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December 03, 2020

When Do You Need A Lawyer?

Some problems are not really legal—or are not exclusively legal—and can be handled, at least in part, with the help of other professionals, such as accountants, doctors, psychologists, the clergy, or other counselors. But many problems do have a legal dimension and require a lawyer's help.


Are there specific cases when I should see a lawyer?

Yes, some matters are best handled by a lawyer. Nearly everyone agrees that you should talk with a lawyer about major life events or changes. Some examples might include:

  • being arrested for a crime;
  • being served with documents related to a legal proceeding or lawsuit;
  • being involved in a serious accident causing personal injury or property damage;
  • a change or pending change in family status, such as divorce, birth, adoption, or death;
  • a change or pending change in financial status, such as filing for bankruptcy or getting or losing valuable personal property or real estate.

Should I save money and wait until I absolutely need a lawyer's services?

No. An ounce of prevention is worth many dollars and anxious hours of cure. Once you have determined that you need professional legal help, get it promptly. You can get the most help if you are in touch with a lawyer as soon as possible.

What exactly is a lawyer?

A lawyer (also called attorney, counsel, counselor, barrister, or solicitor) is a licensed professional who advises and represents others in legal matters. Today's lawyer can be younger or older, male or female. Nearly one-third of all lawyers are under the age of thirty-five. Almost half the law students today are women, and women will probably ultimately be as numerous in the profession as men.

What are the professional requirements for becoming a lawyer?

Lawyers must go through special schooling and licensing. Before being allowed to practice law in most states, a person usually must:

  • have a bachelor's degree or its equivalent;
  • complete three years of education at an accredited law school;
  • pass a state bar examination that usually lasts for two or three days and tests knowledge in selected areas of law;
  • pass a national or state examination on professional ethics and responsibility;
  • pass a character and fitness review by a committee that investigates his or her character and background;
  • take an oath swearing to uphold the state and federal constitutions and the state laws where the person is sworn in;
  • receive a license from the state supreme court;
  • and in rare instances, complete an internship in a private or public legal or law office.

What about lawyers who work with military families? Do they need to have any special training?

Yes. Military members and their families have access to free legal services and lawyers through military legal assistance offices found at large military installations around the country and overseas. These offices are staffed by military lawyers, called “judge advocates,” and civilian lawyers, all of whom receive special education and training in many areas of law affecting military members. See the following section on military legal assistance for more information on these lawyers and the services they provide.

Particularly when it comes to a military divorce, you must make sure you are working with an attorney who is specialized in this area of the law. This can be a former JAG officer, a retired military lawyer, a Reservist or National Guard attorney, or legal assistance at a military base. Often, the best arrangement is to hire a lawyer to handle most of the family law issues, and then retain a specialist in military divorce to help you with those limited aspects of the case. For a list of helpful questions to ask your prospective military divorce attorney, visit the Legal Eagle handouts prepared for the North Carolina State Bar.