1. Ask yourself, “Do I need an attorney?”
Easily ten to twenty percent of calls I receive on a monthly basis are from people who are in low-level distress and they are uncertain of what, if anything, they need to do.
Often my answer is, “Do nothing” or, “See if this is something you can work out on your own.”
Let me explain.
Not every dispute needs an attorney, and in fact many times bringing an attorney into the mix may make things worse. When you are in a calm frame of mind and can look at the issue with an objective eye, analyze your distress level on a scale of 1 to 10. Is it a 3, or an 11?
The reality is this: You have to approach decision making in your personal life as a business decision to the following extent.
Are you being sued, and for how much? Are you being criminally prosecuted? Are you being sued for a divorce/custody issue? Many times these urgent issues would require immediate legal representation.
For civil/money related matters, does the solution to your problem end up generating or saving 2-3 times more than your potential investment, defined as legal fees and value of your time? If not, it is probably not worth bringing an attorney into the mix. This is not a hard and fast rule, but a “rule of thumb” to help you start answering the question, “Do I need an attorney?”
Similarly, you have to quantify your likelihood of success. Be persistent in getting a direct answer from a prospective attorney when you speak to one.
Our firm handles all personal injury and no fault collection matters on a contingency legal fee basis. This means we only get paid when we are successful. We do a risk/reward assessment in every case that we share with our clients because we don’t want to take on cases that have a low probability of success. If we can’t help a client achieve their goals, we owe it to the client to tell them that from the very beginning.
2. Identify and itemize your crises into a structured list with clearly defined goals for each.
3. Research the law firm/attorney you will be meeting with.
4. The first phone call to the attorney.
When you call the law firm for the first time, make sure you speak with an attorney, even if only for five minutes. This is to briefly lie out your issue and ask the question, “In your opinion, do I need an attorney based on what I’ve told you?” Next, ask, “Do I need to come in for a consult?”
If you cannot speak with an attorney, let the attorney call you back prior to scheduling the face-to-face meeting. Your initial interactions will likely set the tone for your whole experience, and if you can’t get an attorney on the phone prior to the first meeting, it’s likely you will have complaints about never hearing from your attorney throughout the representation.
Our office policy is that each new prospective client speaks briefly with an attorney prior to a consultation scheduling.
5. At the initial consultation.
Once a consultation is scheduled, make sure you’re prepared and arrive on time. Bring all of the paperwork pertaining to your matter. Our firm will email you intake forms to be completed before the consultation. We’ll also email you a checklist of documents you should bring with you. Bring the completed forms with you.
Once the consult starts, interview the attorney as they are interviewing you. Ask thoughtfully prepared, written out questions and listen intently.
Are they speaking to you in a way you can relate to? Are they authentic, compassionate, and understanding? Or rushed, cold, and solely focused on the signing of the retainer or the retainer check?
Do you feel trust in the firm or attorney at this point?
6. The Retainer Agreement.
The retainer is a legal and binding contract between you as the client and the law firm or attorney you are hiring. Read it. Most clients don’t want to but you should. In our firm, an attorney reviews every retainer with every client prior to signing.
More importantly, if you are hiring an attorney for a non-contingency fee matter, or what attorneys refer to as hourly work, which involves a retainer up front and hourly billing, ask them how they arrived at the number they are quoting you for the initial retainer. More importantly, have them lay out a detailed budget for the matter(s) which is their best approximation of what the matter should cost you in total.
If they can’t do this during the first consult, tell them to email you one once they’ve had time to think about all the facts and give you the budget. In every instance this is reasonable, should be done, and should be non-negotiable.
Even in contingency based matters, when you’re not paying an up-front retainer and hourly legal fees, there are legal fees you will pay to the lawyer you hire at the end of your case when it is settled or resolved. You still need to trust you have the right person for the job.
7. Trust your instincts.
If you feel like you’re being sold, you probably are. If you feel a connection beyond the potential money transaction or signature on the retainer, that’s a good thing. Remember, not all lawyers, or law firms, are equal. Just because a firm, or lawyer, has a phenomenal marketing presence does not mean they are good lawyers, will get you the result you want, or that you will like them. Ultimately, that’s very important. Who wants to work with someone they don’t like or trust?
In sum, prepare for the initial call and consultation with your lawyer or law firm, like you would a job interview or any other important meeting. Think about what you’d like to achieve in a best and worst case scenario and analyze, know, and set a realistic budget if you will have to pay out of pocket for legal fees. Make notes and list out questions.
This list is by no means exhaustive, but hopefully it helps you prepare yourself to answer the question, “Do I need an attorney?”