The Initial Consultation
By Sean Lally, Staff Writer
When it comes to hiring an attorney, initial consultations are crucial. An initial consultation is the first meeting you have with a potential lawyer. At this meeting, the attorney will want to get a sense of your case – including the nature of the accident, the injury and the treatment – and you will want to get a sense of how the lawyer works. This can be somewhat intimidating for those who haven’t been to a consultation before. What questions do you ask? What should you bring to the meeting? Does it cost money? These are solid questions that we will address below.
To begin with, it’s important to remember that a consultation is not a one-sided endeavor; it involves two pro-active parties, each attempting to make the best possible choice. To that end, you should be sure to come prepared with questions. Remember, your case is a significant matter to your health and long-term financial well-being, so there’s no harm in being thorough.
You should ask the attorney precisely what he will do for you. You can ask about the legal process more broadly – how long it takes, what it requires and what obstacles you can expect. You can ask about the lawyer’s background to get a sense of his experience and skill level. You can also inquire about the fee structure. Most personal injury lawyers only accept payment if they win the case, or succeed in reaching a settlement agreement – this is known as a contingent fee. Other lawyers (such as divorce and business attorneys) will expect money up front (this is called a retainer) and charge an hourly rate. In most cases, you don’t have to pay for the consultation if you decide you don’t want legal representation. However, it is always good to confirm this in advance so you don’t get surprised.
Background Is Important
It can be particularly important to get a sense of the attorney’s background. He should have skills and experience that match the needs of your case. If, say, his practice empasizes medical malpractice law, and you’re dealing with a car accident injury, that attorney is probably not the best fit. You also want to be sure they have ample experience dealing with cases just like yours.
Get a Sense of the Process
Moreover, you want to be clear about who you’ll be dealing with. The attorney who is present at the initial consultation may not be your main point of contact. Instead, there may be a paralegal assigned to your case. If so, this would be the person you’d be dealing with on a daily basis. Relatedly, you want to get a sense of the firm’s work habits. To that end, you can ask how long it generally takes for them to get back to clients. It’s important to understand the process before diving in head first. The fewer surprises, the better.
The Lawyer’s Goals at the Consultation
Of course, the attorney will also be curious about your case. To that end, you should bring documents that pertain to your situation. Medical records, for instance, can help illustrate the severity and nature of your present condition. It might also be a good idea to bring documents or evidence that help paint a picture of the accident. These can include pictures of the accident – for instance, you can bring photos of the vehicles, if you’ve been in an automobile collision – or these can be official documents like police reports and witness testimony.
The lawyer will want to get a sense of your chances of success. If, in his eyes, you don’t have a case, most lawyers will generally tell you. For instance, if you’re claiming that another person or company caused your injury, they will want to see whether there is any legal basis for making that claim. This is one of the main benefits of the consultation: you can get a clear sense of where you stand with regard to obtaining compensation.
Though it may appear intimidating, a consultation can be a great way to get a sense of a firm. To that end, you can set up appointments with multiple attorneys. With more choices, you can increase your chances of finding the right lawyer for your case.