Meeting with a lawyer the first time can be a little nerve racking. Relax, the lawyer is going to help you out, you are going to learn about your options and you may even start to sleep easier not having to worry about what you are going to do next. Also keep these things in mind to improve the experience:
Treat your first meeting as a business consultation. Dress well and be prompt. Be polite and courteous. You will want to impress the lawyer, just as he or she will be trying to impress you.
Give a lawyer the chance to get to know you. Don't feel compelled right off the bat to blurt out everything you want to tell the lawyer about your legal issues or needs. Many times, a lawyer will want to get some background information and even shoot the breeze a bit. This opportunity will provide both you and the lawyer with the chance to evaluate each other on an informal basis.
Let the lawyer do the talking initially. You'll have all sorts of information that you'll want to relate, but the lawyer will be better able to hone in on the background facts that he or she feels are relevant or important. The more prepared you are with completed questionnaires, documents, diagrams and your own questions, the easier this process will be, and the more you will impress the lawyer.
During your initial consultation, you'll want to be able to share all relevant information with the lawyer. Even if you don't end up hiring the lawyer, everything you tell him or her during your meeting is subject to the attorney-client privilege, so honesty and complete disclosure is in your best interest. Let the lawyer decide what is or is not in your favor. It is important that the lawyer know all the facts up front, including the bad things, rather than be surprised later.
This is important not only to the lawyer, but for you in particular. If the lawyer is aware of bad facts, he or she will be prepared to deal with them, and can provide you with accurate advice as to how such information will affect your claim. If the information is withheld and discovered by the opposing lawyer, if can be devastating to your claim.
If the lawyer is interested in representing you, you can expect that he or she will go through an educational process with you. You should take the time to make an honest assessment of your opposition and, if asked, to be able to relate the thoughts you have to the lawyer. Forget the huffing and puffing. Give your lawyer the straight scoop.
The lawyer may give you alternatives as to what you can do, and you should discuss the possible consequences of each option. Look for practical legal advice that in your own mind translates into good business sense.
Be sure to discuss what time limitations may apply to bringing your claim.
Depending up on how well prepared you are, the lawyer may even be able to give you advice on how to proceed. This could be especially important when time is of the essence. 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.
If the lawyer is willing to take your case, you should be told what he or she charges for services. You may be presented with a contract that is called a retainer agreement or a legal services agreement. The lawyer should explain it to you. Read and understand the document before you think about signing it. At that time, or before services are rendered, you may also be asked to provide a retainer or deposit up front.
Be clear on what is to happen next, and then be sure to follow through on whatever you have been asked to do by your new attorney. The attorney will insist on cooperation from your end. If it's not clearly spelled out in a retainer agreement, also be sure to ask the lawyer how he or she would prefer to communicate with you, and then keep in contact regularly with your attorney. Be sure to promptly alert your attorney to any change of your address, phone numbers or other contact information.
You probably wouldn't be meeting with the lawyer in the first place if you weren't ready to hire somebody. While you may still change your mind at almost any point, be prepared to proceed forward by bringing a checkbook and/or a credit card to pay a retainer to the lawyer if he or she asks before moving forward. Keep in mind that lawyers cost a lot of money and you will be expected to pay for their services. From the lawyer's perspective, a client who is unwilling to pay a retainer up front for good legal advice may not be willing to pay for it down the road.
If you have made your choice, be sure to review with the lawyer the fee arrangement. There should be a written fee agreement that you should review carefully. Discuss with the lawyer any terms that you may not fully understand or don't like. Remember that the terms of fee agreements are negotiable.
Be prepared to pay a retainer to the lawyer if he or she is not agreeable to proceeding on a contingent fee basis. If you are retaining the lawyer on an hourly basis, keep in mind that lawyers cost a lot of money and you will be expected to pay for their services. From the lawyer's perspective, a client who is unwilling to pay a retainer up front for good legal advice may not be willing or able to pay for it down the road.
You should receive from the lawyer an engagement letter that confirms their representation of your claim, the scope of their representation, and explains what they will be doing on your behalf. If your lawyer doesn't provide you with such a letter, ask for one. Such a letter will help avoid misunderstandings with the person to whom you will be relying upon for important advice.
Jess G. Webster contributed to the information in these guidelines. He is a Maritime lawyer handling cases throughout the U.S. He is a principal with the Seattle law firm of Mikkelborg, Broz, Wells & Fryer, and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.