Finding a Lawyer
Many people hire a lawyer to handle their case in the court system because it is hard to do without training and experience. Your case may be so important or so complex that you will benefit from the assistance of a lawyer. Finding an attorney to represent your interests, in court or otherwise, can be a difficult process. Talk to family and friends for their recommendations. The information below can provide such assistance as individualized referrals, referrals by geographic area, or referrals by practice area. A referral is not meant to be a substitute for the careful screening each person should conduct before retaining an attorney. You are encouraged to ask any attorney you intend to retain for a list of references, areas of practice, or other suitable evidence of the attorney's ability to represent your interests.
Going to court without a lawyer is called pro se and pronounced "pro-say." Sometimes when people represent themselves, they end up having to hire a lawyer to "fix" their mistakes, which can be costly. The law and rules of court apply to everyone, people represented by lawyers and people representing themselves. You can learn more about this by reviewing the Representing Yourself section of this website. It is a good idea to start by talking to a lawyer about your problem before you decide to represent yourself in court. Handling Your Case in Family Court offers more information.
Resources that can help:
- The Missouri Bar maintains a Legal Resource phone line at (573) 636-3635, which contains information about various legal resources available to the public.
- MissouriLawyersHelp.org contains a free lawyer search featuring, a listing of agencies that may provide discounted or pro bono services, as well as information about various legal topics and other public resources.
- MissouriFreeLegalAnswers.org is a service for low-income Missourians who feel they cannot afford a lawyer to get free legal advice about non-criminal problems from volunteer lawyers. It is a secure, confidential website where Missouri citizens can ask a lawyer up to three legal questions per year about non-criminal legal matters. Volunteer lawyers licensed to practice law in Missouri respond to submitted questions through the website providing information and basic legal advice without any expectation of long-term representation. No fee is charged to Missouri citizens who are financially eligible to use this service.
- LawyerSearch, maintained by The Missouri Bar (the organization of all lawyers licensed in Missouri), is a list of lawyers who have indicated they are currently accepting new clients. You can search by area of practice or by location. This list includes contact information for each lawyer listed.
- The Public Resources Directory is an extensive listing of resources available to Missouri citizens at the local, state and federal level.
- The Official Missouri Directory of Lawyers lists every lawyer in Missouri who is in good standing with the Supreme Court of Missouri. Updated daily, it is the most authoritative and comprehensive listing of Missouri lawyers available. However, this directory does not provide contact information, nor do the listings indicate whether a particular lawyer is accepting new clients. Use this directory if you want to check a lawyer’s standing.
- If you are searching for an attorney in metropolitan St. Louis, the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis (BAMSL) maintains a free online lawyer referral service.
- For referrals in southwest Missouri, the Springfield Metropolitan Bar Association (SMBA) has a local Lawyer Referral Service as well.
- If you are a person whose income meets the guidelines for free legal services in certain civil cases, you can check Legal Services of Missouri for a legal aid office near you.
- If you are seeking assistance in a criminal case and are indigent or otherwise unable to afford a lawyer, you may be entitled to representation by the Missouri State Public Defender System. If you do not qualify for representation in a criminal case, please refer to the list of lawyer referral systems listed above.
- The Missouri Bar's website offers free law-related brochures about various areas of the law, including consumer, family and probate law; living wills and durable powers of attorney; and small claims issues.
Hiring a Lawyer
The Client Resource Guide is a publication of The Missouri Bar that contains helpful information about hiring a lawyer. Talk about the fee at your first meeting with a lawyer. The lawyer wants you to be pleased with the service and expects to discuss fees with you. Lawyers are prohibited from charging a "contingent" fee (a percentage of money collected) in family law matters.
Lawyers enter into several types of arrangements to represent people:
- Consultation: A lawyer will discuss your case and provide some advice at an hourly rate.
- Advance Fee Deposit: A lawyer may ask for part of the fee in advance, particularly if the lawyer will represent you in court. Often, the lawyer will be responsible for all the services required in the case. The lawyer may have a fixed fee, or may charge you by the hour.
- Limited Scope Representation: It always is best to be informed about your legal rights. New rules allow Missouri lawyers to assist people with some of the legal work in their cases. The client remains responsible for tasks not handled by the lawyer. Examples of work the lawyer may perform include the following: consulting about legal rights and strategies, preparation of court documents, and appearing in court with the client to prove up an uncontested case. Lawyers may charge by the task or by the hour.
The fee generally is based on the amount of work performed by the lawyer. More information is available from the Limited Scope Representation: Hiring a Lawyer by the Task brochure.
- Collaborative Law: An exciting new approach to divorce and other family legal disputes. In the collaborative law process each spouse is represented by an attorney hired to advise the client and achieve a negotiated settlement in a context of full and open disclosure where the goal is a fair and equitable resolution of all issues. A team of related professionals can be available to work with the family and the attorneys providing coaching in communication, guidance on child issues, and practical assistance with financial matters. The parties and the professionals agree not to litigate the dispute or participate in court proceedings. The focus and energy and resources of all involved in the process is on creative problem-solving based on a sound legal foundation. This model offers a divorce process which protects the dignity, integrity, and long-term best interests of all family members.
- "Pro Bono" Assistance: Some lawyers are willing to assist people with low income at no cost. Your local bar association or legal services agency may have a list of lawyers willing to donate legal
The Missouri Bar has a fee dispute resolution program to help people work out disagreements over fees with their lawyer.