There are a few things that you can do in advance to help yourself in almost every legal case:
- PREPARE A SIMPLE CASE SUMMARY
It is a good idea to type up a simple case summary of 1-2 pages. Put in the relevant details of your legal issue, and a list of witnesses who can help back up your claims or defenses. Also include other relevant information available about you and the other parties to a legal case. Especially important are social security numbers, driver's licenses, addresses, dates of birth, phone numbers and addresses.
This will help you organize your thoughts as to the issue you are dealing with. It will also help you review the important details of your case and get the dates and times straight as to when important events happened. This summary will be very helpful for the attorney when you have the first meeting.
- GATHER UP IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS & INFORMATION
Make sure to gather up and organize important documents like receipts, contracts, bank and credit card statements, insurance papers, estimates of damages, police reports, etc. Also helpful are pictures, videotape, audiotapes, and e-mails or text messages. You may need to take pictures of items that may be damaged or disputed later on. Also you should take pictures of any injuries you may have sustained as soon as possible. Sometimes small bruises can fade away quickly.
- START MAKING A RECORD OF IMPORTANT INFORMATION & EVENTS
You may want to keep a journal of all events relating to your case. If so, make sure to keep your notes very simple and fact-based. Try not to insert any of your personal beliefs or comments in the journal, unless it is necessary. (For example, it is OK to document the pain you are feeling from an injury in a personal injury case). You may be forced to turn over the journal to the opposing party if the case ends up in court.
You may also want to begin monitoring the transactions and behavior of another party, such as a spouse in an upcoming divorce case. You may even want to audiotape or videotape the actions of another person. (Special rules apply to these types of actions, so it is best to consult an attorney as to when it is legal to do so). Sometimes it is very helpful to have a friend accompany you when you are about enter a situation where you think there might be a dispute. That way you can have a witness to bring to court with you to support your side of the story as to what really happened in the dispute.
- BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU SAY
If you are involved in some type of dispute, be careful what you say. If you are the target of a criminal case, you should never give a statement to the police or any law enforcement type person without having an attorney there to protect you. They may try to trick you into giving a statement by saying they just want to hear your side of the story so they can help clear you of any wrongdoing. Do not fall for this trick.
If you are in an accident be careful telling the other party "I feel fine" or "I don't think I am hurt." Those kinds of statements can come back to haunt you if you do turn out being injured later. Sometimes it takes a person a few days to realize that minor pain has become a serious problem.
In a divorce case, be careful about making threats or using obscenities towards the other party. They might be video or audio-taping you. They may also be saving your e-mails and text messages to use against you later.
You also don't want to let the other party know what your plans are. If you are going to be meeting with an attorney, you don't necessarily want to tell that to the other side. They may decide to run out to meet with an attorney also. They might also end up filing a lawsuit against you first, before you get a chance to file one against them.
- GET A FREE CONSULTATION FROM OUR OFFICE!
If a legal problem does come up and you are not exactly sure how to handle it, call our office immediately for a free consultation! You may find out you don't really need to hire an attorney yet, but at least you can get some advice on how to proceed on your own. You can also find out what all your legal options really are. Also, it is very important to check with an attorney to see if there are any critical deadlines in your case, so you do not miss them accidentaly.
If you can, put some money aside for a rainy day. You never know when you might need an attorney, or face the prospect of going to jail, but if the time comes at least have something set aside to post bail. Think of it as an insurance policy. In fact there are legal insurance policies out there to help cover your expenses, such as the Texas Legal Protection Plan, and the Legal Plan, Inc. You may want to investigate these organizations to see what their monthly rates are.
Be careful about shopping around for the absolute cheapest attorney you can find. You don't want to pay an unreasonable fee, but keep in mind that you often get what you pay for. The cheapest attorney in town may be cutting his or her costs at your expense. He or she may be quoting you a deceptively low price in the beginning, and only after you go into the office do you discover that the amount he quoted was just a down-payment. When your freedom or rights are on the line, you don't want to skimp so much that you regret the service you got later.
If you insist on going at it alone, check out the "LINKS" section above for links to some helpful websites that can provide you very useful information.
General Legal Tips
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San Antonio, Texas
Attorney Stephen H. Gordon
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Scene in SA Monthly Magazine
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