People don’t tend to like lawyers. You’ve heard the jokes and maybe you have even had an unfortunate legal encounter yourself. I understand the frustration, despite graduating law school and working in the industry myself. In my experience most potential client/attorney interactions go awry due to frustration, miscommunication, and poorly managed expectations. Since this is such a common problem, I compiled some tips to make your next attorney consultation more productive:
Go with a Goal. When you book an appointment you should have an idea of what you want to accomplish. Do you need advice? Are you dead set on filing a lawsuit? Do you want to explore all your options? Decide what it is you are looking for and lead with that. It is much easier for you both to be on the same page if you are clear about your expectations at the beginning. If you just want someone to talk to or agree with you, consider calling a friend; it’s much cheaper. Also, try to keep an open mind since you may not like what you hear or how expensive it is to pursue. If the attorney you meet with is not a good fit to help you achieve your specific goal, don’t be afraid to find another one.
Be Prepared. Time is money, and being prepared will save time. Before your meeting consider drafting a timeline of events. Be specific with your timeline by including event details, dates, and approximate times. Additionally, make sure to bring all relevant documents with you at the time of your appointment. For example, if you need a new will drafted you should consider bringing the last will you have with you. The quicker you can effectively get through the facts the faster you can get the legal counseling that you came for.
The Devil is in the Details. Nowhere is this more true than in the legal profession, where the letter of the law is often more important than the spirit of the law. Include all details concerning the matter at the time of the meeting, even if they make you look bad. You are paying for an expert opinion, and you can’t get accurate advice without providing the whole story. Remember that the attorney consultation is confidential and the lawyer is not there to judge you. You may even uncover a useful legal tool in the process and you will definitely avoid being blindsided later by opposing counsel.
Conduct a Background Check. Before you sign a retainer look into whom you are hiring. There are so many resources that you can use before you get yourself into a bad attorney/client relationship. I would start with your state’s bar association. With either a quick online search or phone call you can locate attorney registration status, years practicing, and disciplinary records. Take a look at the website for your lawyer, with an eye toward relevant experience in your subject matter, reputable associations, and client testimonials. If this is a long-term relationship you are seeking, you should strongly consider having a professional background check done to thoroughly vet the individual.
Consultation Fee Avoidance. Don’t run from an attorney consultation fee when selecting a lawyer. I understand the gut-check reaction, why should I have to pay if I don’t even know that I am going to use this lawyer? Well, for two reasons. One, at the end of a consultation you will have an evaluation of your issue and most likely some options laid out for proceeding. Second, a consultation fee is sometimes how the attorney gauges your seriousness and decides which consultations they will give. Not all lawyers charge consultation fees, but if you find one that you like and it is a serious deterrent for you, ask if it can be waived or find a different provider to meet with to discuss your legal issue.
Just the Facts. This is probably the most difficult advice to follow, but try to limit the emotional part of your story. Most often people visit attorneys when they are emotional. Something bad or upsetting has happened or needs to be discussed: a divorce, potential lawsuit, an arrest, a traffic ticket, or even drafting a will can have a major emotional impact. Try to focus your energy into staying on topic. Limit, as best you can, statements about your feelings and stick to the fact pattern. While the attorney is there to listen, they are not your therapist. Even though it may be difficult do your best to stay focused and productive. This will keep your meeting moving and allow you to get to the advice you came for in the first place.
Ask Questions. Don’t be afraid to ask questions during your meeting and at the end. I would suggest going into your meeting with a list of questions that you would like answered. The last thing you want is to walk out of your attorney consultation with fewer answers than when you went in. You absolutely want to ask questions regarding your legal options, fees, time, likelihood of success, and your lawyer’s experience with similar situations. Also, don’t be afraid to ask about something you don’t understand or your lawyer breezes over. They speak in legal terms every day, and sometimes forget to fully explain in plain English. By the end of your meeting, you should feel comfortable that your concerns have been addressed and confident that your selected lawyer knows what they are talking about.
Have Patience. Sometimes it can seem like you are being asked the same question repeatedly. There are some legal issues that are very basic to understand and there are others that require an insane level of detail. This scenario can also happen if your answers to questions are moving off topic or not fully answering the attorney’s question. Other times, and this ties into the emotional component discussed above, potential clients get offended and/or upset at the questions being asked. This is not the purpose of these questions, but rather to fully understand what happened and what you need.
If you keep these tips in mind the next time you have to meet with a lawyer, it should help streamline your visit, preempt some common issues, and help you get the most out of your attorney consultation.
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