Once you have decided which
lawyer to call, you should ask the lawyer whether he/she charges a fee for
the initial consultation (first visit), and if so, how much. If you decide
after the first meeting that you want to hire a lawyer, you should ask for
an estimated cost for services. Most lawyers will enter into a written
agreement listing the fees, costs, and the nature and extent of the lawyer's
representation. You should understand from the first meeting how much the
lawyer will charge to handle your case. Costs are different from fees. The
client is ultimately responsible for court costs, filing fees, etc.
The first time you meet with a lawyer, you should be prepared to discuss and
ask questions in regards to the facts and any legal problems pertaining to
these facts. Do not be shy or intimidated by the lawyer or his/her offices.
The questions below are ideas for a potential client to ask the lawyer,
followed by suggested direction for the client and lawyer.
1. Based on my situation, do I
have a legal problem?
Client: Make sure you fully explain your situation to your
lawyer. Bring any papers or documents you think may help explain the story
to the first meeting. Make sure your lawyer covers both practical solutions
to the problems as well as all of your options available under the law. Do
not try to convince the lawyer of the merits of your position by
exaggerating the facts. If you know, make sure you tell the lawyer the
position taken by the potential adverse party.
Lawyer: The lawyer should have sufficient discussion with the
client to determine that the facts indicate a legal problem. The lawyer
should attempt to identify, as best he/she can, all the legal problems
represented by the discussion of facts with the client.
2. Are you the lawyer who can
help me? Is this something you routinely handle? If not, can you refer me to
someone who does?
It is important to discuss with the lawyer how much experience he/she has in
dealing with cases similar to yours. If the lawyer doubts his or her
competence to handle the matter then be sure to ask for a referral to other
lawyers who are familiar with cases such as yours. Also ask about the
outcome of the other cases that the lawyer has handled, as well as whether
or not the anticipated fees and costs that you have been quoted by the
lawyer is in line with the fees and costs charged in the other cases.
Lawyer: The lawyer should be careful to handle only matters
he/she is competent to handle. If the lawyer is in doubt, he/she should
refer the matter to a lawyer who concentrates in the area at issue and
possibly associate himself/herself with that lawyer as an assistant to
handle issues with which he/she is competent to deal with.
3. How much will this cost me?
Make sure the lawyer fully identifies and explains the legal problems you
currently face. The lawyer should give you some idea of the amount of money
required in legal fees as well as expenses for the action that he/she is
going to take for you. Whether the client is charged on an hourly basis or a
contingent fee basis, the reason for the fee should be fully explained to
you. Before actually agreeing for the lawyer to represent you, feel free to
get an explanation of the fee in writing from the lawyer and signed by both
of you. See the definitions below for fees:
" retainer fee: advance payment
to the lawyer for a portion of his or her fee
" contingency fee: an agreed-upon percentage of any monies obtained through
settlement, trial or negotiation.
" hourly fee: the lawyer's hourly rate multiplied by the number of hours (or
portion of hours) spent on your case.
" fixed fee: a specific amount of money for a specific service.
" cost advance: periodic advance payment to the lawyer for on-going expenses
associated with litigation.
" mixed fee: combination of contingency and hourly fees.
Having focused on the number and nature of legal problems, the lawyer should
explain the complexity of the problems to the client with the idea of
setting forth the degree of legal expense that the client might expect.
Lawyer should be forthright and communicate directly and clearly with the
client regarding anticipated legal expense. Whether the client is charged on
an hourly basis or a contingent fee basis, the reason should be fully
explained to the client. If a retainer fee is needed up front, the client
should be informed as to the reason. Within parameters, a total fee might be
projected to the client so as to avoid misunderstandings later. A written
agreement is recommended.
4. How long will it take to solve
my legal problem?
Again, ask the lawyer how long it has taken him/her to bring cases similar
to yours to a conclusion in the past. Ask if your case involves issues more
complex than his/her previous cases and whether or not that will affect the
expected time to bring this case to a conclusion. Ask if there are any legal
time limitations which restrict the length of time you have to bring an
action. Ask what he/she believes to be the best case as opposed to worst
case scenario with regard to the amount of time that he/she expects the case
will take. If there is no way to predict how long this matter might take,
what are the reasons for that? If there is anything you can do to speed up
The lawyer should assess the legal issues involved and surrounding facts
presented by the client. Based upon the lawyer's expertise and experience,
he/she should have an idea as to how long it will take to resolve the
problems presented. Within certain parameters, if best case as opposed to
worst case, the lawyer should give the client full expectations as to how
long it will take to bring the matter to a conclusion.
5. What results can I expect?
What do you expect to accomplish?
Ask the lawyer whether or not the facts you presented in that first meeting
give him/her enough information to make a prediction with regard to the
results of the case. Ask him/her to explain the law as it relates to your
case and the effect which existing laws may have on your case. It is
extremely important that both the client and lawyer fully understand each
other with regard to the results expected. This should play a big part in
determining whether or not the cost and the time involved in pursuing the
matter are worth what is expected as a result.
From hearing the facts presented by the client, as well as other needed
inquiry, the lawyer should have an idea about the strengths and weaknesses
of the client's position. Based upon the client's expectations and goals,
the lawyer should advise the client as to the legal likelihood of
accomplishing these goals and expectations. For example, if the lawyer
actually expects to have a full-blown jury trial on a matter, he/she should
avoid leading the client to believe that they will settle the matter with a
mere phone call. The lawyer should explain that some cases are not
cost-effective if they are being undertaken as "a matter of principal."