Before you enter into any formal agreements with an attorney, both of you will have an opportunity to question one another during an initial consultation. This is your chance to explain your matter and gather information about the attorney, and his or her chance to decide whether to take you on as a client.
Don´t feel embarrassed about asking questions. Ask as many questions as you consider necessary to evaluate the lawyer´s background and experience, what he or she can offer, and what it might cost you. The more you know up front, the fewer surprises you´ll experience down the road.
The list of questions below is a good starting point for your initial meeting or consultation.
- What kind of background or experience do you have in this area? Your attorney should either be a specialist or have significant experience in the field.
- How many matters like mine have you handled in the past year or two? An attorney who hasn´t handled a case or problem like yours in the last couple of years may not know pertinent developments.
- Who else in your firm would work on my case? Attorneys often assign tasks to more junior attorneys or paralegals. Make sure you´re paying less if that´s the case.
- What is your fee structure and how often will I be billed? Fee arrangements vary depending on the matter or case. Attorneys typically send clients monthly statements, and you´ll want to receive periodic bills to monitor costs.
- What is your general estimate of how much all this will cost me? You´ll probably get a vague or qualified answer in response to a question like this. Still, your attorney should be able to offer some sort of estimate.
- How will you keep me informed of any developments? Attorneys are busy, but you want to make sure the attorney is respectful of your need for information and will be available to answer questions.
Consider the following additional questions if the representation involves potential litigation:
- What is the possibility of a successful outcome? You want attorneys to be frank if they don´t believe you have a case.
- What are the risks of failure in this case? If attorneys say you have a case, you want them also to be confident about potential results.
- What is my potential liability if the other side wins? You want to know, for example, whether you´ll be liable for the other side´s attorney fees if you lose.
- What are the chances of settling the case before trial? The stronger your case, the less likely the other side will want to go to trial.
- How long will this case take to be resolved? Lawsuits can last anywhere from several months to several years.
- What is your attitude toward alternative dispute resolution (mediation or arbitration)? Lawyers all have biases about what type of alternative dispute resolution techniques are most effective, but one who doesn´t believe in them at all is suspect.