Frequently Asked Questions

PROSPECTIVE CLIENTS

How do I choose a lawyer?

Your attorney should be trustworthy, reliable, and hardworking.  He or she should also have experience handling the type of case you have.  Finally, your attorney should be someone you get along with and trust.  Good relationships make for better representation.  There are exceptions to this rule, of course, such as certain criminal defense attorneys.  Alan Dershowitz (one of OJ Simpson’s attorneys) is a great example.  Plenty of people can’t stand him, but he’s a truly excellent attorney and worth every penny he charges.  Exceptions like Dershowitz generally charge hundreds of thousands of dollars.  If you’re not paying that kind of money for your attorney, find someone you genuinely get along with.  They’ll usually work harder for you, be more interested in your case, and be more careful with your money than someone who doesn’t care about you one way or the other.

How can I protect myself against a dishonest attorney?

While most attorneys are far more honest than the jokes would have you believe, there are some people who masquerade as attorneys, and some attorneys who make bad decisions.  There are numerous examples just from clients who have come to Ricketts & Yang after having a bad experience:
-In one case, an attorney stole $200,000 from a client and was disbarred; later, he accepted $40,000 from an unsuspecting client, pretending to still be licensed to practice, and disappeared with the money.
-In another case, a man with a Los Angeles law practice met with a young woman accused of a hit and run, who had paid him to defend her.  Instead of defending her, he drove her to the station to have her confess to the police.  We learned afterward that he had never been licensed to practice law.
-A well-respected attorney demanded a $7500 retainer deposit from a prospective client; when she met with him, she realized he had not even bothered to read her case before the meeting, so she fired him.  He kept her $7500 for over a year before refunding some of it, claiming he’d worked 6.8 hours on the case – allegedly, for reading her file.
So first, before you even meet with the attorney, check their name in the California State Bar website.  If their name does not appear, call them and ask for their California State Bar number.  If they cannot provide one, the attorney is not licensed.  Make sure to verify on the State Bar’s website that whatever bar number they provide matches their name.  It is illegal for a law firm to misrepresent the names of its partners as recorded with the State Bar.  You can also verify on the website when they were admitted to practice and if they have had any record of discipline.  Although you do not need to automatically disqualify anyone who has ever been suspended or disciplined by the Bar, this is basic research that should always be the first thing you do when searching for an attorney to represent you.
Second, ask to speak to a reference.  This can be a good way to gain more information on what working with this attorney will be like.
Third, if you are paying your attorney a substantial deposit, ask if they have a trust account.  Your deposit should be placed in a trust account, and you should be able to write your check to a trust account with the letters “IOLTA” in the title.  This will ensure that your money is deposited into a trust account, which is a great way to make sure it is properly accounted for just in case you need to make a complaint sometime down the road.  Many perfectly good attorneys do not use trust accounts, but it adds a layer of protection for your money.

How do I find an attorney's bar number?

You should always verify that your attorney is currently licensed to practice law by entering their name into the State Bar website:
 
Here, you can also see where they graduated from (both undergrad and law school), when they were admitted to practice in California, and whether they have ever been disciplined or suspended from practice.

How do I locate a lawyer?

The best way to find an attorney is by asking an attorney you trust to recommend someone.  If you don’t know an attorney, getting a referral from a friend is the next best bet.  If you don’t have a friend who’s used a good attorney, a great way to find a good attorney is to research the bar associations that specialize in the area you need help in.  For example, Ricketts & Yang is a member of the National Police Accountability Project; a client who needs a police misconduct lawyer would be well advised to check with that organization for a referral.  Otherwise, you can always use Google or attorney ratings websites like Yelp or Avvo.  There are also lawyer referral services in most cities – just Google the name of your neighborhood and “lawyer referral service” and you’ll likely find one.

What types of cases will you accept on contingency?

At Ricketts & Yang, we accept police and employer misconduct cases on contingency, as well as whistleblower cases involving public employees who wish to expose a substantial amount of fraud being committed against the state or federal government.  You can also find attorneys who will accept personal injury or worker’s compensation cases on contingency, although Ricketts & Yang does not handle those kinds of cases.  In exceptional cases, you may be able to persuade some attorneys to take on a business or intellectual property litigation on a contingent basis.  If you have a divorce, bankruptcy, child dependency, or criminal case, you should expect to pay as you go – or even up front – as no private attorney will take these cases without guaranteed payment.

How much is my case likely to cost?

As any attorney will tell you, litigation is highly unpredictable.  At a minimum, cases usually take at least 10-15 hours of attorney time, plus at least $1,000 or so in costs, to settle very quickly.  You can never count on this, even if it seems like it would make economic sense to just settle right away; people get emotional in litigation and don’t always settle when they should.  A case that doesn’t settle all that quickly, but also doesn’t drag on forever, is likely to require between 60-100 attorney hours.  And a case that goes to trial relatively smoothly can easily take 200-300 hours of attorney time.  All this ignores the possibility that the case does not proceed smoothly.  It also ignores the potential need to hire experts, which can cost anywhere from $2,000-$100,000 each, depending on the subject for which you need them to testify.

Will my lawyer just handle my case for me?

No.  A lawsuit is a partnership between you and your lawyer.  Your lawyers can handle many things for you, but they still need you to tell them what happened; provide them with documents like emails, letters, contracts, and other records; be available to answer questions and approve their plans; and review anything they will submit on your behalf.  Often, you will need to sign documents to submit to court.  You may be called to deposition, meaning an all-day, recorded and sworn interview with the other side’s attorneys – all under penalty of perjury.  So if you’ve been sued, or if you’re planning to sue someone, be ready for a fair amount of work!

Why should I hire a lawyer?

Anytime you are trying to either defend yourself or vindicate your rights against an unwilling adversary in court, you should have a lawyer.  The reasons are numerous:
1.  If you do not know how to properly name and format your documents, they may be rejected or denied.
2.  If you do not know the rules of evidence, you may be precluded from using valid documents and testimony in your favor.
3.  If you do not know the deadlines, you can miss them – risking losing your case.  For example, failing to timely file a response to a motion for summary judgment can result in your case being dismissed.  Failing to respond to discovery timely can preclude you from objecting to the questions they have asked, obligating you to answer improper questions that may hurt your case.  Failing to respond to a complaint timely can result in a default judgment.  In general, missing deadlines creates an enormous amount of work at best, and at worst harms your case.
4.  If you have not been trained in legal reasoning, you may waste your time arguing the merits of your case when it can actually hurt you.  A classic example is a speeding ticket where the defendant says they were “only” going one mile over the speed limit, but the officer wrongfully accused them of traveling eight miles over the speed limit.  The defendant thinks the important issue is the officer’s lie, but the judge will hear the defendant’s admission that he was, in fact, speeding – and that is the end of the case.  A lawyer will help avoid missteps like this.
5.  Your attorney can have conversations with the other side and negotiate for you without becoming emotional; this is often a big part of the reason cases are able to settle.
6.  Your attorney can make representations on your behalf without being questioned as to what actually happened.  This is critical because often the last thing you should be doing is making admissions.
7.  Your attorney can help you characterize things appropriately.  For example, many people will use the word “threaten” in a very informal way – “I threatened to take my son’s toys away.”  But in a divorce or domestic violence case, the word “threat” can easily be twisted against you. A lawyer can help show you how things you say could be used against you.
8.  Your attorney can tell you when you are going to lose.  For example, in employment cases, employers often do not realize that their good-faith attempts to resolve an issue with an employee are actually illegal, such as allowing them to leave early one day in exchange for working overtime another day.  Often, the time records are not reasonably disputable.  In cases like these, having someone on your side tell you honestly that you can’t win is valuable because you can then make an informed decision to settle the case at a good price based on what you would likely have to pay if you went to trial and lost.
9.  Your attorney can help protect you from meaningless threats that might otherwise intimidate you.  Attorneys love to threaten the other side; your attorney can explain the real risk, which is often lower than the other side wants you to think.
10.  And the list goes on…

CURRENT CLIENTS

What is a motion and what kinds of motions are there?

A motion is a written document that asks the court to do something for you.  For example, you might want a preliminary injunction early in the case because the defendant is likely to cause irreparable harm to you, and even if you win later on at trial it will be too late to stop the damage.  Some motions ask the court to force the other side to disclose things in discovery that they do not want to disclose (for example, a motion to compel).  Some motions ask the court to award monetary sanctions or penalties against the other side for bad behavior during the litigation itself (such as a 128.5 motion).  Some motions have to do with evidence, meaning you ask the court to stop the other side from even mentioning certain things in trial (for example, motions in limine).  And some motions ask the court to get rid of all or part of the case (demurrer, motion for summary judgment, motion to dismiss, motion to strike).  A motion that asks the court to throw out an entire case is called dispositive.

How many hours does it usually take you to write a motion?

It always depends on the motion, of course.  An anti-SLAPP motion, a Motion for Summary Judgment, or a Motion for Sanctions often take a lot of work, require a lot of evidence, and need upwards of 20, 30, even 40 hours for complicated ones.  That said, these motions can be quite valuable strategically, so they’re sometimes well worth the expense.  Discovery motions are closer to 5-10 hours.  The time required can also decrease sometimes if we have a similar motion handy that’s worked before.  The secret of practicing law is in reusing all our old stuff – that’s why older lawyers get to charge more.  They have more material lying around, and are able to put things together faster as a result.  Of course, sometimes the motion lost last time it was used, in which case you try to improve it.

What about an opposition?

Usually less time than a motion.  Anywhere from between 5-10 hours is usually how much time it takes us.

The case is getting to be too stressful. Can I ask for a few months off?

Almost never.  If you or your loved one is very ill, or something similarly bad is going on, you may be able to get a stay of the case, but it is unlikely.  Just being tired of litigating, or needing time to come up with money to pay your attorney, is not considered a reason for delay.

How should I act in deposition?

You must always be kind and polite in deposition.  The more annoying, the meaner, the more outrageous your questioner becomes, the more polite and kind you must become.  Respond to them with cooperation.  Do not get into an argument with them.  Be assertive, and do not allow them to bully you into saying things you don’t mean; if they’re saying something that isn’t true, just say so calmly and politely.  You can read more about what to expect in deposition here.

How should I act in trial?

Regardless of whether you are the plaintiff or defendant, you must always project your most serious, respectful self during trial.  The worst thing you can do is make the jury think that you do not take the trial or their time seriously.  The second worst thing you can do is make the jury think you are putting on an act for them.  So don’t start laughing and joking out in the hallway, or even in the nearby restaurant for lunch, or even in traffic on your way home from court, if you’ve been close to tears inside the courtroom all day.  That said, if you’re a boisterous, jovial person by nature and you just don’t know how to be any other way, don’t fake it either. Just make sure you are consistent inside and outside of the courtroom.  During trial, you must always assume the jury is watching you.

What are the rules of professional conduct?

The rules of professional conduct are the ethical rules that every attorney must follow or risk a complaint to the bar and discipline, including suspension or disbarment.  You can read them in searchable PDF here:
Failing to follow the rules of professional conduct is not in itself a crime, nor grounds to sue someone, nor is it necessarily proof that an attorney has committed malpractice.  However, if you believe your attorney has breached one of the rules, you should consider filing a complaint with the state bar to protect his or her future clients from bad practices.