So you are at your initial consultation and the lawyer has made his or her pitch.
What do you say or do next? Who do you hire?
1. Start thinking about the conversation as an interview instead of a consultation. This puts you in charge! It is your legal issue and your money so you are entitled to be selective in who you pick. Please don’t pick the first lawyer you find on the google machine! Be scrupulous during this major life decision. Ask questions about how the lawyer will take care of you instead of only talking about the legal issue.
2. Experience. You explained your legal issue. You must next ask, “What is your experience with this type of issue?” Ask for details. I tell my clients if their issue is common or unique. If it is unique, I tell potential clients what I will do to figure out the issue. I also don’t hesitate to refer potential clients to other attorneys if I don’t practice a certain area. Be wary of the attorney who somehow practices all areas of the law and takes any client that walks in the door.
3. Fees. Make sure you ask your potential lawyer to fully layout the fees. This needs to be crystal clear. I mostly charge flat fees or limited fees. It can be awkward talking and negotiating fees but you need to be comfortable before you sign the dotted line! I want my clients to know the amount that they will be spending up front and what I will be doing for them. It is ok to ask, “what am I getting for my money?”
4. Time. What is your caseload? Where is my issue on the stack? Will I be a priority? Who will actually be handling my case? Lawyers help multiple clients, of course. Make sure the lawyer isn’t overwhelmed and that your case will get the attention it needs.
5. Communication. Make a plan for how and when the lawyer will discuss the case with you. Not hearing from your lawyer is frustrating so lay out the communication plan during the initial consultation. Do you want copies of everything emailed? Just big decisions? Do you want to talk on the phone or via email? How involved do you want to be? Many attorney-client relationships breakdown because nobody is talking to each other and this frustration is not expressed. Work with your lawyer on how you want to be involved and in what manner you want updates.
6. Presence. This is HUGE for me. It’s an observation not so much a particular question. Does the lawyer give you his or her undivided attention? I turn the ringer off, shut down the computer, and make sure to avoid other distractions when meeting with clients. It is red flag if the lawyer isn’t fully present in the discussion or if he or she is distracted. Make sure that you feel like the lawyer is listening, asking appropriate follow up questions and is genuinely concerned about your legal situation. You need to have the assurance that you and your legal issue are a high priority. If not, find someone that will give you their undivided attention in this important new relationship.
7. Human Connection aka The Warm and Fuzzy. What does your gut tell you? How did the lawyer make you feel? Most lawyers look great on websites and have fancy plaques and awards on the wall. You are developing a relationship with a lawyer so it is important not to hire someone simply based on their self-proclaimed success. Did the lawyer seem sincere in wanting to help you? Did you get the warm and fuzzy!
Remember, the attorney-client relationship should be something much deeper than a standard business relationship. Take the time and put in the effort to find the right match.