All attorneys meet with prospective clients in what is called an initial consultation. This is a first meeting between you and the lawyer to help you both decide whether you want to work together in an attorney-client relationship. At this point, you are both checking each other out, and getting information and advice that can help you with your case regardless of whether you hire that lawyer or any other one.
However informal the initial consultation may be, it is important to come prepared so that you make the best use of your time and money. Here are seven tips on what to do before meeting the attorney for the first time.
- Just as you would do before doing to a doctor, write down any questions you have so that you do not forget to ask them. Bring a notepad to take notes, or leave space after each question so you have a convenient spot to write down the attorney’s answers.
- If there is anything you want to be sure to tell the lawyer about your situation, write it down. Remember, the attorney will keep this information confidential, unless required to share it with a court because it is relevant to the legal matter or with law enforcement for a public-safety reason. You may think the information is too trivial or embarrassing to mention, but it may well be extremely important, so share it.
- Gather any documents that you think might be relevant. This includes anything that has been filed with any court related to the matter for which you are seeking legal help. Even if you have no court papers yet, you may have on hand or could readily obtain documents that could be helpful. Examples may include birth certificates, marriage certificates, cell phone texts, emails, photos, audio recordings, or videos.
- Make a set of copies of everything that you plan to share with the lawyer. Give the lawyer the copies at the beginning of the initial consultation. Prudent attorneys do not accept original documents, and you do not want to waste precious time or money waiting while the attorney makes copies. So fax the documents to the law office before the meeting. Even better, if you have a scanner, scan and email the documents instead.
- If you plan to pay for the initial consultation with cash, go to a bank or ATM and withdraw the money the day before your appointment, if possible. Otherwise, do not forget your checkbook, debit card, or credit card.
- If you feel more comfortable bringing a friend or relative to the initial consultation for support, you may do so. But realize that any attorney-prospective client confidentiality you otherwise would enjoy at the meeting is lost if a third party, including your friend or relative, is present. He or she could even be subpoenaed to testify against you about what was said or heard. It is usually in your best interest to meet with the attorney alone, even if the other person is paying for the appointment. Your friend(s) or loved one(s) can wait in the lobby.
- To avoid interruptions, be sure to turn off all cell phones or other electronic devices just before your appointment.
Following these tips will help ensure that you have a productive first meeting with the attorney and start a good working relationship should you decide to hire him or her.