By Inna G. Materese | Esquire
Most people don’t visit an attorney’s office happily. After all, why would one need an attorney if everything is going swimmingly? It is therefore understandable that most clients are unsure of how to proceed when scheduling a consultation with a lawyer. However, the solution to your legal question often begins to form at that initial meeting with competent counsel and it is important to get the most out of the first visit. So, how does one get the most out of a legal consultation? So glad you asked.
- Choose (your counsel) wisely. Many clients (understandably) shy away from consultation fees and only seek out free consultation. In doing so, they are potentially eliminating the attorney they need. Consultation fee avoidance can cost you big time in the long run. Though you may ultimately choose not to work with the attorney with whom you consult, it is important to ensure that the attorney you’re meeting with takes the time to get to know and understand your specific circumstances. You will likely find that a paid consultation lasts longer and is more in-depth than those offered free of charge. It is quite likely that you will walk out of a paid consultation with an evaluation of your specific case and a strategy for tackling your legal issue. If you shy away from an attorney you believe can aptly handle your matter because he or she charges a consultation fee, you may be shortchanging yourself down the road.
- Do your own recognizance. Before you meet with an attorney (or sign a retainer, for that matter), understand whom you are hiring. There are many, many attorneys out there and many, many resources to help you find the right one. Consult the local bar association for active bar members who practice in the field you are looking for. You may wish to consult with an attorney with a certain number of years of practice or certain credentials. This information, as well as attorney disciplinary records is likely available online. Evaluate whether the attorney you are considering has relevant experience, participates in relevant associations, is respected by the legal community, and/or has positive client testimonials.
- Get your ducks in a row. Being prepared is the best way to get the most out of your time with an attorney. Know as much as possible about the facts of your situation and identify the things you don’t know. It is often helpful to jot down notes regarding specific timelines, dates, details, and other pertinent descriptions. Compile any and all documents to support your understanding of the situation. For example, if your legal issue involves a dispute over a contract, make sure to have the contract handy at the meeting, as well as any documents evidencing your position. The easier it is for your attorney to assess the situation, the more productive your consultation will be.
- Remember that details are essential. Your attorney will likely ask you extremely specific questions about every detail of the issue. They are not doing so to be nosy. Instead, he/she is attempting to truly assess your case. Though it may be frustrating to clients at times, most cases turn on small threads of information and the manner in which the law applies to those very particular circumstances. Include all possible details regarding your issues, even if you may not believe it is relevant or noteworthy. Don’t be afraid to share with the attorney in your consultation. While some information may be personal and/or feel embarrassing, your attorneys needs to know anything that can affect your case to properly advise you and your consultation is confidential.
- Facts, Facts, Facts (and more facts). Nothing is a bigger shock to a potential client’s system than to hear an attorney redirect him/her away from their feelings about an issue to more mundane facts. But, remember those details we mentioned above? Your attorney needs as many of them as possible during your meeting. While we always keep in mind that the situation that brought you to our office is sensitive and can be extremely emotional, keeping your focus on the factual circumstances is the best way to get the most bang for your legal buck.
- Bring your goals but leave your prejudices at the door. When you meet with an attorney, it is important to have an idea of what you’d like to accomplish, even if it is not quite fleshed out yet. Make sure your attorney is aware of your goals so he/she can advise you appropriately. However, it is equally important to remain flexible, adaptable, and receptive to input. Your consulting attorney may advise you that your goals, in their original form, are not quite feasible or, well, legal. Or, an attorney may advise you that the process for accomplishing your goal may look quite different than what you envisioned. Be open to professional advice. After all, that’s what you’re here for!
- Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask questions during your meeting. While your consulting attorney may wish to explain a certain concept or obtain certain information before answering, it is important that your questions are addressed. Before you leave, address any questions you may have about legal options, fees, retention of your attorney, possibility of success, attorney experience, etc. Doing so allows you to not only evaluate your legal circumstances but also helps you evaluate whether this attorney is the right man or woman for the job.
Keeping these tips in mind when you visit an attorney will help you have a more effective consultation and help you find the best attorney to collaborate with.