An initial consultation with an attorney is not only your first meeting with that attorney but it is also the first time that the attorney is really getting to hear anything of substance about your matter. The initial consultation can be a powerful tool to help you succeed in court, but most new clients do not know what to do during this first half-hour to an hour-long meeting. A good initial consultation will lay a secure bedrock for your final decision on how to proceed. Hopefully, these tips will help ensure that your initial consultation is useful and productive for everyone.
Thoroughly Explain Your Legal Issue and Do Not Leave Anything Out
If you have seen any legal drama or TV series, you have likely heard an attorney get mad at a client for lying upfront. Of course, you should never lie to an attorney during an initial consultation, but it is not uncommon for clients to either forget to tell something to their attorney early on or not believe that a particular fact was important. Attorneys are not psychics and can only work with the information that you provide. If you have not told your attorney something critical, he or she will not know about it. At the initial consultation, it is always better to provide more as opposed to less information. Bring all relevant documents and talk your mouth off, please! This is especially true if the information is either scandalous or embarrassing (don’t forget, attorney-client privilege means that nothing leaves the room and your secrets are safe). It will be better for you and your case in the long run if absolutely everything is laid out on the table at first.
Ask Questions to Ensure That You Understand the Legal Process
The law is complicated, and there is a reason why you need to hire an attorney in the first place. That said, you should use the initial consultation to learn something about your legal claim. The number one complaint that clients have against their attorneys is that the attorney did not communicate. Much of the frustration that clients tend to have is that the client and the attorney speak different languages. It is hard to communicate about a lawsuit when one side does not understand what the other person is saying.
Try to become an active participant in your case by asking for an explanation of anything that you do not understand. Make a point to ask why an attorney wants to file a motion to dismiss instead of an answer (a motion to dismiss attempts to dispose of a lawsuit on legal grounds before delving into the merits of the case, as an answer does). Learn what the difference between an interrogatory and a request for production of documents is (an interrogatory asks for a written answer to a specific question, whereas a request for production involves an exchange of evidence). Knowing everything about your lawsuit is not important, or even worth your time; however, you should always try to learn enough at your initial consultation so that you have a general idea of what is happening and what will occur next.
Use the Consultation to Test Whether the Attorney Is a Good Fit
Hiring an attorney can be a daunting process, especially because a litigant’s choice of legal counsel can dramatically affect the outcome of a case. In general, hiring any attorney will be better than trying to litigate a case without legal counsel, but most people should also consider whether the attorney selected is the right attorney for the case. The initial consultation is a fantastic opportunity to size up an attorney and determine whether they will be helpful or if better options may exist.
At the initial consultation, you should ask the attorney questions that will help you determine whether the attorney will be a good fit. For example, you should ask whether the attorney has litigated similar cases to yours in the past. A highly experienced real estate attorney may bring some wisdom to your case, but that wisdom would be entirely wasted if your issue relates to employment law. Also, you should make sure that you like your attorney. You and your legal counsel may be spending a good deal of time working together, and having a partner you can trust is important. In general, remember the rule that a first impression is usually the right impression. If you do not get a good feeling about the attorney that you consulted with, you should not hire that attorney.
Make Sure That You Are Crystal Clear on the Attorney’s Pay Structure
As convenient as it might be, attorneys do not work for free. That does not mean, however, that an attorney is either unaffordable or a waste of money. When compared to unrepresented litigants, litigants with legal counsel statistically recover larger sums of money in court even after attorneys’ fees are paid. Not every attorney is a good deal; however, as attorneys often have different fee structures and rates. Finding the right rate to fit your needs is important and should be part of your strategy at the initial consultation.
In general, attorneys offer two categories of fees: hourly rates and contingency fees. Hourly rates are most common either when the represented party is on the defending side of the lawsuit or if the lawsuit itself will not result in direct financial compensation. Hourly rates tend to vary based on geography, with most small town attorneys earning an average of $100-$300 per hour, and New York City attorneys earning averages of $300-$800 per hour. Before choosing an hourly rate attorney, you should not only consider whether you can actually afford that particular attorney, but also whether the hourly fee is a good fit for your needs. As a general rule of thumb, if less than $1,000 is at stake, you probably do not need an attorney. Attorneys also offer contingency fees for cases that will result in direct financial compensation, such as personal injury claims. In a contingency case, the attorney will take a percentage out of the amount of the final verdict or settlement.
Set a Game Plan and Understand the Next Steps
The final and most important utilization of the initial consultation is to plan for the future. For many reasons, this should be the most obvious use of an initial consultation. If you choose to hire the attorney you consult with, the initial consultation will not be the last meeting; rather, the initial consultation is the start of a longer process. During the consultation, you should be keen to take notes (mental notes are fine, but if you feel the need to, bring pen and paper) about how the attorney envisions the process moving forward.
The first thing that you should do is make sure that you are on the same page as your attorney. Make your goals abundantly clear and tell the attorney how you would like the legal matter to progress in an ideal world. While your exact vision may not be feasible, a good attorney will be sensitive to your needs and build a strategy to accommodate you as best as possible.
You should also be cognizant of what you need to do to make the matter run smoothly going forward. While it is true that you hired an attorney to fight for you, your attorney will need your help to prepare a case. Make sure that you understand how you can help your attorney win your case, whether that involves helping to prepare a friendly witness, preserving evidence, or simply staying quiet and subdued.
Hopefully, these five tips will help lay a strong foundation for the attorney consultation process. Proceeding with any legal matter can be very stressful, but it is always helpful to be prepared and know what is coming. Having an engaging initial consultation will make the legal matter move smoothly with a successful result more likely. Law Offices of Yuriy Moshes practices employment, personal injury, real estate, and foreclosure law in New York and New Jersey. Our law firm offers free consultations to help you determine if we can assist you in your legal matter.