You know that you have a pressing legal matter and need to schedule a consultation meeting with an attorney. When you sit down with your lawyer for the first time, you'll want to make the most of that meeting. Lawyers often charge hourly, even for an initial consultation, so it is crucial to be efficient. What should you do to prepare for that first meeting with your lawyer?
Your Contact Information
Regardless of the type of legal matter, your lawyer will want to know who you are and how to contact you. Be prepared to provide your:
- home address
- work address
- employer's name and address
- home phone number
- work phone number
- mobile phone number
- fax number, and
- email address
Key Facts About Your Case
Your lawyer will surely ask you to describe the key facts leading up to your decision to meet with an attorney. Often, clients will tell lawyers their stories in a choppy fashion or with the key facts and events out of order.
To make your consultation meeting efficient, try writing your story down as if you were communicating it to a person who had never met you before. You'll probably want to do this chronologically, identifying the key dates and names (for example, "It all started when I went into business with my friend Bill in 2013...").
Try to keep these facts to a single page. Doing this will force you to understand the "narrative" of your case, and will help you to communicate the sequence of events and key issues to your attorney. Some important details to include in that narrative include:
- names of the key players in your dispute
- date the dispute or problem began
- type of the dispute (harassment, contract, divorce)
- key events of your dispute, including a "who, what, where, when and why" narrative, and
- current status of your dispute.
Gather Relevant Documents and Evidence
In addition to learning about you and hearing your narrative, your lawyer will also want to see documents and evidence, both for informational purposes and to help assess the strength of your case.
Obviously, the nature of the evidence will vary dramatically from one type of case to another. As you prepare to meet with your lawyer, try to locate any of the following that might apply to your case:
- contracts (such as employment agreements, leases, promissory notes, and the like)
- financial documents (for example, if you'll be drafting a will or starting a company)
- correspondence (letters, emails, or text messages between you and the other party or otherwise relevant to your dispute)
- photos (which could include social media posts, physical photographs, and so on)
- accident or police reports
- employment materials, such as an employee handbook, and
- witness statements and witness contact information
Try to gather and copy these documents before your meeting. If you can put them into an organized binder, you will make life much easier for your attorney and reduce the hours spent (and charged for).
Sometimes, a lawyer may also try to speed the information gathering process by sending you a questionnaire to fill out in advance of any meeting. If this happens, be sure to fill out the questionnaire and send it in to the lawyer's office beforehand, so that the lawyer doesn't have to review it wmhile you sit there.
Also, send along copies of any available documents that the lawyer may have requested in the questionnaire.
Make Sure the Lawyer Has No Conflicts of Interest
Before you get too far into a meeting or conversation, the lawyer will want to know about any possible conflicts of interest that might prevent him or her from ethically representing you.
You should bring a list of people who may be witnesses or defendants in the case. If, for example, the lawyer or the lawyer's firm represents anyone on the other side of the fence, he or she will have a conflict and probably won't be able to represent you. The sooner you learn this, the better.
Consider Your Goals for Representation
Sometimes, clients realize that they have a legal problem, but don't think clearly about their specific objectives, particularly if they're angry.
What, exactly, do you want your lawyer to accomplish for you? Obviously, your lawyer's ability to achieve your "perfect outcome" will depend on the facts and the law, but you should nevertheless prepare a list of goals that you want the lawyer to help you achieve. Typical goals might include:
- review and provide comments on a contract or legal document
- draft a will
- form a new company
- respond to a legal complaint, lawsuit, or threatening letter
- research whether you have a meritorious legal claim against another person or entity
- draft a legal complaint or demand letter to another person or entity, or
- negotiate a lease, contract, or other agreement
Consider Questions to Ask
- How have other clients addressed similar issues in the past?
- How is the other side likely to respond?
- What would you (the lawyer) like to see in order to evaluate this case?
- What are the options for going forward, both legal and non-legal?
- How many similar cases have you handled?
- What percent of your practice is in the area of expertise that I need?
- Do you usually represent a particular "side" of this issue (for example, employers or employees)?
- What problems does the lawyer foresee with your case?
- How would you go about handling this situation? What is the process?
- How long will it take to bring the matter to a conclusion?
- How would you charge for services (for example, hourly or on a contingency or flat-fee basis)?
- Would you handle the case personally or pass it on to some other lawyer in the firm? If other lawyers or staff may do some of the work, could I meet them before agreeing to representation?
In short, preparation for your first consultation meeting is critical. Strong preparation will save time and money. It will also ensure that all of your questions are answered, and that your attorney has all the information needed in order to effectively represent you.