A free public service provided by the Knoxville Bar Association
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FAQs

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How does the LRIS work? 

Our goal is to put you in touch with an attorney who can help you with your legal issues, no matter what they are! You fill out our online form, or call and talk to our friendly, knowledgeable staff, then we match you with an attorney who works in the appropriate practice area. Our attorneys will be in touch with you, generally within 48 business hours, to schedule your free consultation, which can be conducted in person or over the phone.


Does the KBA remain involved throughout my case?

No; we are not attorneys, don’t provide legal advice, and are not a part of your attorney-client relationship. Neither party is required to move forward after the initial consultation if it isn’t the right fit. If you find you need a referral to a second attorney, please call and speak with LRIS staff.


What areas of Tennessee does the LRIS serve?

Our service provides referrals to attorneys who practice primarily in the following counties: Knox, Anderson, Blount, and Sevier. If you have a legal matter outside of these counties, we are happy to see if we can help, or you may contact a local bar association in that county. While most county bar associations cannot provide a direct referral, they may be able to provide a list of their bar membership upon request. Visit the Tennessee Bar Association website for a full list of Tennessee county bar associations. If you need an attorney in another state, please use http://lrsconnect.org/get-legal-help/.


Can’t afford to hire a lawyer? 

The Lawyer Referral Service does NOT provide referrals to pro bono attorneys or on a reduced fee/ sliding scale arrangement. After the initial FREE consultation, each LRIS panel member will expect to be paid their normal fees for services. To see if you may qualify for legal assistance, please contact Legal Aid of East Tennessee at 865-637-0484. You should also download the Legal Resource Guide for additional services in our area.


Why Choose LRIS to find an attorney?

There are times in life when you need legal help.  This is especially true in situations involving life events or changes. When it matters most, knowing where to go for legal help can make all the difference. The Lawyer Referral & Information Service is a non-profit public service of The Knoxville Bar Association. Our service is the only non-profit lawyer referral service in our community and we have been providing attorney referrals for over 50 years. We offer experience, integrity and a commitment to public service. 

The KBA Lawyer Referral & Information Service is not simply a lawyer directory. The service includes the initial consultation with the attorney. Attorneys charge their normal hourly rates for a consultation. We ensure that the attorneys on the Referral Service are members of the bar in good standing, have no disciplinary actions taken against them, and carry liability insurance. 

  • The public’s trusted source for referrals for more than 50 years
  • Local lawyers that practice in 40+ areas of law and speak a variety of languages
  • All lawyers screened for relevant practice area experience and carry liability insurance
  • Our attorneys have an average of 20 years’ experience 
  • We refer you to a licensed and insured attorney based on your specific legal need, not a paralegal or document preparer.
  • Our attorneys will speak with you directly, typically within 24 to 48 hours after the referral.
  • Once you are referred to an attorney, you will receive a free consultation of up to 30 minutes. You have nothing to lose.
  • All attorneys on our service are in good standing with the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility and the Knoxville Bar Association.
  • We know how our attorneys are doing because we survey referred clients.

Sometimes you need a lawyer, sometimes you need just general information, and sometimes it is hard to know what you need. When you call the Lawyer Referral & Information Service you will speak to a member of our trained and friendly staff who can provide you with personalized service. If your question does not require legal help, our staff may direct you to a government or social service agency. 


How does LRIS Work?

Helpful staff will interview you to determine the nature of your legal issue. If appropriate, you will be referred to a private attorney for a free initial consultation. Sometimes hiring a lawyer is not necessary, cost-effective, or possible to address your particular situation — or we may not have an appropriate lawyer for your specific legal issue. If your question does not require legal help, staff may also direct you to a government or social service agency.  

The referral and the consultation time of the attorney are free. Many clients find the consultation is all they need to remedy their problem. If further consultation or representation with the lawyer is needed, it is your choice whether to retain the lawyer or not. The fees to be paid for the lawyer’s services are agreed upon by you and the lawyer. If additional services are needed beyond the initial consultation, you would be expected to pay the attorney his or her normal fees for services.

You may fill out our online request form or call (865) 522-7501 to talk to our LRIS staff about the nature of your problem. When you request a lawyer from us, we want you to know that we care about, and protect your privacy. When you request a lawyer referral, we need to have the following: basic information about your legal matter which includes opposing business or individual; your full name; address and telephone number. This information will be shared with the referred attorney only. The consultation will assist you in determining whether you need to hire a lawyer, the approximate cost for legal services and an estimate of the resolution time.  Once you have had your initial consultation, should you decide to retain an attorney, you will be expected to pay the attorney their normal and customary fees. Any services past the initial consultation are between you and the attorney. You and the attorney can decide if you wish to proceed with representation. You are not required to hire that attorney, and the attorney can decide not to take your case.


General Questions about LRIS:

How much is the attorney going to charge? Can I get a referral for someone else? I am outside Knox County.  Will the attorney still be able to represent me? Do you provide a list of attorneys? Can you recommend an attorney?

IS THE ATTORNEY GUARANTEED TO REPRESENT ME?

We cannot guarantee that any attorney we refer will be able to assist you. Just as we cannot require you to hire the attorney, we cannot require the attorney to assist you. Sometimes after speaking with a client the attorney determines that what the client wants to have done is much more involved than initially thought, or that it would not be cost effective to retain an attorney to handle a particular matter. In that event, the attorney would likely discuss additional options that might help resolve the matter other than retaining an attorney.

HOW MUCH IS THE ATTORNEY GOING TO CHARGE?

​Attorneys set their own fees. The Lawyer Referral & Information Service does not set either minimum or maximum fees for the attorneys we refer. 

CAN I GET A REFERRAL FOR SOMEONE ELSE?

​No. We cannot provide third party referrals. Our staff can only speak with the client or someone who holds a valid Power of Attorney for him/her.

 I AM OUTSIDE KNOX COUNTY. WILL THE ATTORNEY STILL BE ABLE TO REPRESENT ME?

​Our attorneys typically handle matters in East Tennessee. If you are a resident somewhere other than East Tennessee and have a case which has arisen in the area, we can certainly provide a referral for you. 

DO YOU PROVIDE A LIST OF ATTORNEYS?

No. We generally make one referral at a time. Make sure you feel comfortable with that attorney—both personally and financially—before hiring him or her. If that attorney does not work out for you, you may contact the referral service for an additional referral. We cannot make referrals based on age, gender, race, or religion.

CAN YOU RECOMMEND AN ATTORNEY?

We cannot indicate our personal preferences. All of the Referral Service attorneys are active members in good standing with the Board of Professional Responsibility, and are members of the Knoxville Bar Association.


What if I cannot afford an attorney?

Generally, you will not know whether or not you can afford a lawyer until you have called a lawyer’s office or had an initial consultation with a lawyer. Don’t immediately assume that it will be too expensive until you have explored the options before you. If you are a person who has a very modest or low income, you may wish to contact Legal Aid of East Tennessee at (865) 637-0484. You may also obtain information on their website at http://www.laet.org. 

Legal Aid of East Tennessee (LAET) is a non-profit law firm serving low-income clients with civil legal needs. Types of cases taken include: public benefits, evictions and housing (both public and private), consumer, public benefits, employment, health issues, family law and senior citizen’s issues. Clients generally must meet income and asset guidelines to be eligible for services. Senior citizens and persons with domestic violence problems may receive help regardless of income.  Since the demand is far greater than the resources available, the decisions on case acceptance also depend upon priorities set by LAET, in consultation with the community.

You may find out about other free or reduced fee services under the Public Resources tab at www.knoxbar.org. Other resources include the Pro Bono Project UT Legal Clinic and Centro Hispano. You will also find information about free legal advice clinics which are offered regularly.


TN.FreeLegalAnswers.org is an online legal clinic. The clinic allows Tennesseans to ask up to three questions a year about specific legal problems and communicate with a volunteer lawyer using email. The free lawyer will answer questions, but cannot represent the person in court. The free lawyers on TN Free Legal Answers can help with many types of questions: family law questions, like divorce and custody, landlord-tenant and homeowner questions, questions about debts or purchases, healthcare, civil rights, and other issues.  

You can apply to use TN Free Legal Answers at TN.FreeLegalAnswers.org. In order to use TN Free Legal Answers, you must live in the state of Tennessee and meet the financial requirements, like having a low household income and not much money or assets. TN Free Legal Answers is not for questions about a criminal case or for people who are incarcerated.  TN Free Legal Answers is provided by the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services and the American Bar Association. 

HELP4TN provides Tennesseans with legal information and advice via the phone or the website. 1-844-HELP4TN (1-844-435-7486) is a free legal helpline where Tennesseans can talk to a Tennessee lawyer about their civil legal issues. When you call HELP4TN, you will select whether you are over or under the age of 60 to make sure you get to the right lawyer. If the lawyer is not available when you call, you will be asked to schedule an appointment to speak to a lawyer or you will be asked to leave a voicemail. The lawyer may provide information about the legal process, advice on handling the legal issue, and referrals to free local resources. 

www.HELP4TN.org is a website with legal information, court forms, videos about court, and links to resources like TN Free Legal Answers and the Legal Wellness Checkup. You can find information about going to court and your rights in different legal situations. HELP4TN.org gives Tennesseans legal information to learn more about their rights and resources. HELP4TN.org also has the Legal Wellness Checkup, which will give you personalized legal referrals and information for your legal issues online.


What is the difference between Civil law and Criminal law?

In a criminal case, the state or federal government charges a person (called a “defendant”) with a crime.  The case generally begins with an arrest or citation. The defendant is presumed to be innocent.  The government (through a “district attorney / prosecutor”) must prove beyond a reasonable doubt at trial that the person violated a criminal law.  Alternatively, the defendant could work out a plea deal with the district attorney.  At the end of a criminal case, the defendant could have to go to jail and/or pay fines to the government. In Tennessee, you have the right to an attorney for most, but not all, criminal charges. You can hire your own criminal defense attorney, but if you can’t afford to do so, the government has to provide one for you if you have been charged with a serious crime. 

In a civil case, a person generally has a dispute with another person or business.  Some examples include a lawsuit following a car accident, two spouses getting divorced, or an eviction case between a landlord and a tenant. A civil case can include hearings before the actual trial. At the end of a civil case, a judgment will be entered. The judgment typically tells the parties how to settle the dispute by paying money or completing another action.

There is no right to an attorney in most civil cases. This means that many times people have to go to court and work out these civil legal issues without an attorney. Unfortunately, there are rules of procedure, rules of evidence, and local rules to contend with.  It’s often much easier to navigate the court system with the help of an attorney.  If you can’t afford an attorney, you can contact your local legal aid program.  If you’re eligible for their services and they have the resources available, they may be able to represent you for free.   


Can I use online forms to represent myself?

Be Cautious When Using D-I-Y legal forms and don’t use any form until you understand it. People sign contracts every day after giving them a halfhearted glance. But your signature on the bottom of a contract indicates that you understand and agree to what you’ve read. You wouldn’t buy a car unless you knew it had all its parts, but people sign legal documents all the time without knowing their rights and whether the documents contain the necessary wording.  It doesn’t make sense.

Document preparation services and legal software programs are not able to give you legal advice regarding your particular situation, nor are they licensed to do so.  A Tennessee attorney has received years of legal training and can give you advice which is tailored to your specific needs.

Everyone’s legal issue is unique and forms may not always take that into consideration. While there are many resources available to individuals like mediation or small claims court, consulting with an attorney BEFORE trying to represent yourself is the best course of action. In Tennessee, the only individuals who can draft legal documents for other people or give legal advice are lawyers licensed to practice law in Tennessee. Any non-lawyer who drafts legal documents, gives legal advice, or gives the impression that they are an attorney when they are not may be guilty of the unauthorized practice of law.


What should I consider when hiring an attorney?

The attorney’s areas of practice and prior experience are important. Also feel free to ask the attorney questions that will help you understand his/her experience in similar matters. Think of it as a job interview. You will want to discuss fees the attorneys will charge. How will fees be generated – on a flat fee, contingent fee, or hourly fee basis? If the fees are billed, what is that process? How much time does the attorney estimate it will take to resolve your matter? Remember, you should be comfortable with the attorney. Can you share the personal aspects of your case with this person?


How are Fees charged by the attorney?

Cost is an important factor to many individuals who are looking to hire an attorney. The fees which are charged by the attorney can depend upon many things. We recommend that you sign a written fee agreement with any lawyer you hire. It should specify how you will pay (hourly rates, contingency fees, flat fees, or retainers) and the cost will vary based upon the specific legal service (research, drafting of documents, filing fees, court hearings, traveling). This agreement, known as a Retainer Agreement, states what services the lawyer will provide and how the lawyer will be paid for those services. Read your contract carefully and keep a copy for yourself. 

Hourly Basis: A lawyer may charge for his or her time on an hourly basis. Most business and matrimonial matters are handled on an hourly basis. A deposit, known as a retainer fee, is usually paid when the lawyer is hired. In certain matters, the lawyer may be unable to predict how many hours of work or how expensive the entire case will be, but he or she should be able to give you an understanding of the process ahead and some ballpark figures regarding the costs at different stages. Some disbursement expenses may be additional. [A “disbursement” is money paid out for expenses such as costs for filing fees, court reporters, photocopying, travel, or long distance telephone calls.]

Contingency Fee Basis: A lawyer may handle a matter on a contingency fee basis. This means a client does not pay any fees unless the lawyer wins or settles the case. Matters such as personal injury, collection matters, products liability, malpractice and some sexual harassment cases are often handled on a contingency fee basis. In some contingency fee arrangements, the lawyer may require the client to pay for certain expenses, such as fees for expert witnesses [An “expert” is a person who, because of his education or specialized experience, possesses superior knowledge about a subject. A person who is qualified as an “expert witness” will be allowed to testify in court to assist the judge or jury in understanding complicated or technical subjects not within the knowledge or understanding of the average person] and for disbursements [see definition above].

Flat or Straight Fee Basis: A lawyer may handle a matter on a flat fee basis. This means that there is a specific dollar amount for which the lawyer will handle the matter regardless of the hours spent. Bankruptcy, real estate purchases and uncontested divorces are often handled on a flat fee basis.

Combined Approach: A lawyer may combine several of the above options for a particular case. It is important to understand clearly what fee arrangement you agree to.  This should be spelled out in the fee agreement. Make sure you understand the fee agreement before signing as this will avoid potential future misunderstandings involving billing.


What documents should I take with me to the first meeting?

Be as organized as possible. If you have a complicated problem you may want to place different papers in different labeled folders to make documents easy to find. Make copies of papers that are important to your case. In most cases you will not be leaving your original documents with the attorney. Write down your questions before your visit. Here is a handy checklist of basic questions:

  • What is your experience in this field?
  • Have you handled matters like mine before?
  • What are the possible outcomes of my case?
  • What are my alternatives in resolving the matter?
  • Approximately how long will it take to resolve?
  • What are your rates and how often will you bill me?
  • What kind of approach will you take to resolve the matter?
  • Who else in the office will be working on my case?

Start the visit by briefly outlining your problems for the attorney and then ask the attorney for his/her advice. At this point the attorney may ask questions and/or wish to review your documents. Remember you and the attorney are on the same team. Be as truthful as possible. The conversation with the attorney is confidential.


Once I have hired a lawyer, how can I make sure that we will work well together and minimize the expense?

Be prepared when you meet with the lawyer. Bring all necessary documents when requested by the attorney and make sure you understand what the next step will be in your case. Write down your thoughts, concerns and issues beforehand.
Be honest. Make sure your attorney knows everything. Make sure that you are in agreement with the legal strategy before it is executed. Communicate your concerns and questions up front and then let your lawyer do their job.
Be efficient. Don’t make unnecessary phone calls to the attorney. Most lawyers charge for time spent on the phone with a client. Keep a list of all items you want to check with your lawyer and cover them in one phone call or ask them at your next scheduled appointment.
Be realistic. Understand that there are sometimes limitations on what an attorney can accomplish in a given situation within the law. Legal proceedings can be difficult, demanding and take a long time to resolve.
Keep records. File any material you receive from your lawyer in one place. Your file is often the best way to answer questions about your case.


What can I expect after I hire the attorney?  How can I be sure that the attorney actually represents me?

Once you have hired an attorney, substantial and frequent contact with you is generally not needed. The fee that the attorney quotes usually assumes nominal contact. However, if you decide you would like to meet with your attorney to discuss the status of your case or new developments, call and make an appointment. Be sure to ask if there are any additional charges for the office visit. In some cases, letters or emails are the most economic and efficient method of handling questions.


What if I have a problem with my attorney?

Some problems between lawyers and clients are the result of misunderstandings or a lack of communication. If you believe you have a problem with your lawyer, consider talking it over with the lawyer. The lawyer may be unaware of the problem and, after a discussion, you may be able to come to a mutually acceptable solution. If the lawyer is unwilling to talk to you, write a letter expressing the problem and ask for a response from your lawyer. If your lawyer does not respond, call their office to ask for an appointment so concerns can be addressed in person. If these steps are not effective, consider hiring another lawyer. Keep in mind that if that occurs before your legal problem is settled, you should expect to pay a portion of the fees to the attorney for time already spent (some fees may not be refundable according to contract). The attorney has an obligation to return your file. If you believe your attorney has not acted in your best interest and has thereby done something illegal or unethical, you may wish to file a grievance against your attorney. In Tennessee you may contact the Board of Professional Responsibility at 1-800-486-5714 (www.tbpr.org).

If you are unable to resolve the disagreement over fees, you may wish to get more information about the Knoxville Bar Association Fee Dispute Resolution program which can be found under the public tab at www.knoxbar.org.


According to Tennessee Code, Title 23, Chapter Three (§ 23-3-103), “No person shall engage in the practice of law or do law business, or both, as defined in § 23-3-101, unless the person has been duly licensed and while the person’s license is in full force and effect, nor shall any association or corporation engage in the practice of the law or do law business, or both.”  Section § 23-3-101 provides the definition of the “practice of law” and of “law business.”

Under the definition of “law business,” it specifies that “the advising or counseling for valuable consideration of any person as to any secular law” constitutes law business.  This is why court clerks, paralegals, legal assistants, or lawyer referral service personnel cannot provide you with legal advice, although they may provide you with legal information, especially that which is publicly available.


Why Google doesn’t have all the answers – you probably need to talk to an attorney

Google is just wonderful for some things.  Everyone with a smartphone can type in a question and find thousands, if not millions, of webpages to click on in mere seconds. If you’re looking for just that right piece of furniture, it can’t be beat.

However, with a search engine, obtaining the right answer is entirely dependent on asking the right question.  Without a law degree, most of us aren’t sure how to ask our legal question effectively enough online. An attorney, with years of training in the law and its applications, can evaluate your case in a way that no search engine can.

Connecting to the attorney who can ask the right questions can be another challenge.  What type of attorney do I need for my problem? How do I find the right one? These are questions that the LRIS can assist with.  Our trained intake staff will talk to you about your issue and help decide if you need to speak to an attorney, and if so, what kind of attorney is best suited for your particular legal matter.  Even if your issue is such that we do not have an attorney available on our service for your particular legal matter, we can often help you search effectively on your own.


What is pro bono?  Do I have a right to a free attorney in my case?

Pro bono is short for “pro bono publico,” a Latin phrase for professional work undertaken voluntarily and without payment. Unlike traditional volunteerism, it is service that uses the specific skills of professionals to provide services to those who are unable to afford them.

Under Tennessee’s Supreme Court, pro bono service is addressed in Rule 8, Section 6.1, in which Tennessee attorneys are instructed to aspire to 50 hours of pro bono service each year.  Certainly, for those seeking such help, it can often feel as if little is available; however, in the year 2017, 8869 Tennessee attorneys reported 652,555 hours of pro bono service, an average of over 73 hours per reporting attorney.

If you are charged with a serious crime and can’t afford representation, you may be entitled to appointment of an attorney for your case.  You should inquire with the court about filling out the appropriate financial need request.

In some juvenile custody cases, usually ones in which there is potential for a parent to lose custody or parental rights, you may also be entitled to a court appointed attorney.  Ask the court.

For other civil cases, there is not a constitutional right to appointed counsel.  Agencies such as Legal Aid work with government funding to provide staff representation for those who financially qualify for their services, and work with private attorneys who wish to provide pro bono assistance. 


What is a contingency payment?  Can I find an attorney to work on contingency?

A contingency payment arrangement is one in which the payment depends on a particular result.  For example, it’s common for an accident attorney to accept a case “on contingency,” meaning if the attorney achieves a successful settlement or judgment for the client, they will receive a portion of that money as their payment.

Because of heavy advertising by injury attorneys, many people have the impression that a contingency fee arrangement is more common than it truly is.  For more information about the types of fees charged by attorneys, please watch our video “How are Fees charged by the attorney?”


Many legal issues are governed by what is called a statute of limitations, which is a law (statute) assigning a certain time after which rights cannot be enforced by legal action or offenses cannot be punished.

Statutes of limitations in Tennessee can be found under Tennessee Code Title 28, Chapter 3, Part 1.  However, it can be important to obtain the opinion of an attorney about the interpretation of when “the cause of action accrued.”  

For example, personal injury is addressed in TCA § 28-3-104.  Let’s consider a motor vehicle accident – it’s fairly easy to determine the date of the cause of action – that would be the date of the wreck.  However, other injuries may not be so straightforward, and would require review of an attorney to provide an informed opinion on the window of time available to file a lawsuit.

Delaying seeking legal advice can cause you to miss the opportunity to file your case; and once missed, the deadline cannot be recovered.


What can I expect at a consultation? 

A consultation is a little like a job interview, both for you and for the attorney.  The attorney needs to learn a little bit about your legal concerns and also what your goals are.  For example, one question they might ask is “what will make this situation right?” They can then assess whether your goal is attainable, and if so, how much work would be required to achieve it.  From there, they can provide a general estimate of how much their services would cost.

It’s important to realize that the attorney may not need to know all the details of the legal issue in order to evaluate it from a legal perspective.  The attorney may stop you to ask a question about a detail or date. They are not doing this to be disrespectful to you, but to gather the information they need to properly evaluate your legal situation and your potential case.

It’s helpful to have appropriate documents nearby when doing a consultation, either on the phone or in person.  These will vary widely according to your legal concerns. Examples would include police report from an accident or citation; divorce decrees and parenting plans; lease agreements; sales contracts; employment agreements or severance letters, etc.  You may wish to prepare for your consultation by creating a file with any relevant documents or notes so that you can quickly find any information that’s requested.


Have more questions? Watch our video FAQs here!