Here’s a quiz: What kind of lawyer do you need for the following situations?
a. Your landlord won’t return your deposit even though you moved out of your apartment months ago.
b. Your boss has wrongfully terminated you because you told him you were pregnant and need time off.
c. Your vintage car has been damaged by your neighbor while he was backing out of his driveway and he refuses to pay for your $6,000 repair bill.
d. Your creditors are calling you at all hours of the night, making physical threats against you and your family if you don’t pay your bills.
e. You’ve purchased a new car from a dealer and one week later the transmission falls out.
Scroll down to the bottom for the answers.
It turns out there are MANY kinds of lawyers serving MANY different purposes. In this day and age, lawyers are specializing more and more into narrowly defined fields of law. Generalist lawyers, the kind that used to handle every legal matter under the sun, have pretty much gone the way of the Dodo bird. I get phone calls all the time from clients asking me to help them find the right legal specialist to handle their matter. So here’s a quick and dirty guide to help you decide what kind of legal specialist you need.
Civil Rights Lawyers: Discriminatory treatment of customers by business establishments (under the California Unruh Act), hate crimes (California Ralph Act), violation of constitutional rights like freedom of speech, freedom of religion, etc.
Collections Lawyers: Disputes relating to your creditors and violation of your rights under the Fair Credit Report Act, etc.
Criminal Lawyers: Defense against criminal charges.
Bankruptcy Lawyers: Bankruptcy filings.
Employment Lawyers: Disputes arising out of or relating to the workplace, with your boss, co-workers or even customers/vendors – specifically, discrimination, wrongful termination, harassment, medical leave retaliation, whistleblower retaliation, pregnancy law interference, etc. There are also sub-specialists – for instance, lawyers who focus on wage and hour claims (failure to pay overtime, last paycheck, miscategorization of exempt employees, etc.).
Family Law Lawyers: Divorce, child custody, etc.
Immigration Lawyers: Immigration-related processing and disputes with the INS (now called United States Citizenship and Immigration Services).
Landlord-Tenant Lawyers: Disputes with or relating to your landlord arising out of your rented living space, rental agreement or co-habitants.
Labor Lawyers: Disputes relating to or involving unions and union-related laws and agreements. NOT the same thing as an employment lawyer, though most people use the terms interchangeably.
Lemon Law Lawyers: Disputes arising out of purchase of “lemon” cars.
Medical Malpractice Lawyers: Injuries due to mistakes made by doctors and/or other medical staff. These are a disappearing breed due to the restrictive laws passed in California and around the country.
Personal Injury Lawyers: (aka “ambulance chasers”) Broad range of matters including car accidents, assaults, defamation, damage to property, contract disputes, etc. PI lawyers are the closest thing to generalists that still exist. Even so, many PI lawyers specialize. For instance, there are truck accident PI Lawyers, motorcycle accident PI Lawyers, etc.
Real Estate Lawyers: House closings, property transactions, etc.
Tax Lawyers: Tax-related planning and disputes with tax authorities.
Trusts and Estates Lawyers: Planning for the death of yourself or loved ones – wills, trusts, estate planning, probate. Also disputes over estates, inheritances, etc. Some T&E lawyers handle the planning part only, others the disputes only, and still others handle both.
Workers Compensation Lawyers: Claims under workers compensation for injuries related to or occurring at work. These are a disappearing breed due to restrictive laws which were passed recently in California.
There’s also a whole other category called Corporate that focuses on serving and small, medium-sized and large businesses. This includes, general corporate lawyers, mergers and acquisitions lawyers, securities lawyers, intellectual property lawyers, environmental lawyers, antitrust lawyers, international law lawyers, etc.
Keep in mind that if you want to sue, in California, if your damages (injury to person and/or property) are $7,500 or less ($5,000 or less if you’re suing as a corporation) you are limited to small claims court where attorneys aren’t generally allowed. You may still be able to hire an attorney to help behind the scenes with a small claims action, however.
The above list isn’t exhaustive but it’s a start. Don’t forget to contact the bar association for your state or locale. Most bar associations have lawyer referral services which refer you to the lawyer you need. Here are links to several bar associations:
Good luck on finding the right lawyer for you.
ANSWERS: a. Landlord-tenant lawyer; b. Employment lawyer, c. None – this is a small claims action, d. Collections (Debtor/Creditor) lawyer; e. Lemon law lawyer.