An artisanal law firm based in beautiful Port Townsend. Created by attorney and law professor, Denis Stearns, to provide real-world solutions to a wide range of challenges on behalf of businesses, non-profit organizations, and injured persons.
You do not become a client of Denis or Stearns Law, PLLC by visiting this website or sending Denis or the firm an email. You are not a client of Denis or Stearns Law, PLLC unless and until you receive written confirmation that you are, or have become, a client. Even though this website is intended to be a source of information, nothing on this website is intended as legal advice. Effective legal advice requires a meeting between an attorney and potential client so that the attorney can find out about the relevant facts and to determine if the attorney is capable and willing to help as a person's attorney. Therefore, if you are interested in having Denis or Stearns Law, PLLC act as your attorney, you will need to schedule a meeting with Denis so that you can with him decide if she should represent you.
When you are represented by an attorney, all communications with the attorney are fully protected from disclosure as being privileged and confidential. The client can choose to waive the protection (or do so accidentally if not careful). But once the attorney-client relationship is created, the attorney is bound to maintain all client-confidences. On the other hand, if you mistakenly believe that an attorney-client relationship exists, and disclose facts that you hoped to keep confidential, it may turn out that a third-party could force the attorney to disclose those facts. For that reason, it is important to have the fact of legal representation confirmed in writing so that neither the attorney or the client is mistaken about the relationship. It is the policy of Denis and Stearns Law, PLLC that NO attorney-client relationship is created unless confirmed in writing.
Although an attorney-client relationship does not formally exist unless and until confirmed in writing, the information that you provide during the initial consultation with Denis is protected as confidential and privileged. Sometimes a follow-up meeting might be necessary, or email communications, all with the purpose of deciding whether to create an attorney-client relationship going forward. But once it is decided that an attorney-client relationship will not be created, anything else shared with Denis is NOT protected as confidential.
In addition to confirming the existence of the attorney-client representation, Denis and Stearns Law, PLLC will confirm, in writing, the Scope of Representation. In other words, Denis is agreeing to act as your attorney for certain things, but not for ALL things. For example, you may retain Denis to help resolve a dispute over a commercial lease, but two months later one of your customers is injured in a slip-and-fall on your premises. If Denis confirmed that he would represent you on the lease-dispute, that does not meant he represents you for the slip-and-fall case, which is outside the scope of representation. Of course, Denis would be happy to help with the slip-and-fall case; you just need to confirm that representation first.
You deserve the best attorney, which is to say the one that can help you best based on the attorney's experience and training. Denis will only represent you if he thinks it is best for you.
The attorney-client relationship can be a one-time thing that is specific to a given situation, problem, or dispute. But what Denis likes most if Continuing-Client Relationship where he is available on an ongoing basis for whatever questions and needs arise. To facilitate this kind of relationship, the clients are given the lowest hourly-rate and the most client-favored billing practices. Other arrangements are available. And it is often that a client "grows into" become a continuing-client as its needs and resources increase and evolve. For more details on the Continuing Client Relationship, click here.
Although Denis will always do his best to estimate how much time is going to be needed for a given case, the uncertainty is always going to be there, because cases can evolve in ways not at first expected. And many businesses and individuals can only afford so much to try to resolve a given issue. In such cases, a flat-fee arrangement can be best, where Denis agrees to handle a given matter up for a given amount of time, or up to a predefined outcome, all for a flat-fee, for the whole thing, or a flat monthly amount. Denis also often agrees to cap the fee at a certain number of hours billed, allowing the next set of hours be at no cost until an agreed upon further amount of hours is reached. For example, agreeing to handle a matter and bill for no more than 5 hours until an additional 20 hours is spent on the matter, i.e., getting 25 hours for the cost of 5.
The "standard" rate that Denis charges is $350 per hour. (The Continuing-Client rate is $175 per hour, while work done in Seattle and out-of-state is $500 per hour.) But the "standard" local-rate is but a starting-point. Denis loves working with small-businesses and start-ups, and that means he ends up doing a fair amount of work for nominal amounts, including in trade. After over 25 years of practicing law, Denis is more concerned about making a difference than making money.
Under the ethical rules that govern attorneys, contingency-fee agreements MUST be in writing signed by both the attorney and the client. Consequently, details of the agreement can be varied, depending on what is agreed upon by the parties. In general, a contingency-fee is where the attorney agrees to not receive a fee unless the client receives a recovery, and the fee is taken as a percentage of what is recovered, along with what costs were incurred along the way. Moreover, the attorney is allowed to "advance" the costs, meaning that the client can be represented without paying anything upfront, and not being responsible for attorney-fees unless money is recovered. In general, this kind of arrangement is used most commonly in personal injury cases, although it can be used with other cases that involve an expectation of money being recovered.
Over the years, Denis has worked with and on behalf of many different kinds of nonprofit and public-service organizations, as an attorney, as a Board Member, as an Executive Officer, or as a volunteer. If you need the help of an attorney, but do not think you can afford it, be sure to reach out to Denis. If he has the time, and he has the ability, he will help you, for whatever your organization can afford to pay. It costs nothing to ask.
Many kinds of cases are brought under a law that allows for the award of attorney fees. For example, the Washington Consumer Protection Act allows for citizens to bring actions alleging unfair or deceptive business practices and if such an action is successful, the court can award attorney fees. The Washington Public Records Act also allows for certain legal actions where a governmental agencies has wrongly denied a request for the disclosure of public records. There are lots of other legal actions where the law allows for attorney fees to be awarded, thus, with with those actions, Denis could be willing to work on the case without charging any fees upfront.