When you sit down for your first meeting with a potential lawyer, remember that they know nothing about you or the matter you wish to see them about. It may help you to write down a brief description of the facts before your meeting so that you can explain the heart of the matter concisely and without forgetting anything. As part of this, try to remember to include important dates and the names of people like doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers, or other people who were around during the incident, or in business matters copies of contracts and receipts, or copies of the lawsuit if you are being sued, or any papers from the district attorney or the court if you are facing criminal charges. These documents will help your attorney truly understand what is going on in your case.
Often when a person first looks for a lawyer, emotions are running high. Whether you’ve been injured by someone, are being sued, are facing criminal charges, or starting a business, your anger, pain, frustration or anxiety are likely consuming your thoughts. However, try to keep in mind what you are expecting your potential attorney to do. Communicate those goals early on to your potential attorney, or ask the lawyer you are interviewing to help you do that. Being focused and goal driven will save you time and money, and give your lawyer with direction.
Choosing a lawyer is similar to choosing a doctor; you should look for one you feel comfortable with, someone you can confide in, and who instills confidence in you. Your choice of lawyer is not limited by insurance plans like doctors are, so you will likely find that you will be doing some interviewing of potential lawyers before you settle on the one that is right for you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of your potential lawyer to make sure that you have found a good fit.
Since you’ve already told the potential attorney what your goals are, you should ask them to clarify how they intend to achieve them. You may also ask your potential attorney how many times they have dealt with similar issues, and what the results were. After hiring a lawyer, don’t expect to get a play-by-play of every phone call and letter between your attorney and opposing counsel, but you should remain reasonably well informed of the big picture and any significant detours.
Your time is important, and you should not be kept waiting by a potential lawyer. The same is true with appointments after you’ve chosen an attorney. Make sure in the very beginning to ask your potential lawyer how they will communicate with you: telephone, email, fax, or in person. Although it is not reasonable to expect your lawyer to be available to you around the clock, it is reasonable to expect a response within 24 hours. You should not be shy about laying out this expectation up, it is better to do so now than try to fix a problem in the future.
You probably would not buy a car without knowing the price. Similarly, you should ask your potential lawyer to explain to you, in detail, what you will be expected to pay and when. You should ask what the retainer, or amount you are expected to pay up-front, is, and how often you will be billed. Legal fees can be expensive, so use some of your interview time with your potential lawyer to gain an understanding of what you will be expected to pay.
It sounds simple, but many people stretch the truth or outright lie when speaking to their attorney. When you talk to a lawyer, even if you haven't hired them, you have attorney-client privilege. That means everything you discuss with them is confidential. If a lawyer starts working on a case for you and then finds out that you haven't been truthful, they are likely to drop your case. That hurts you because you have to start over and many lawyers don't like to get involved as the second attorney. Be honest up front and if the lawyer doesn't want to work with you after hearing the truth then they aren't the right attorney for you anyway.
Most lawyers are honest, despite what popular culture would have you believe. But, as with every profession, you may encounter an attorney who simply tells you what you want to hear. With most legal matters, no outcome can be guaranteed because often the ultimate decision maker is a judge or jury, and no attorney can tell you how they will view your case. If your potential attorney tells you that they can absolutely guarantee a result, or that you can just worry about payment later, be skeptical. If it seems to good to be true, it probably is.