Meeting a short list of referred lawyers and choosing one of them to represent you is an important phase of your case. As usual, the biggest, fattest "don't" is: don’t be intimidated by the process or the people. This is your case and you – not the lawyers; not the judge; not the jury - will enjoy the rewards or suffer the losses, so you will need to observe, assertively ask questions and process information during and after these first meetings. If you’re nervous about meeting any lawyer, take a friend or relative with you to the meeting so you can look beyond your nervousness and focus on this case, this lawyer, this office, this staff.
Your first meeting with a lawyer is a business meeting, so dress appropriately, be on time and be prepared with your expandable file, spiral notebook, case documents, notes of important case facts and questions. Furthermore, a good rule of thumb in assessing a lawyer’s office situation on this first visit is to take note of everything you observe/experience and to expect more of the same if you hire the lawyer. For example, pay attention to the lawyer's staff because when you hire a lawyer, you are also effectively hiring his/her staff. They will be dealing with you and others involved in your case and will probably prepare some of the work, so you want a lawyer with a capable staff. Are they polite to you and to others? Are they professional? Do they seem busy, knowledgeable, efficient and interested in their work? Listen to your gut and take notes because if you hire this lawyer, you can reasonably expect more of the same observations/experience of this staff throughout your case. For a second example, pay attention to the office, its equipment and supplies because your case will be using those, as well. Is the office spacious enough and otherwise well-equipped for the work it seems to be performing? Is it neat and organized or does it resemble the chaotic aftermath of a paper/file/people tornado or does its condition fall somewhere in between? Whatever the condition of the office, equipment and supplies during this first meeting, expect more of the same if you hire this lawyer. Did I mention yet that you should expect more of whatever you observe/experience during this first visit? Well, that “goes double” for the lawyer. Read further and you’ll see what I mean.
When you meet privately with the lawyer, remember that he/she is bound by lawyer-client confidentiality, whether or not you hire him/her, so feel confident that you can thoroughly and honestly discuss the facts of your case with him/her. You should also pay attention to this lawyer's personality and to the chemistry between the two of you. Trust your gut again: you want a lawyer with whom you are reasonably compatible because you will be working with him/her on your case. Even if this lawyer is experienced and highly recommended, if you feel uncomfortable with him/her it will affect your ability to work with him/her and may well harm your case. The lawyer will ask you about your case. Using your prepared notes, explain your case – good and bad. The lawyer will probably have additional questions which you should fully, freely answer. After answering his/her questions, ask your own prepared questions and take notes. If you don't understand the answers, keep asking for simpler explanations until you do understand. Good lawyers want you to understand at least the basic legal principles and procedures of your case so you can have a good working relationship with them. In fact, a good lawyer will raise and answer additional questions that didn’t even occur to you because he/she is a trained, experienced thinker who wants you to understand your case. As the sample questions in "Choosing a Lawyer – Before the First Meeting" indicate, there are several especially important topics you'll want to cover, regardless of the case facts: you will want the good news and bad news about your case, including the strengths and weaknesses, and a good lawyer will tell you both; you will also want to know how you will be able to contact this lawyer and how long he/she will take to contact you, because effective lawyers need to be good, prompt communicators with the courts, other lawyers and you; you will also want to fully understand the fees/costs arrangement for his/her services.
After meeting with the lawyer, review your copious notes from paying attention to everything about this person. Did he/she keep you waiting long before meeting with you? Is he/she polite to you and to others, including staff? Is he/she professional? Does he/she seem busy, knowledgeable, efficient and interested in the work? Does he/she seem experienced enough and skillful enough to handle your case? Does he/she spend enough time and energy on discussing your case? Do you understand his/her explanation of your case? Is his/her approach to your case practical? To what extent will he/she let you participate in the process of your case? Did he/she answer all your questions and raise/answer additional questions that didn’t even occur to you? Do you understand his/her explanation of fees/costs and do they seem reasonable? Finally, will you be comfortable working with this lawyer on this case? Whatever your answers to those questions, hiring this lawyer means that you can expect more of the same "in spades."
Repeat this process with all 3 or 4 attorneys on your "short list" of prospects. After reviewing your notes on all these lawyers, their staffs and their offices, who is the "best fit" for this case and for you? Congratulations: you found your lawyer. Now, call him/her for your second appointment, which will include reviewing and executing your fees/costs agreement.
DO'S AND DON'TS
DON'T be intimidated by the process or the people.
DO take a friend or relative with you to the meeting if you're too nervous about the meeting.
DO dress appropriately and be on time.
DO be prepared with your expandable file, spiral notebook, case documents, notes of important case facts and questions.
DO observe, assertively ask questions and process information.
DO focus on this case, this lawyer, this office, this staff.
DO take copious notes about all your observations/experiences in the lawyer's office regarding the lawyer, his/her staff and his/her office.
DO thoroughly and honestly explain your case to the lawyer.
DO ask your questions, particularly regarding the "good and bad news" of your case, communications with the lawyer and fees/costs.
DO keep asking for simpler explanations until you understand every answer given by the lawyer.
DO pay attention to your personal rapport with the lawyer.
DO review your copious notes after the meeting.
DO repeat this process with all 3 or 4 of the lawyers on your "short list."
DO narrow your “short list” to a single attorney – your attorney.
DO call your attorney for your next appointment.
By Kathy Catanzarite
[Note from HandelontheLaw.com: This article is to be used as an educational guide only and should not be interpreted as a legal consultation. Readers of this article are advised to seek an attorney if a legal consultation is needed. Laws may vary by state and are subject to change, thus the accuracy of this information cannot be guaranteed. Readers act on this information solely at their own risk. Neither HandelontheLaw.com, or any of its affiliates, shall have any liability stemming from this article.]
Note from HandelontheLaw.com: This article is to be used as an educational guide only and should not be interpreted as a legal consultation. Readers of this article are advised to seek an attorney if a legal consultation is needed. Laws may vary by state and are subject to change, thus the accuracy of this information can not be guaranteed. Readers act on this information solely at their own risk. Neither the author, handelonthelaw.com, or any of its affiliates shall have any liability stemming from this article.
GENERAL LAW DOS AND DON'TS