First Meeting With A Lawyer: Be Prepared to Ask and to Answer a Lot of Questions
Before your first meeting with a lawyer you are interviewing, take the time to prepare some specific questions to ask. Before you make an appointment, ask the attorney what he or she will charge for the consultation. Some lawyers offer a free first meeting. Others may charge a reduced fee for the first meeting, while still others charge at their usual hourly rate. Ask the attorney what materials you should bring to your first meeting, such as copies of contracts, letters, or a summons you received.
The Steinberg Colorado Criminal Defense Law Firm does not charge a fee for the first consultation. H. Michael Steinberg will conduct that conference immediately by phone if possible. He is available 24 hours a day by telephone.
When you arrive at the lawyer’s office for your first consultation, take a few minutes to size up the way the office looks and the attitude of the lawyer’s support staff. Is the office neat or does it appear disorganized? Does the receptionist greet you pleasantly and courteously, or is the greeting surly or disinterested? Do the staff members dress professionally? While some law offices are plush, with oriental carpets and marble counters, others are much less grand. Keep in mind that the lawyers at either kind of office may be equally competent, but you can also tell a lot about the practice from this first examination.
When you finally sit down to talk with the lawyer, give the lawyer a brief description of the nature of your problem. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to sound like Perry Mason, using legal jargon you may have picked up from television and books; the lawyer’s unlikely to be impressed. Just tell your story in plain English.
Answer any questions the lawyer asks as honestly as you can, and don’t try to hide information that you think puts you in an unflattering light or weakens your case. If your lawyer is going to help you, the lawyer must know the whole story; few things make a lawyer more angry than to have a client withhold information that’s pertinent to the problem.
You don’t have to worry about the lawyer revealing what you say. Unless you are talking about a crime you intend to commit, your statements are considered “privileged,” which means they can’t be disclosed by the lawyer without your permission, even if you decide not to hire the lawyer. However, if you take another person into the office with you, this privilege will not apply, since by discussing your problem in the presence of another person you have already treated it as being less than confidential between you and the attorney. You should leave your mother, your child, or any friends who accompanied you to the lawyer’s office in the waiting room. If the lawyer needs to talk to any of these people, the lawyer will let you know. On the other hand, If you bring them into the meeting, and are willing to waive the rule of confidentiality, while you may give up confidentiality you may have other good reasons to insist that they be present. It is your decision and only your decision.
After you outline your problem to the lawyer, ask how the lawyer handled similar cases in the past. Ask how many cases the lawyer has settled, as well as how many cases the lawyer has taken to trial.
Ask about the strategy the lawyer will follow if you hire him or her to represent you. You may not want to hire a lawyer whose chief strategy is to be as confrontational and unpleasant as possible. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if the lawyer uses terms you don’t understand. A good lawyer will take the time to explain things patiently and clearly.
One important area that needs to be discussed is that of client communications. Some lawyers will provide their clients with virtually every piece of correspondence in regard to a particular matter. Other lawyers communicate verbally with their clients only when necessary and do not barrage them with every piece of paper and minute detail in the case. Still others interact minimally with their clients. Getting some of these last lawyers to do something as simple as returning a phone call can be torturous.
If you want to be completely informed about the progress of your case, be sure to tell the lawyer you are interviewing about your desire for ongoing communication at your first meeting. If the lawyer seems reluctant to comply, or tries to tell you “that’s just not the way we do things,” you may want to consider looking elsewhere for a lawyer who is more willing to meet your expectations. Remember that the lawyer you hire works for you; you would be surprised how many lawyers seem to have forgotten this basic principle.
That doesn’t mean your lawyer won’t have other clients, and there may be times when for one reason or another (such as when the lawyer is in court or attending a settlement conference), he or she won’t be immediately available to answer a phone call or explain the latest motion filed by your opponent. But it does mean that you should be able to expect a courteous and patient answer to your questions as soon as possible, and you should have telephone calls returned promptly.
Good luck, H Michael