- Do I need a lawyer?
If you are involved in a court case, or if you believe you have a claim against someone else or that someone else may have a claim against you, it is recommended that you contact an attorney for advice and/or representation. An attorney can explain your rights and obligations, advise you of the possible outcomes of your case based on the facts, attempt to negotiate a resolution of your case without a trial, file legal documents on your behalf, and represent you in any hearings.
In most cases, you have the right to represent yourself if you choose not to hire an attorney or are not able to do so. This is called proceeding “pro se.” If you represent yourself, you will be held to the same rules of procedure and evidence as a licensed attorney. These rules can be complicated, and there is not a single source of legal rules, which can be found in statutes, court decisions, and regulations, among other sources. Because of this, representing yourself can be difficult.
- I would like to hire a lawyer. How do I find one?
Many people find lawyers based on personal recommendations from family or friends. Other attorneys in the area are often happy to recommend an attorney who may be able to assist you with your legal problem. There are also many online resources that can help you find a lawyer in your area.
- The North Carolina State Bar, which is the governing body for lawyers, keeps a list of lawyers who are certified specialists in different areas of law, such as criminal law, estate planning, or workers’ compensation. You may find that information online. The North Carolina State Bar also keeps a directory of all licensed attorneys, which you can search either by name or by city and state. This directory provides some contact information as well as information about whether the lawyer has ever been disciplined for misconduct. You may find that directory online.
- The North Carolina Bar Association, a private statewide lawyers’ organization, runs the Lawyer Referral Service, which provides referrals to potential clients. Not all lawyers participate in the Lawyer Referral Service, but participating lawyers agree to charge no more than $50 for an initial, 30-minute consultation. You can get a referral through the service by calling 1-800-662-7660 or online.
- The North Carolina Advocates for Justice is a private association of attorneys geared toward representing individuals in cases such as personal injury, medical malpractice, workers’ compensation, employment, civil rights, immigration, family law, and criminal and juvenile defense. The organization keeps a directory of lawyers based on location, languages spoken and practice areas. You may find that directory online.
- The North Carolina Association of Defense Attorneys is a private organization of attorneys geared toward representing businesses and individuals in civil (not criminal) cases such as medical malpractice, workers’ compensation, construction, employment, and commercial law. The organization keeps a directory of lawyers based on geographical location, which you can find online.
- You can find additional referral information and resources for the public, including information about how to choose the right lawyer for your case, through the State Bar.
- How much does it cost to hire a lawyer?
Lawyers must charge reasonable fees, based on many factors, including the lawyer’s experience and skill, the complexity of the case, the amount of time and work involved, and other factors. In some cases, lawyers may charge “contingent fees,” meaning that the lawyer keeps a percentage of the money the client receives from the case rather than charging the client at the beginning. When hiring a lawyer, you should make sure you understand what you will be charged. You can find the rules about lawyers’ fees online.
- Does it matter where my attorney’s office is located?
Most people hire attorneys who regularly practice in the county where the court case is filed. Some attorneys may be willing to travel for a case, but may charge travel expenses to the client. If your case is in the North Carolina state courts, at least one attorney involved in your case must be licensed to practice in North Carolina.
- Can I get a court-appointed lawyer?
Court-appointed lawyers are available in certain cases for people who are unable to afford to hire an attorney. These cases include criminal cases where jail or prison time or a fine over $500 is a possibility; cases where Child Protective Services seeks to remove a parent’s children from the home; and cases involving involuntary commitment to a mental health facility or a petition to find a person incompetent and appoint a guardian. Court-appointed attorneys are not available for minor traffic violations or for most civil cases, such as divorce, child custody, Domestic Violence Protective Orders, evictions, foreclosures, or cases in which a person or company sues someone for money. You can find a full list of situations in which an attorney can be appointed.
- How do I get a court-appointed lawyer in a criminal case?
You can request a court-appointed lawyer after you are charged with a crime. When you appear in court, the judge will ask you whether you want to have an attorney appointed, hire your own attorney, or represent yourself. If you want a court-appointed attorney, you may need to give the court information under oath about your income and expenses, so that the judge can determine whether you can afford to hire an attorney. Depending on your county, you may be appointed a public defender or a private attorney from an appointment list. In some counties, you may meet with your attorney on the same day. In other counties, information about your attorney will be provided to you so that you can contact the attorney. See the Criminal Law Help Topic for more information about court-appointed attorneys in criminal cases.
- How can I find free legal assistance if I can’t afford an attorney?
Numerous organizations in North Carolina provide free legal assistance in specific types of cases. Note that all of these programs have their own eligibility criteria and application processes.
- eCourts Guide & File is available to help users prepare court documents online to file for certain case types.
- Legal Aid of North Carolina provides free legal assistance to low-income people across the state in a variety of legal areas, including domestic violence, landlord/tenant, foreclosure, public benefits, unemployment, consumer, education, criminal record expunctions, senior law, veterans’ law, and human trafficking cases. You can apply for assistance by calling 1-866-219-5262 or online.
- Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy provides legal assistance to people living in the Charlotte area in a variety of legal areas, including consumer protection, foreclosure, health care and public benefits, tax disputes, domestic violence, immigration, veterans’ law, and senior law. You can apply for assistance by phone at 704-376-1600 or online.
- Pisgah Legal Services provides legal assistance to people living in Western North Carolina in a variety of legal areas, including consumer protection, domestic violence, health care and public benefits, immigration, criminal record expunctions, and senior law. You can apply for assistance by calling 828-253-0406 or view the organization’s website.
- The North Carolina Justice Center provides free legal assistance in cases including consumer protection, foreclosure, housing discrimination, immigration, immigrants’ rights, and workers’ rights. You can view the organization’s website.
- Disability Rights North Carolina provides free legal services in some disability-related cases to people with disabilities. You can view the organization’s website.
- North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services provides free legal services in certain types of cases to people who are incarcerated. You can view the organization’s website.
- North Carolina’s law school clinics provide a variety of free legal assistance, in areas including bankruptcy, landlord/tenant, education, community economic development, immigration, domestic violence, and senior law. You can find out more about each law school’s clinics by visiting their webpages: Campbell University School of Law (Raleigh), Duke University School of Law (Durham), Elon University School of Law (Greensboro), North Carolina Central University School of Law (Durham), UNC School of Law (Chapel Hill), Wake Forest University School of Law (Winston-Salem).
- The North Carolina Bar Association offers various services, including its annual 4ALL Statewide Service Day, where lawyers across the state provide free legal information by phone; NC Free Legal Answers, a virtual legal advice clinic; and NC LEAP, which provides legal services to low-wealth entrepreneurs.
- If you are a college student or member of the U.S. military, your school or branch of the military may offer some free legal services.
- Law firms, law schools, and nonprofit organizations periodically hold legal clinics, in which people can have one-on-one meetings with an attorney or law student to discuss their legal problems or for assistance in preparing some legal documents such as simple wills. You can find out more about legal clinics in your area through service providers or notifications in your local newspaper.
- Legal Aid of North Carolina runs group informational clinics across the state, where volunteer attorneys provide information about legal issues including divorce, child custody, tenants’ rights, and employees’ rights. You can view the clinic calendar online.
- Additional organizations provide assistance related to specific legal issues. You can view directories of North Carolina legal service providers on LawHelpNC and on the NCBA’s website.