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Questions & Answers

Many litigants, or prospective litigants, wonder why they need an attorney in a particular case. Although the answer may differ depending upon the issue, you may need an attorney to render an opinion of the basic legal rights you may not realize that you have, or to advise you of certain legal rules that you must adhere to. In matters that may seem straightforward (e.g. minor criminal or traffic matters, Workers’ Compensation, support matters in Family Court) important rights may be overlooked without legal assistance. That said, court clerks in the various courts attempt to provide litigants who represent themselves (called pro se litigants) forms to assist in the process – but the clerks are not allowed to give legal advice.

Various ways. The most common are:

Call 1-800-342-3661 (Lawyer Referral Service – a state-run service).

Contact the Tompkins County Bar Association at 607-533-8222. Generally, a call to the county Bar Association will result in a reference to the names of a few attorneys that may practice law in the area of your interest.

Check the local yellow pages.

Talk to your friends and neighbors about recommendations.

Check this Web Site. We have a directory of attorneys belonging to the local Bar Association. You may also visit the “links” section to see if the attorney you wish to contact has established a web site.

No. It depends upon the lawyer and the type of case. Many lawyers agree to provide a limited consultation for no charge. When you call a lawyer’s office with a question, or you want an appointment, you should ask about their consultation fees.

A retainer fee (an up-front amount of money) may be required in an agreement between a lawyer and a client at the beginning of the representation. You have a right to a written agreement outlining the specifics regarding the fee, and outlining your relationship with the attorney. Some lawyers are paid on a “contingency” basis (e.g. a per cent of the amount derived from the case), but “contingent” fee cases are limited by law. Ask about the limitations during your consultation.

Yes, with limitations. Certain indigent people may contact the Tompkins County Assigned Counsel Program at 607-272-7487 to ascertain whether they are entitled to have a free lawyer for certain reasons – generally, the services are provided for indigent people who are charged with criminal offenses or are involved in certain Family Court matters. Other services also exist, such as the Chemung County Neighborhood Legal Services (representing eligible clients who seek assistance regarding eviction issues or emergency housing problems and/or government benefits such as SSI, public assistance, food stamps, and Medicaid). CCNLS may be reached at 607-273-3666. In addition, there are two other ways to request a free lawyer: one, through the Cornell Legal Aid Clinic at 607-255-4196 (providing selected services in matrimonial matters or for those seeking government benefits) and two, through the Tompkins County Pro Bono program. The Tompkins County Bar Association (607-533-8222) may provide information about pro bono services, upon request.

Yes. A “Client Bill of Rights” is required to be posted in all private offices in New York State. You may receive a copy of the rights upon request.

You may call the Tompkins County Bar Association at 607-533-8222. Your complaint may be forwarded to the Bar Association Grievance Committee or to the state office on professional standards. However, a complainant may contact the state Committee on Professional Standards at 518-474-8816 (Albany) in the first instance.