Whatever the reason that you have decided to talk to an attorney, your first meeting is important because it sets the scene for any continuing communication and relationship. If you have never needed to use an attorney before, the description below should help to fill you in on what you can do to make the meeting proceed more smoothly and what sort of questions you should ask.
The first step comes before the consultation when you contact the attorney’s office by phone. He or she will ask a few questions and arrange for a consultation. Be sure to ask if there is any charge for the consultation at this point so you know whether you have to pay at the time of the visit. Some attorneys charge and others don’t depending on their area of law.
You do not have to retain the attorney simply because you have had a consultation. If you want to talk to another, that’s fine. It’s like getting a second opinion before an operation or advice about a medical procedure.
Preparation for the consultation
Before you go to the first meeting, make sure that you are prepared. Jot down the key points that you want to make and a list of questions you want to ask. Take a pen and notepad or an electronic equivalent if that suits you. Dress as if you are going to a business meeting or seeing your bank manager. Be on time, and check that you have copies of any documents that you think you may need to show to the attorney—it’s best to have more documents than you think you need than too few.
At the meeting
The attorney will probably ask for brief details about your case or dispute and then proceed to ask questions and explain procedures.
When it comes to explaining your case or describing details about your situation, be honest. The attorney is bound by the attorney-client privilege to not divulge anything you say unless you suggest that you may be about to commit a crime, which fact the attorney may then have to pass on to the police. Attorneys are good at judging character and will have a good idea whether you are withholding information from them which is relevant to the case or being deliberately dishonest.
Ask about the attorney’s fee structure and whether there is a prepayment of a retainer that would need to be paid upfront should you decide to use the attorney’s services and he or she agrees to represent you. A retainer is an initial amount that is billed against as the attorney works on your case. A retainer is similar to adding a balance on a pre-paid calling card. You pay for only the minutes you actually use. If the amount is eventually exhausted it is usually expected that another payment will be made. In some cases, e.g. personal injury law, the attorney may work on a contingency fee basis. This means that there are no upfront legal fees and the fee will be paid if and when a compensation payment is made. This may also be the case for other examples of litigation where you expect a payment if your case is won with the help of the attorney.
Find out how the attorney bills, whether it is upfront, at a regular date or at the end of the project.
The attorney will most likely advise you as to what you can do next and what you may need to send in to the attorney. This may mean additional information or documents that are needed so that the attorney can understand the issues more clearly. There may be other forms of evidence that the attorney would like to have made available or contact details of people who may be relevant to your case. In many cases, time could be of the essence and the sooner you and the attorney act, the more likely that it will proceed to a satisfactory conclusion.
Make sure that you agree on how you will communicate after the consultation meeting, whether it is by phone, email or some other method and how often the communication should be. It is sensible to keep communicating regularly anyway so that you know what is going on.
You need to feel comfortable with your attorney’s ability and attitude just like the attorney needs to feel that you are being as open and complete as possible about your case. As has already been mentioned, you are not stuck with the attorney you have had a consultation with, but it doesn’t make sense to engage the services of more than one attorney at the same time on the same issue.
Some questions that should be asked at any consultation
- How long have you been practicing this field of law?
- What sort of cases have you had which are similar to mine?
- What was the outcome in these cases?
- How long did it take to resolve some of these cases?
- What do you think my chances of resolving the case are?
- How do you charge for your services?
- How much do you think it might cost for the whole project?
- Do you need a retainer?
- What documents o further information do you need to help you assess the case?
- What should I do now, if anything and when should we contact each other again?