Understanding the legal system: What most attorneys do not tell you
Whether or not you choose to utilize the legal system (i.e., suing someone) or it chooses you (you are sued or you are arrested) it unfortunately helps to understand that (and I hate to admit this) justice is a business. What this means is that no matter how you enter the system, it is most likely going to cost you a substantial amount of money to see your case through. Many attorneys do not fully disclose how much your entire case will cost, and often lead you to believe your initial payment covers all your legal fees. It is important to ask your attorney what exactly you are paying for; if costs are additional; how much are trial fees (if necessary) and a general ball park question of how much this entire matter will run.
What most people do not understand is what you are paying your attorney for. Plain and simple you are paying them for their advice, much like a doctor. They may not actually "do" anything but simply listen to your problem analyze it and then give you a response. Sometimes their responses and advice can save you, make you or cost you thousands and thousands of dollars. This advice has a certain value, as because of it you are relying on them to help you make your decision. In criminal matters this advice can also mean saving you from going to jail.
Additionally, this advice and cost is not only based on years of going to law school (the average law school degree costs about $70,000), but experience in handling your matter once out of school; as well as the building of a reputation and relationships within the legal system. Additionally you are paying them for their time and their costs of running a law practice (i.e., research materials, office costs, etc.)
Before hiring an attorney it is always best to meet or talk to a few to get the best perspective on which one is best for you. The most expensive rarely means "the best." I have personally found, much like doctors, you can never pay someone to legitimately care about you and your matter. Some attorneys naturally care and some don't, its up to your instinct and the attorney's actions in speaking to you to decide if this is simply a business transaction, or the lawyer legitimately cares for your best interest.
Ask the attorney if he or she has a strategy on how they plan on handling your matter and make sure it is one you agree with. You can also check online to see if your attorney has ever been disciplined or is currently licensed, by checking them on calbar.org which is the California Bar website.
It is almost always best to hire an attorney that you or someone you know personally has used in the past. The attorney/client relationship much like the doctor/patient relationship is a unique one as you often have to discuss highly personal matters with someone you hardly know. However if you do not feel comfortable discussing such matters with this person, perhaps that is not the right attorney for you. It is also important to realize that unless you waive "the attorney/client privilege" you can tell your attorney just about anything and they cannot reveal this information to anyone.