacan only charge reasonable fees. Of course that leaves the key question of what is a reasonable fee up in the air.  Our courts take into consideration the complexity of the Estate, the time expended by the Estate Lawyer, his or her experience and education as factors.

All Estates require certain routine services to be preformed.  The question of a fee’s reasonableness is reviewed in every Estate by the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue in reviewing Inheritance Tax returns and the Pennsylvania Attorney General when a charity is involved.  Both the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue and the Attorney General have guidelines as to the reasonableness of an attorney’s fee based upon the size of the gross estate, but they will not publish those guidelines. In 1980 a Judge wrote an opinion in the Johnson Estate case that attached the guidelines of either the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue or the Attorney General to it.

Both the Pennsylvania Attorney General and the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue deny the Johnson Estate fee schedule is their 1980 guidelines but admit they are pretty close.   Although there are no higher court rulings a number of Orphans’ Court judges have ruled that the Johnson Estate Fee schedule will be accepted as a reasonable fee for an attorney performing routine services in an Estate.  If the fee is larger than the Johnson Estate fee schedule the attorney will have to demonstrate he or she was required to spend more time because non-routine services were required, usually litigation between beneficiaries or taxing authorities.  I will agree to a fee for routine services based upon the Johnson Estate fee schedule even though it is based upon 1980 rates.  This is because an experienced Estate Lawyer inPhiladelphiahas purchased proprietary soft wear that has reduced the amount of hours required to settle an estate.  I pass this savings on to my clients.

Many clients only look at the gross fee and then compare each fee selecting their attorney based upon fee only.  This is a costly mistake.  The gross fee is not what the services of an attorney cost a client. There are many other factors to consider.  All fees are deductible for Pennsylvania Inheritance tax purposes.  That reduces the fee by between 4.5% and 15%. If you retain the services of and experienced Estate lawyer inPhiladelphiahe will know how to pass his fee through to the beneficiaries so they may deduct it from their personal income taxes and therefore reduce the fee further with their tax savings.  Further, an experienced estate lawyer in Philadelphia can settle certain debts at a fraction of the amounts owed even through the Estate has more than enough funds to pay the obligation in full.  I have represented clients in Estates where the savings were so substantial that the attorney’s fee did not cost the estate anything.  The key to selecting an attorney is not the fee but should take into consideration the attorney’s experience and education and the net cost of the fee.

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How to Pick a Good Attorney, Abowitz Law Offices

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Choosing a lawyer can be a daunting task, as there is so much to consider. Obviously, you want a lawyer who can deliver the best possible results for your case, but preferably without emptying your bank account.


The first step is to identify your needs. Determine what type of case you have — civil, real estate, disability, etc. — and look into the steps needed to file for the case. The more informed you are about the process, the easier it is to know what you need your lawyer to do for you. You must also decide whether you will need a general attorney or a specialized attorney.


Once you have identified what type of lawyer you need, do not be afraid to vocalize your search for one. Referrals can come from anywhere: family, friends, a cashier, teller or loan officer at your bank. Anyone you come in contact with may know the perfect attorney for you.


Of course, you shouldn’t choose a lawyer on reputation alone. There exist many free online referral services, which list local lawyers and their specialties. Sometimes these online services even provide ratings, reviews, and success rates.


Additional referrals include local sources, such as your area’s Chamber of Commerce or especially your local law library. For advice in cases of divorce or adoption, consider non-profit organizations, such as women or family counseling.


After narrowing down your list of prospects, you should contact each attorney and ask to meet them in person. As a general rule, if an attorney doesn’t offer a free face-to-face consultation of at least thirty minutes, it could indicate that they value their time above yours. Likewise, however, when you find one that is willing to meet with you, be sure to come well prepared so as to make the most of your consultation.


Bring an outline of your needs, any pertinent details and all documentation that supports those details. During the interview, try to gauge if the lawyer’s personality is one you will be comfortable working with.


You want legal representation that is confident but not overly so. For example, a capable attorney should be able to outline a basic strategy, but should never guarantee that he can win your case, as it is impossible to guarantee a sure win.


Lastly, the questions you ask could be the deciding factor in your choice. Therefore, it is important to ask how you can contact him with questions or concerns. You want an attorney that is willing to make time for you and your case, so he should indicate a willingness to meet personally with you as needed. Upon request, a good attorney should be able to provide a timetable of how soon the paperwork can be filed.


To keep fees to a minimum some attorneys will allow you to do as much of the research, filing, etc. as possible. Most good attorneys will understand and respect your need to monitor the costs closely.


Armed with this information and a clear plan, choosing the right attorney for you should be a rewarding and less stressful experience.

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