The Do’s and Don'ts of your Initial Consultation

Meeting with an attorney for the first time can seem daunting and overwhelming. This guide will help you to arrive prepared and leave with valuable information.

Do ask about the attorney’s focused practice type and experience in dealing with your case type.

     People often seem to ask this question apologetically or skip asking together. You’ll want to make sure your attorney can confidently and easily handle your case and while talking about your case may give you a sense of that. Do not be afraid to directly ask about the attorney’s experience.

Don’t expect a whole lot of free legal advice in your initial consultation.

     A majority of this initial consultation will be used to get a grasp on your case, what your ideal outcome is, and discovering the process of what needs to be done to get there.  During the consultation, you should feel like you have a grasp on what the process is and if you want or need an attorney to get you there. Also, you will want to make sure that the attorney you hire seems to really understand your specific situation and is on the same page with you as to how you want the matter handled. For instance, maybe you are looking to settle as amicably as possible and keep costs low but the attorney you are meeting with seems gung-ho in taking your case to trial. This attorney probably isn’t the right fit for you. Or vice versa, maybe you are determined to have your day in court but the attorney seems less enthusiastic about litigating your case. That may be a good indication that you need to keep looking.

Do discuss fees and costs.

     During your initial consultation, you should expect to talk about the costs that are anticipated to take your case where you want it to go. Most attorneys will quote you a retainer which is paid up front at the time you hire the attorney. A retainer is kept in a trust account on your behalf and is billed from as the attorney and staff work on your case. In the event your retainer is depleted, you will likely be asked to refill it or billed from there on an hourly basis. Make sure you ask how far the attorney anticipates that retainer lasting in your case. Some will give a quote for the entire case up front, others may be looking for only about half, or in other cases, the attorney may even just a retainer to get things started in your case.  Keep in mind that the attorney you are meeting with is likely not the person that will do a majority of the work on your case or that you will correspond with the most. Most attorneys have a paralegal or legal assistant that does a majority of the drafting, scheduling and corresponding on the attorney’s behalf and their hourly rate will likely differ than that of the attorney. Additionally, you may have additional court costs, fees and expenses associated with your case. Make sure to discuss and consider these as well when making your decision of whether or not to hire an attorney.

Don’t lie or withhold the truth.

     When discussing your case with the attorney, honesty is always the best policy. Keep in mind that attorney-client privilege will apply to your initial consultation. It is not the attorney’s job to take sides, judge or determine who is the “good guy” and who is the “bad guy.” In order for them to do their best in representing you, and provide you with accurate information, it is important that they have all the facts, good and/or bad. It’s better to tell the truth up front than have your attorney be surprised with it later. This could also change the course of the necessary process of your case and also the costs. If you feel uneasy about sharing pertinent details of your case, don’t be scared to ask the attorney to explain what is and is not protected under the attorney-client privilege before sharing.

Do show up on time.

     Just like a doctor's office, an attorney's office runs on a very tight schedule. Showing up on time will ensure that you get an opportunity to make the most of your initial consultation. The last thing you need is to feel rushed as you will want to get all of your important questions asked before leaving. The last thing you want is to leave and realize you forgot to ask one of your most pressing questions as getting back in touch with the attorney promptly will likely be difficult and you will find yourself having to either have a follow-up appointment down the road or hiring the attorney prior to getting that question answered.

Don’t come empty handed.

     If you are seeking an attorney, you are likely dealing with an unfamiliar, complex and stressful matter. This can make anyone’s mind a little cloudy when it comes time to discuss these matters with an attorney. Having a list of questions you feel are important to have answered prior to selecting an attorney will ensure that you leave with the answers you needed and you don’t forget anything important. You will also want to be sure to bring any relevant paperwork or court documents with you as well, if there are any.


Mary McMullen