Every American is entitled to basic civil rights. Essentially, this means that everyone is entitled to be treated fairly and in the same way as others in virtually every aspect of civil society. This includes employment, housing, education, and a variety of other important rights. Historically, “civil rights” has been associated with providing more rights to African-Americans, but the term encompasses all types of people, regardless of race, disability, age, nationality, religion, sex, and a variety of other characteristics.
Types of Cases Handled by a Civil Rights Attorney
A civil rights attorney is a lawyer that specifically deals with discrimination claims, often on behalf of those who assert that their rights have been violated. Although most civil rights laws are based on federal law, there are often state and local laws that grant special protections for civil rights as well. A local civil rights lawyer will not only be familiar with these federal laws, but they will also be aware of local and state laws that might apply to a particular situation as well.
Civil rights claims also often involve agency or administrative requirements that must be met, frequently prior to taking a civil rights case to court. Time restrictions are often shorter as well, which can be confusing or complicated, even for attorneys that not do regularly practice civil rights law.
An attorney that does not focus their practice on civil rights is often not familiar with the overlap among federal, state, and local laws that applies to a civil rights claim. That is why when you are looking for a lawyer for a discrimination claim, you should always find an attorney who has experience specifically in bringing civil rights claims. Your rights are far too important to trust them to an inexperienced lawyer.
How to Pick a Civil Rights Attorney
There are a variety of other characteristics and traits that you should look for in a civil rights attorney. Having just the right lawyer for your situation will significantly increase your likelihood of a successful outcome. Use the following tips, tricks, and suggestions to find the right attorney for your claim.
Focus on Experience
Your civil rights attorney does not necessarily have to have experience in your particular type of discrimination claim, but he or she should have had cases in the past that deal with some type of civil rights violation. Ask specific questions of any potential attorney regarding cases they have worked on in the past. The following list is a helpful way to get that discussion started with a potential attorney:
- How many civil rights cases have you dealt with in the past?
- What type of outcome did you have in those cases?
- What types of discrimination did those cases involve?
- Do you have any experience in my particular type of alleged discrimination?
- Are you ready and willing to take a case to trial if necessary?
- Have there been any legal developments in civil rights cases that are similar to mine?
- Which laws apply to my type of claim (are there state or local laws that could help my claim?)
Although civil rights are a key part of everyone’s rights in the United States, not all attorneys will be familiar with civil rights laws. Law school trains lawyers how to think and analyze, but it does not usually focus on any particular area of the law. Instead, attorneys learn by doing in most situations. This learning structure makes experience extremely important the context of civil rights cases.
Communication is Essential
You want a civil rights attorney who is willing to listen to your experience and take the time to answer any questions you may have. If you are having trouble understanding anything or want more information, your attorney should explain the law or how the process works. If you get the impression that the lawyer is not really listening to your problems or that he or she does not have time for you, you may need to find a different attorney.
Communication is especially important in civil rights cases because of the intimate nature of these claims. When discrimination occurs, it can affect each person in a profoundly different way. Your attorney needs to be willing to listen to your story and develop your case based on your personal experiences.
Sometimes, discrimination can take an emotional or mental toll on an individual, and you need to feel like you can talk to your attorney about how you are feeling and how the discrimination has impacted your personal life. This type of conversation can be extremely difficult if you do not have a trusting relationship with your attorney or you just are not comfortable sharing this information.
Keep in mind that anything you tell your attorney is protected by the attorney-client privilege, which is designed to encourage clients to speak freely to their lawyers.
Realistic Evaluation of Your Case
Civil rights cases can be difficult to win because of the legal requirements associated with a claim. You need to find an attorney that will evaluate your case and give you a realistic opinion on whether your potential claim has a chance of winning. Sometimes, what feels like discrimination does not meet the legal definition of discrimination. A good lawyer will explain whether your case is worth bringing to save you (and the attorney) both time and money.
Ideally, your potential lawyer will explain possible problems with your claim. He or she can also give you an opinion of whether you can get around these problems or if the issues will undermine your claim. Even when you get emotionally charged, your attorney should keep a level head so he or she can advise you based on logic and reason instead of emotion.
How to Find a Civil Rights Attorney
Civil rights attorneys can be difficult to find, so it can be tempting to find a large firm that practices throughout the United States. In many situations, however, this is not a good idea. Attorneys that have too wide of a focus may not realize when local laws can be used to your advantage in a civil rights claim. Instead, finding a local or regional attorney may be a better option.
There are many avenues that you can use to find an attorney, but the process can be intimidating. Use the following steps to help you find a civil rights attorney.
- Ask family and friends if they have ever used a civil rights attorney before. Sometimes friends of friends, coworkers, or relatives can share their experience and recommend someone who provided a good experience.
- Organizations that are focused on civil rights often have recommendations for local civil rights attorneys. These organizations may include the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Association for Retired People, American Center for Law and Justice, or the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In some situations, these organizations may even want to be involved in the case. In those situations, your case may have serious implications for not only you, but also people who have had similar experiences to yours.
- Ask any friends, acquaintances, or family members who may be attorneys. Even if they do not practice civil rights law, they may know someone locally who does. Recommendations from other attorneys are often great resources because that attorney is more or less vouching that the other attorney is skilled and trustworthy, both qualities you should be looking for in a civil rights attorney.
- Do not assume you have to work with the first attorney that you find that has civil rights experience. You can take the time to meet with several attorneys to find the best fit for you. Civil rights initial consultations are often offered free of charge so that the attorney can meet you and you can “interview” the lawyer. The attorney will also do a quick evaluation of your case during this initial consultation as well. Even if one attorney says you do not have a valid claim, you may want to get a second opinion.
Costs Associated with Civil Rights Attorneys
Billing methods vary for civil rights lawyers. Some attorneys will work on an hourly fee while others will work on a contingency fee. An hourly fee is pretty straightforward, but a contingency fee is less intuitive. If an attorney takes your case on a contingency, he or she will only collect a fee from you if you win your case. There may be fees involved along the way, but the attorney will often cover those fees on your behalf (such as court costs, expert fees, and fees related to gathering documents).
A contingency fee arrangement is helpful to allow those with little funds to still assert their civil rights claim. Without this type of arrangement, many victims would be unable to bring a claim at all. Be sure to talk to any potential civil rights attorney about their fee arrangement before you retain him or her. You should also specifically ask who will be covering costs as well. Contact The Brown Firm PLLC for more information.