Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Q: Do I need a lawyer?
  2. Q: How much does it cost to hire an attorney?
  3. Q: What’s the difference between lawyer and an attorney?
  4. Q: How can I find out if an attorney is licensed?
  5. Q: Do lawyers know all of the laws?
  6. Q: What does “you’ve been served” mean?
  7. Q: Will I have to go to court to get divorced?
  8. Q: How does a judge decide who should get custody of my child?
  9. Q: How can I get a green card?
  10. Q: How can I become a U.S. citizen?
  1. Q: Do I need a lawyer?
    A: It depends on the type of case you have and the complexity of the legal matter. You may want to talk to a lawyer about your case and your situation, as that will help you determine if it’s something you can manage on your own or not. If you find out that your legal matter is complicated and time and resource intensive, and without a lawyer, you could hurt or lose your case, then hiring a lawyer may be the right decision. If time is of the essence in your case, a lawyer can be very helpful.

  2. Q: How much does it cost to hire an attorney?
    A: Legal fee structures vary and there are different ways in which lawyers charge for legal services, as it depends on the type of case you have. Most attorneys charge an hourly fee for legal work and bill you directly for reimbursable costs, such as filing and court fees. Some types of legal matters, for example, as is the case with many immigration filings, are billed as a flat rate or flat/fixed fee. Another situation is common with personal injury cases, where the lawyer charges you a percentage of the recovery; this is called a contingency fee. Talk with your law firm to get a better understanding of fees related to your case.

  3. Q: What’s the difference between lawyer and an attorney?
    A: Generally, the terms attorney and lawyer are used interchangeably and in practice mean the same thing. The actual difference is technical and that is why the terms are used interchangeably in conversation. A lawyer is someone who has studied the law, meaning they have gone to law school to learn the subject of law. An attorney, however, is short for attorney-at-law. Attorney-at-Law is defined as a person who is licensed to practice law and represent clients in that capacity. Again, the actual difference in the terms is a technical one, and for practical purposes lawyer and attorney are often used interchangeably.

  4. Q: How can I find out if an attorney is licensed?
    A: The State Bar of California is a public corporation within the judicial branch of government, serving as an arm of the California Supreme Court. All State Bar members are officers of the court. Membership in The State Bar of California affords attorneys the right and privilege of practicing law in this state. You can check on the licensing status of any California lawyer at the State Bar website: http://www.calbar.ca.gov/Home.aspx

  5. Q: Do lawyers know all of the laws?
    A: While it is true that all lawyers are expected to have an understanding of law and how the judicial system works, it would be difficult, if not impossible for any one lawyer to know all of the thousands of local, state and federal laws. Like other professional practices, the legal field has many categories in which people practice. Some lawyers are knowledgeable on immigration law, or family and divorce law, while others have an understanding of business law or personal injury. Each lawyer strives to become an expert in their particular law practice, and depending on the type of legal matter, the laws could change pretty regularly. That’s why hiring a lawyer is often a good idea in complex situations.

  6. Q: What does “you’ve been served” mean?
    A: Generally, getting served means you were given a complaint, summons or notice of a hearing. A complaint is a court document that starts a lawsuit and it identifies the claims someone is making against you, their allegations and what they are requesting as resolution from the court. A summons is court document requiring you to respond to a complaint and often the response is due in a short time-frame. A notice of hearing identifies for you the date of your court hearing and directs that your presence is required.

  7. Q: Will I have to go to court to get divorced?
    A: If your divorce is uncontested and a marital settlement agreement is filed, you may not need to go to court to get divorced. In cases such as these, the filings for divorce can be done with the court and the court will issue a judgment on the divorce. Sometimes courts ask for a formal or informal hearing with the divorcing spouses if the judge wants to ask questions about your divorce case. If your divorce includes disputes about assets and property division, child custody, spousal support or other terms not agreed upon, you still might not need to go to court because you may be able to come to agreement through mediation, arbitration or through negotiations with the help of a lawyer. However, if agreement can’t be reached, then you may end up in court to get divorced.

  8. Q: How does a judge decide who should get custody of my child?
    A: The judge’s decision must be “in the best interest of the child”, and that is what is required by the law. A judge will look at several aspects to determine what is in the best interest of the child. These include: will the child have a safe place to live, will they be well fed and clothed, will there be enough supervision, is enough emotional support available, which parent has been taking care of the child to this point, did any parent abuse the child, does either parent abuse alcohol or controlled substances or was the child exposed to domestic violence?

  9. Q: How can I get a green card?
    A: The steps to becoming a Green Card holder (permanent resident) vary by category and depend on whether you currently live inside or outside the United States. The main categories are: through family, through a job, through refugee or asylum status and other ways. Take a look at the resources available at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services for a full listing of green card requirements: http://www.uscis.gov/greencard

  10. Q: How can I become a U.S. citizen?
    A: The most common path to citizenship is available to green card holders (permanent residents) of at least 5 years to apply for naturalization.

If you are a green card holder of at least 5 years, you must meet the following requirements in order to apply for naturalization:

  • Be 18 or older at the time of filing
  • Be a green card holder for at least 5 years immediately preceding the date of filing the Form N-400, Application for Naturalization
  • Have lived within the state, or USCIS district with jurisdiction over the applicant’s place of residence, for at least 3 months prior to the date of filing the application
  • Have continuous residence in the United States as a green card holder for at least 5 years immediately preceding the date of filing the application
  • Be physically present in the United States for at least 30 months out of the 5 years immediately preceding the date of filing the application
  • Reside continuously within the United States from the date of application for naturalization up to the time of naturalization
  • Be able to read, write, and speak English and have knowledge and an understanding of U.S. history and government (civics).
  • Be a person of good moral character, attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States, and well disposed to the good order and happiness of the United States during all relevant periods under the law.