By: Lisanne L. Mikula, Esquire
“To me, a lawyer is basically the person that knows the rules of the country. We’re all throwing the dice, playing the game, moving our pieces around the board, but if there is a problem the lawyer is the only person who has read the inside of the top of the box.”
– Jerry Seinfeld
Your first meeting with an attorney will likely be a consultation. The purpose of the consultation is to summarize your situation for the attorney, find out about his or her qualifications, discuss the possible scope of legal services which are available and appropriate to your situation, and learn the attorney’s fees for such services.
A consultation with the attorney will usually last between 30 minutes to one hour, depending on the complexity of your situation and the attorney’s schedule. To make the best use of your consultation time, here are a few practical pointers to help prepare for that meeting.
- Arrive on time. Attorneys’ schedules are frequently very tight. If you arrive late, the attorney might not be able to meet with you for the full time period which was originally scheduled. If you are running late for a consultation, you should call the attorney’s office to let them know you are running late and find out whether the lawyer can accommodate your late arrival or whether it would be better to reschedule the consultation. If you realize before the scheduled date of the consultation that you need to reschedule, you should try to do so as soon as you realize you need to reschedule. The more advance notice you provide, the better the chance is that you will be able to reschedule for a date which is sooner rather than later.
- Answer any questionnaires provided to you by the attorney prior to the consultation. Many attorneys will ask a potential client to complete a questionnaire which seeks information to help the attorney assess your matter. This includes information such as the names of potential parties and witnesses, which is critical for an attorney to determine whether he or she has a conflict of interest which might prevent the attorney from representing you. Dates are also important because the timing of certain events will help the attorney to determine whether any applicable statutes of limitations (i.e., the deadline for filing claims) have passed or are fast approaching. Providing a clear, thorough, and organized recounting of the relevant facts will help the lawyer prepare for the consultation, resulting in a more efficient use of the time you spend meeting with the attorney.
- Gather and organize relevant documents. Pulling together and reviewing documents important to your case will help you recall and organize important facts regarding your matter. The attorney may or may not want to look at your documents during the consultation, but it is a good idea to have those documents with you when you arrive at the consultation. Use an organizational system–such as a binder, sticky notes, or an index—to help you locate vital information in your documents if you need to refer to them or show them to the attorney during the consultation.
- Prepare questions. In addition to being prepared with information to answer the attorney’s questions, before the consultation you should also jot down questions you have regarding the attorneys’ qualifications, fee structure, or the matter itself and bring your notes to the consultation so you remember to ask those questions during the consultation.
- Think about the goal you want to achieve. There are many reasons you may want to consult with an attorney, including, for example, the desire to bring a lawsuit or the need to defend against an existing lawsuit; to negotiate a resolution to a dispute; to obtain legal advice on how to proceed with a decision which may or may not have legal ramifications; and to shield yourself against potential legal liability. Think about your objectives and discuss those with the attorney during the consultation.
- Understand the purpose of the consultation. At the time of the consultation, it is unlikely that you and the attorney will have entered into a representation agreement. Unless and until you and the lawyer enter into a representation agreement, the attorney will not be able to provide you with legal advice. The purpose of the consultation is to gather relevant facts, ascertain your goals, and determine whether there are legal services which the attorney believes may be appropriate to offer you regarding your situation.
- Be candid. Even if you and the attorney have not yet entered into a representation agreement, what you and the lawyer discuss during the consultation will be kept confidential. It is important to be honest and forthcoming with facts relating to your situation, even if certain facts may be emotionally difficult for you to discuss or may be things which you think could weaken your legal position. Withholding important facts will hamper the lawyer’s ability to determine what legal services may be appropriate to address your situation.
- Confirm what the next step is. At the end of the consultation, make sure you understand what will happen after the consultation, such as, for example, whether a proposed representation agreement will be sent to you and when you should expect to hear back from the attorney. To maintain the confidentiality of what you discussed with the attorney during the consultation, you should refrain from telling other people what was said during the consultation.
The Law Firm of DiOrio & Sereni, LLP is a full-service law firm in Media, Delaware County, Pennsylvania. We strive to help people, businesses and institutions throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania solve legal problems – and even prevent legal problems before they occur. To learn more about the full range of our specific practice areas, please visit www.dioriosereni.com or contact Lisanne L. Mikula, Esquire at 610-565-5700 or at [email protected]