Frequently Asked Questions
"civil court cases"?
In the broadest terms, civil court cases are all court cases
that do not involve a violation of criminal law. When one has been
injured, financially or physically, he files his lawsuit, or
"action," in civil court. One can bring any such type of claim in a
civil court, including, for example, claims for injuries stemming
from breach of an agreement, dishonesty, fraud, unlawful acts,
defective construction, wrongful termination, breach of a lease,
property damage, etc. A civil case plaintiff may obtain both
compensatory and punitive damages.
Civil court cases are
brought in either the Small Claims, Limited, or Unlimited division
of a California Superior Court. Some civil cases can also be brought
in federal courts. If his damages are less than $5,000.00, the
injured person may file his lawsuit in Small Claims Court, in which
case he cannot use an attorney. And, costs in Small Claims Court are
much lower than they are in the other divisions of the Superior
Court. If the damages are between $5,000.00 and $25,000.00, the
injured person is required to file his action in the Limited
Jurisdiction division of the Superior Court. Cases worth more than
$25,000.00 are filed in either the Unlimited Jurisdiction division
of the Superior Court or in federal court.
Does it make sense for me to hire a
If you have a legal problem, or a problem that a court of law
would address, one of the first issues to consider is whether you
would benefit by retaining an attorney. The answer is different in
each case, and it depends on a number of factors.
issue to consider in determining whether to retain a lawyer is
whether you have a claim, or whether someone else has a claim
against you. If you have a claim for money (whether it's based on a
debt, or damages caused by another person for which compensation
would be just) then you should evaluate whether there's a
possibility of recovery without an attorney. Will the debtor
voluntarily pay, or does the debtor have to be compelled to pay by a
court or by the threat of litigation hanging over his head? If there
is a potential for recovery without an attorney, then you may
ultimately net more money by resolving the issue on your own,
depending on how much you are owed. However, if more than $5,000 is
involved, and you don't think you can get substantially all of the
money on your own, you may wish to contact an attorney to find out
how much you could expect to spend in legal fees. If less than
$5,000 is involved, you might try to recover your money in Small
Claims Court instead of contacting an attorney.
Any time that
you believe the person who owes you money may "counterclaim" against
you, you should contact an attorney if informal negotiations break
down, unless the amount at issue is certainly below $5,000. A
potential counterlcaim for $5,000 turns a matter in which your claim
is $5,000 into a $10,000 matter. When that type of money is
involved, it often makes sense to get an evaluation from an attorney
as to your rights and the strengths of the respective claims.
If someone else has a claim against you, the first issue to
evaluate is whether you owe the money. If you know that you do, you
can save attorneys' fees by negotiating a resolution on your own.
However, an attorney might be able to inform you of valid defenses
of which you were previously unaware, even if you believe that you
owe the money. For example, a "statute of limitations" bars the
prosecution of claims if not made within a certain period of time.
If a significant amount of money is involved, it usually makes sense
to retain an attorney regardless. Attorneys can often negotiate more
favorable resolutions or a payout over time.
If the claim
against you is less than $5,000, you should try to resolve the
matter without an attorney. However, if you are actually sued in any
court (whether it's Small Claims or higher level court), you may
want to talk to an attorney about potential defenses. Even a Small
Claims Court judgment will adversely affect your credit rating, so
you should present every defense available to you.
If I retain an attorney to help me collect
money someone owes me, how long should I expect to wait before
getting any recovery?
Most creditors turn to an attorney after their own efforts to
recover hit a dead end. In many cases, a letter from an attorney is
enough to shake up an obstinate debtor and cause him to immediately
pay at least part of his debt. If the debtor doesn't pay in response
to the "demand letter," then the only recourse may be to file a
legal action, or a lawsuit. Almost all collection cases are set for
trial within a year of filing, and over 95% of cases either settle
or otherwise get resolved before trial within that year. If your
case settles, you should expect some payment at that time, unless
the debtor has no money. If the case goes to trial, you can usually
expect payment soon after a favorable verdict if the debtor has
insurance. If not, you will have to initiate judgment enforcement
efforts to get some payment, in which case you will get payment
sooner or later depending on the amount of money the judgment debtor
I've been named as a
defendant in a lawsuit. What happens if a judgment is entered
A plaintiff can get a judgment either by default (if, for
example, you fail to respond to the Complaint within the requisite
time period), stipulation (your agreement), or trial decision. The
"judgment" itself is no more than a judge's decision on a piece of
paper, but it can have serious negative consequences. First, the
person who obtained the judgment against you has the right to use
the judicial system to compel you, the judgment debtor, to give up
money or property to satisfy the judgment. Although there are
significant protections for judgment debtors, the process is
uncomfortable, to say the least. Further, even a small judgment
negatively affects your credit. And, a judgment will often stay on
your credit record for up to seven years. Although you can always
get a judgment removed by filing a bankruptcy proceeding, in
general, you should do everything within your financial means to
avoid entry of a judgment against you.
What is "lawyer-client
confidence," or the "attorney-client privilege?"
Simply stated, an attorney cannot ethically divulge any
information or communication made to him in confidence. The
rationale for this rule, called the "attorney-client privilege," is
that clients or prospective clients will likely be more open in
their communications with attorneys if they know that the attorney
will not divulge potentially harmful information.
How much does it cost to hire an attorney?
Experienced attorneys in the San Francisco Bay Area generally
charge anywhere from $175 an hour to nearly $1,000 an hour. The
attorneys at Redenbacher & Brown, LLP, may charge anywhere from $150
an hour to $290 an hour. However, the fee might be reduced in some
cases if the attorney is willing to take the case on a full or part
contingency basis. Attorneys will often take personal injury,
collection, or wrongful termination cases on a contingency basis.
The firm's partners will frequently provide an initial free
consultation, at which they will discuss fees. Each partner also
does reduced fee work for specific clients, depending on the