An initial meeting with your attorney is important, not just for exchanging information about your case, but also for building rapport and trust. Commonly, you will first have a short phone call with the lawyer, who will then ask to meet you in person.
If you aren't yet certain you plan to use this lawyer, be sure to ask about whether he or she charges for this initial consultation. Some lawyers do free first consultations, others may charge several hundred dollars.
What Should I Bring?
Here are some suggestions for what to bring to your meeting with your attorney.
- A pen and pad of paper or the electronic equivalent! In the course of your conversation with your attorney, you will surely want to write down notes on any issues or questions that arise.
- A list of questions. Clients often have a million questions and concerns before a meeting, one or more of which they then forget to ask when sitting face to face with their attorney. Write these questions down ahead of time, to make sure you get every query answered while you're sitting there.
- A check for the initial consultation fee, if your attorney charges one. This should be discussed ahead of the meeting. Nothing gets a lawyer-client relationship off on the wrong foot faster than forgetting to make your first payment. Presenting that fee immediately shows that you're taking the relationship seriously.
- Any documents relevant to your case. If, for example, you are negotiating a lease and want the lawyer to review it, you should obviously bring a copy of the draft lease. If possible, make multiple copies of each document you give to your lawyer, so that you can take a set back home. (Or you can ask the lawyer's office to make the copies, but you'll likely be charged at premium rates for those.)
How Should I Act During the Meeting With the Lawyer?
Treat your first meeting as a business consultation. While you are trying to develop a friendly rapport with your lawyer, you also want him or her to see you as a serious client with serious needs.
- Be prompt. Lawyers value their time, since they generally bill by the hour. Showing up ten minutes late could throw off the rest of the lawyer's schedule for the day.
- Dress professionally. This does not necessarily mean you need to wear a suit, but you should wear the type of attire you would wear to any formal business meeting. This shows the attorney that you are a professional, and are taking your case seriously.
- Let the lawyer do the talking, initially. You'll have all sorts of information you'll want to relate, but the lawyer will be better able to focus on the background facts he or she feels are relevant. The more prepared you are with completed questionnaires (if the lawyer sent you any ahead of time), documents, diagrams, and your own questions, the easier this process will be, and the more you will impress the lawyer.
- Be honest. Remember that, even if you do not end up hiring the lawyer, everything you tell him or her during your meeting is generally subject to the attorney-client privilege. (The biggest exception to this, not surprisingly, is if you tell your lawyer that you are going to commit a crime, which information the lawyer may be duty-bound to convey to law-enforcement authorities.) In most cases, honesty is in your best interest. Lawyers seldom see cases that are cut and dried, with one party completely the "good guy." It's much better for the lawyer to know any bad news up front than to be surprised later with revelations you failed to share. (In fact, the lawyer's fee contract may mention that the fees will go up if you've withheld relevant information.)
Get an Understanding of the Attorney's Fee Structure and Related Costs
As part of your initial meeting with your attorney, it's important to understand the anticipated cost of the representation and how this will be calculated.
Different lawyers bill their clients differently. Some charge by the hour; some charge by the project, on a flat-fee or contingency basis. In the case of lawyers who charge hourly, some start out by charging a retainer, which is an initial up-front fee that they then bill against at an hourly rate until it runs out (at which point the assumption is usually that you'll be ready to pay more).
If the lawyer is willing to take your case, you should ask what he or she charges. Also ask when, exactly, you will be charged: quarterly, monthly, up-front, or at the conclusion of the project?
You may be presented with a contract called a retainer agreement or a legal services agreement. This typically spells out the scope of the lawyer's representation of you, as well as the fees that you will pay. The document is ordinarily a few pages long. The lawyer should explain it to you. Read and understand the document before you sign it.
Clarify What Will Happen After the Meeting
Be clear on what will happen next, and then be sure to follow through on whatever you're asked to do by your new attorney. The attorney will need cooperation from your end.
Commonly, a lawyer will ask you to send additional documents or information pertaining to your case so that he or she can review it in detail. If it's not clearly spelled out in your representation agreement, ask the lawyer how he or she would prefer to communicate with you (email, telephone, or some other method), and then keep in contact regularly.
The lawyer may give you advice on how to proceed. This could be especially important when time is short. For example, if your business has been sued and you need to file a response to the lawsuit immediately, you'll want a lawyer to get on the matter right away. By the end of your meeting, you should leave with a clear understanding of what you've accomplished and what's ahead.
Questions for Your Attorney
- How long have you practiced in this area of law?
- How many cases have you handled that are like mine?
- What was the outcome in those cases?
- How long does it typically take to resolve cases like mine?
- What sort of budget should I anticipate for this sort of case, from beginning to end?
- Do you require a retainer? If so, how much?
- What additional information, documents, or data do you need from me in order to begin work?