If you are dealing with a legal matter and have taken the initial step to schedule a consultation with an attorney, you’re off to a great start. Hiring an attorney as early on in your case is essential to getting the best representation you can. Meeting with an attorney as soon as possible not only ensures that deadlines aren’t missed, but it also gives your attorney more time to understand the issues and help you reach the best possible resolution.
When you’re meeting with your attorney for the first time, it’s important to come prepared. The better prepared you (the client) are for the initial consultation, the better able your attorney will be able to answer your questions and dive right into your matter. Having everything ready from the outset can also save you money, as it will take your attorney less time to work on your case. This is especially true when your attorney is billing by the hour.
Below are a few things to remember that will help you get the most out of your initial consultation with your attorney.
- Gather and organize all relevant documents. Spend some time collecting all the documents related to your legal matter and organize them in a way that makes sense. When collecting documents, it’s better to include too much than too little; your attorney will be better able to decide what is and isn’t important. You should also make copies of these documents before your meeting, so you have a copy ready to give to your attorney. Note: some attorneys charge per page for copies, so bringing your own copies can also save you money.
- Write a description of the issue in your own words. While the documents you bring can speak for themselves, it is helpful if you write down a brief narrative of what’s going on with your matter. While your attorney will probably have some additional questions for you, a short recount of the issues can make for a great starting point.
- Dress for success. Treat your initial consultation like a business meeting or a job interview. Dressing professionally will help you feel confident and in control during the consultation. Additionally, if your case may go to trial, the way you present yourself during the initial consultation will also help your attorney get a better sense for how you will appear in court.
- Be truthful. Don’t ever lie to your attorney. Even if you think something can be damaging to your case, it’s even worse to withhold information. Your attorney can mitigate almost anything you’ve done as long as you’re truthful from the outset. Your entire case could be derailed if and when the truth surfaces later on, which is a risk nobody can afford to take.
- Discuss the retainer agreement. If you are comfortable with the attorney, the next step after the initial consultation is to sign a retainer agreement. The retainer agreement should, at least, set forth the fee structure and the scope of representation. The exact terms and conditions of your retainer agreement will depend on the attorney and on the nature of your legal matter.
- Keep your own file. Your lawyer will keep a file of everything related to your case, but it is also a good idea for you to keep a file for your own records. Having your own working file will help if you have any questions as your matter moves forward.
- Listen to your lawyer. While you’re probably as smart as your attorney, you don’t know nearly as much about the law. Google is no substitute for law school, the bar exam, and years of experience. If your lawyer suggests a certain strategy, it is probably for a reason. You need to trust your attorney, which is the cornerstone of any successful attorney-client relationship. If you can’t trust your lawyer, then you need to find one who you can.
The above tips should help make your initial consultation with your attorney as productive as possible. If you have specific questions about how to prepare for or what to bring to your initial consultation, feel free to contact me.