Arriving at your first legal consultation can be a huge relief, while also being incredibly stressful. Now that you have the appointment, what are you going to say? What are you going to ask? Do you know the right questions to ask? All of these are very common and natural responses. On a day-to-day basis, the majority of Americans do not have to deal with or work with attorneys. Now that your legal consultation is right around the corner, it is a good idea to be as prepared as possible.
We have scoured the Internet, asked other colleagues, and even consulted our own notes to pick out the most common and important questions you should ask during your first legal consultation. Print these questions out and make sure to bring a pen and paper with you to take notes. Chances are that your attorney will have tasks you need to complete if your legal consultation goes well and you hire the attorney.
1. How Long Have You Been Practicing Law?
Now, this may seem like a pretty obvious question, but you would be amazed at how many clients forget to ask. The question was one of the least asked but is one of the most important questions.
This is not to say that new attorneys are not qualified to handle your case and that you should only hire an attorney that has been practicing for thirty years. It is important when setting expectations. It is also possible they have been an attorney for five years, but instead of working for a general practice firm, they have only been working on landlord-tenant eviction processes, which is the exact area you need someone with expertise in.
The follow-up question, if you haven't already guessed it, is how long have you been working in their current legal area. For example, if an attorney used to own a family law firm and handled mostly divorces, however, you are in the legal consultation because you are interested in step-parent adoption, it is important to understand how long they have been doing adoption cases and what percentage of their cases are adoption cases. Chances are if they only have one or two adoption cases it may not be the best fit for you. There are some attorneys that only do adoptions. So it is important to know this going into your legal consultation.
2. What Special Training Have You Received?
In your legal consultation, you will want to gain as much information on their background and expertise as possible. In addition to asking how many years they have practiced in a certain area, you should also ask if they have attended seminars, workshops, continuing education classes, or received a certificate upon graduating law school.
Many times attorneys are able to choose a specialization in law school and take certain classes to fulfill that specialization certificate. Attorneys are also required to complete a certain number of continuing education hours every other year as the State Bar Association requires. Inquire as to which classes they have taken and how recent the classes were. There are a few areas of law where additional education and a certificate are needed in order to perform in those areas. Those include (1) Patent Law; (2) DUI Defense; and (3) Mediation.
3. What is Your Fee and How Are Costs Charged?
Know the fee the attorney charges up front. The last thing you want is to receive a bill at the end of the month and not only be shocked, but have little to no resources to pay. Ask if there are payment plans in place as well. A great way to keep costs down is to stay out of the courtroom, attempt to settle, collect all the documents your attorney needs immediately, and keep communication to one relevant e-mail a week.
A recent example of keeping costs down came from one of my colleague's client's that was coming in for a legal consultation for a divorce. The client had printed out pay stubs, written a brief history of the marriage, listed out all assets and debts, brought copies of tax returns and the house deed, as well as a projected budget. My colleague was quite impressed, and the client ended up saving thousands of dollars for being prepared, on point, and only communicating with his attorney when it was absolutely necessary.
4. Are You a Mediator or a Trial Attorney
Going to trial is expensive, however, at times it is necessary to accomplish your goals. You will want to get a feel during your legal consultation as to how aggressive your attorney will be when it comes to going to trial or being able to settle the dispute outside of the courtroom. If there is some room for negotiation, although the communication has bee difficult with the opposing side, it might be worth it to stay out of court.
However, if during your legal consultation your attorney immediately jumps to discussing evidence to present and courtroom exhibits, before learning more about the case, this attorney may end up costing you more in the long run. If you and the opposing party have attempted to come to an agreement for several months or years and the settlement is nowhere on the horizon, then you may need an aggressive attorney presenting your case to a judge who will ultimately be able to settle the issue for you once and for all.
It is truly important to remember to go with your gut instincts as well. If during your legal consultation your attorney is saying all the right things, but you just feel like something is off, listen to that. You should also schedule no less than three legal consultations so that you can compare the experiences. You will understand if one attorney actually specializes in an area or is just saying that, or you will find that you get along with a different attorney and find them easy to talk to.
Remember to keep these questions close when attending your legal consultation, these should help you make a smart and educated decision that will hopefully result in a successful settlement.
NOTE: This Blog is for Informational Purposes Only and Does Not Constitute Legal Advice