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.
When you enter the lawyer’s office, look for technology. If you see a computer on the lawyer’s desk (and if it’s turned on), it indicates the lawyer is using technology, which should enable the lawyer to spend less time (and less of your money) to produce the documents needed for your case.
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 is in your best interest. Let the lawyer decide what is or is not in your favor. It’s much better for the lawyer to know the bad things up front, rather than be surprised later.
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 a 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.
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.
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.
As you visit with each lawyer, trust your judgment. Ask yourself, do I like this person? Does he or she seem willing to take the time to listen to what’s going on in my life and what I want to accomplish? To explain the options available to me?
Unless you’re facing a filing deadline, you’ll rarely need to rush into the decision of which lawyer to use. Better to learn all you can about several lawyers and then make the decision at your own pace. Feel free to discuss what you’ve learned with a trusted friend or relative before making the decision, and in particular before depositing a large retainer.
Feel free to visit with several lawyers before making a decision. If the lawyer seems offended that you would do this, he or she may not be confident enough to serve you well. Note: you should not be offended if a lawyer asks you to pay a consultation fee even for the first meeting. Once the lawyer meets with you, he or she usually cannot represent your spouse, and that may be a substantial cost to the lawyer’s practice.