You have something going. You know you need help. You have found an attorney or three to meet. But you still wonder: what questions to ask an attorney when you are sitting in front of them?
Keep in mind that you are the client. Whether you realize it or not, in this initial conversation YOU have all of the power. YOU can decide whether or not you want this attorney to represent you — or whether you will say “thank you for your time,” and end the meeting.
I am an attorney. But I also know enough to know I shouldn’t represent myself in personal matters. I’ve hired representation in four different matters. This is what I want to know when I am going to hand off some of my hard-earned money to someone else:
1. How are you going to take care of my case?
I’m not looking for a guarantee of an outcome — no one can honestly give me that. What I am looking for is a definitive understanding of what my case is about, what the attorney has to do to address it, and what his/her plan for doing so is.
2. What is the best way to reach you?
I don’t want their home number. What I do want is to know whether leaving a message on voice mail is more likely to obtain a response than an email — or vice versa.
3. Who returns your calls?
Big issue for me…. is the assistant / secretary / paralegal going to return my messages or is the big “guy” himself? I’d like to know if I’m going to wait for a call back just to really ask my question, and then I’m going to have to wait for an answer — or if that answer will come right away.
4. How do you charge?
You need to know up front on this one: hourly? flat fee? contingency? Is there a retainer? The attorney needs to address the details of payment with you in the first meeting. The last thing you want is to form a relationship with a $500/hour attorney — and then realize there is no way on this earth you will ever be able to afford him.
5. Why did you decide to become a lawyer?
This one isn’t a “recommended” question, but it will tell you a lot about the person across the table. There are canned answers about helping people, real answers about still needing to pay off student loans, and about a thousand reasons in between.
The lawyer’s reasons don’t need to resonate with you as the client. But they do give you insight in to the motivations of your attorney, why they do what they do, and possibly even some of the best ways to communicate with them.
(c) KJD Legal