This is part 1 in a series of articles to help you deal effectively with lawyers. These articles will help you understand, from a lawyer’s point of view, how best to prepare for your first meeting, what to discuss at your first meeting, and how to work effectively with your lawyer for the rest of your own file and beyond. Our goal is to help you be more at ease and best able to concentrate on the main points in your file.
In my career as a lawyer which spans more than 23 years, I have met with thousands of clients. I am pleased to share my insider’s knowledge with you so can make effective use of professional legal services.
So let’s get going.
Whether you like it or not, eventually you will probably need the services of a lawyer.
There may be a variety of reasons behind your decision to seek legal advice. Typically clients will schedule a meeting to obtain a legal consultation. They may want to do something and are not sure about the legal issues involved, or they need help to decide what to do about a problem which has already arisen. Alternatively, clients may be interviewing several lawyers before deciding on choosing one for their case. Still another reason might be to follow a recommendation from a friend who has used or heard about the lawyer you are going to meet. In the latter example, you are predisposed to choosing that lawyer but are mostly seeing if you and he or she will be a good “fit”.
Whatever your situation, the first meeting you will have with the lawyer is very important and might be a little unnerving for you.
But you do not need to be anxious. Meeting with a lawyer is not as complicated as you might think. With a little preparation on your side, you can make the experience quite painless. You will likely find the meeting interesting and even (surprise) quite enjoyable.
So just how should you prepare for your first meeting?
Clarify your legal problem for presentation to the lawyer
- If your situation involves consideration of a document or series of documents such as a contract, or of a legal notice or decision you received, send a copy to the lawyer before the meeting. This will increase efficiency. You will obtain more complete legal advice for the fee you are paying.
- Put the original document (s) in your bag or folder you are bringing to the meeting. The copy you sent might not be clear. As well, the lawyer needs to verify the date and signatures on the original document, among other aspects of it.
- Prior to the meeting with the lawyer, make notes and a summary of the points and questions you wish to discuss. This will help you to highlight your concerns clearly.
- It is a good idea to review your notes and discussion points with your spouse or a friend who is familiar with your situation. They may be able to help you see issues you overlooked as well as helping you to clarify your discussion points.
- If your situation involves a dispute with another person, or if you have problems with the government, you should assume a settlement may not be possible in your case.
- Therefore, it is advisable to work on a detailed written statement to explain your situation. Do this as soon as possible. Time clouds the memory. It is human nature to forget details, but small details can win a case at trial. Your written statement will serve you well in the future if the matter leads to court or other proceedings.
- Type your detailed statement if possible. It is a good idea to number each paragraph for ease of reference and discussion. You can send it to the lawyer in advance of the meeting.
- Keep in mind that your detailed written statement is confidential for use of your lawyer only. In addition to serving to preserve your current recollection of events, it will help the lawyer to understand your case. The lawyer is not expecting a Nobel Prize winning composition. The fact you have taken the time to make detailed notes will be appreciated highly by the lawyer.
- In addition to making sure to bring with you every key document and your detailed written statement (if any), do not leave home without any other documents that are connected with your problem.
- It is very frustrating for an attorney to schedule a meeting and find that a new client has left relevant documents at home. Let the lawyer decide if a particular document is “not important”. We need to see your papers and cannot offer an opinion on items you fail to bring with you.
- If your problem is group related, get together as a group first, decide on your list of concerns, and choose one or two spokespersons. It is not practical for every member of a large group to give their own versions of events and pose their own set of questions at a first meeting with an attorney.
Practical issues: money, getting to the office, bringing other people along
- On the money side, the usual practice is that initial meetings are not invoiced for payment at a later date. Therefore, unless the lawyer has agreed to a free initial consultation, make sure you find out the exact total fees due for the meeting. Be prepared to pay that amount. Find out in advance the mode of payment accepted by the lawyer’s firm. Do not presume a post-dated cheque or a particular type of charge or debit card will be accepted. Similarly, if you have some form of legal services insurance, make sure the law firm will accept it. A receipt will be issued to you.
- Obtain directions to the lawyer’s office before the meeting and allow yourself sufficient leeway to get there on time.
- It is best to phone the law firm to find out its exact location, and to obtain relevant details for the public transit service or, if you are driving, traffic and parking information. Do not depend on GPS navigation systems which are not yet perfected. You may end up in a completely wrong part of town which happens to have the same street name. If you call 20 minutes late for your meeting claiming you are “lost”, do not be surprised if the lawyer will have to cut time off your consultation meeting so as not to inconvenience other clients.
- What does it mean to “arrive on time”? Try to arrive 5 or 10 minutes prior to your appointment. The receptionist will inform the lawyer you have arrived. Contrary to the belief held by some, arriving 30 or 45 minutes early will not earn you extra “free” consultation time on top of the period set aside for your meeting. Most lawyers are very busy and will be doing other work right up to the time reserved to meet with you.
- Locate your identity documents and put them in your wallet or purse to bring with you to the meeting. A passport is considered the best identity document. Other photo IDs such as a driver’s license are good. If you do not have any photo ID documents, bring a birth certificate and if possible a letter from a government agency or service provider showing your name and address.
- Why the concern about ID documents? Lawyers are required by changes in our rules of professional conduct as well as the Canadian Criminal Code to know who we are meeting with. We are not allowed to advise phantom clients. Similar rules now exist in most countries around the world.
- Let the lawyer know how many people will be accompanying you. You should not show up at your meeting with your entire family or a group without advising the lawyer in advance. Even large law firms have limited meeting facilities and valuable time will be wasted scrambling to find a bigger room.
- Note that if you bring along a person who is not a party to your case, in some jurisdictions you may be considered to have given up your right to lawyer confidentiality regarding what will be said at the meeting. You might want to clarify that issue with the lawyer before bringing other people along with you.
We hope this article has helped you to discover some issues you may not have thought about. If you look after these issues, the lawyer you meet with will be impressed, and you will have started on the road to a beneficial professional relationship with him or her as your case develops.
In our next article in this series, we will bring you inside the meeting room to look at how to get the most out of your first session with a lawyer. See you there.