Aside from preparing for your initial consultation, keep in mind that your initial consultation with an attorney is like an interview. While the attorney is interviewing you to determine your legal issue and how he or she might be able to help you, you should view the experience as an opportunity to get to learn more about the attorney, and how your future relationship might work. You want to feel comfortable knowing that this person is going to be entirely responsible for your legal matter.
While this list is certainly not exhaustive, it gives you a better idea of the nature of the relationship with the attorney. Remember, finding the right attorney for you can depend on a number of factors.
Among the other questions you might have, be sure to ask the attorney:
- How many cases like mine have you handled? The number of years an attorney has been practicing can be misleading if, for example, they have only been practicing in this area for the past few months. It also doesn't hurt to ask whether they are a certified legal specialist (or the equivalent in your state) in the area, or have any other additional credentials or relevant experiences. This plays an important role in terms of things like appearances before judges, relationships with opposing counsel, and ability to negotiate with opposing parties.
- Will I only be working with you, or will another attorney or support professional be assigned to my case? Especially in larger firms, clients might not be dealing with the attorney who conducts their initial consultation or signs the retainer agreement. Be certain to establish up front who will be representing you, and also who will be the contact person for your case.
- How frequently should I expect to hear from you? How long will it take you to respond to my inquiries? Communication in the attorney-client relationship is key. Make sure you expectations are established up front to ensure you are on the same page regarding phone call or email turn around. Also, keep in mind that an attorney may be handling any number of cases at any given time, so it may take them a few hours or days to get back to you, depending on how pressing the matter is.
- How does payment work?/ What types of payment do you accept? The general model is usually an hourly fee set up, whereby the client gives the attorney a retainer, like a deposit, from which fees are deducted. Clients may have to replenish the retainer once the entire balance is spent. Alternatively, some attorneys operate on a contingency fee basis. This means that they do not get paid until they receive a settlement or award in your case. Be sure to ask about how court fees and other costs will be paid, as these are usually the client's responsibility unless otherwise agreed. Also, some attorneys may accept credit card payments, which can be incredibly convenient for clients who wouldn't otherwise be able to pay for services.
- Based on what we have discussed today, if I hired you, how would you proceed with the case, and what can I expect within the coming weeks, etc? Attorneys are certainly not fortune tellers, and cases hinge on nuanced factors, including the personalities of opposing parties, etc. That being said, based on their experience with other cases, an attorney should be able to tell you what their next steps will be and how they anticipate to proceed. They will probably also be able to tell you in more general terms what the potential outcomes of your case might be.
If you need help finding an attorney, search the list of Lead Counsel Rated Attorneys in your state or desired practice area. These attorneys are pre-screened to ensure that they are experienced, in good standing, and have peer references. In addition, Lead Counsel ratings are subject to a mandatory annual review. Thus, knowing that you are searching among well qualified attorneys, you can focus on the more important factors, such as how the attorney can help you resolve your case or issue.
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