Over the years I’ve been asked many, many questions regarding my expertise, education, and background, but very few potential clients ask what I believe are the important questions to raise when deciding on an attorney. I’m not saying that my years of experience or the law school I attended don’t matter. What I am saying is that they’re only a very, very small piece of the puzzle and that for people to only look at credentials when choosing an attorney is potentially a big mistake. Below are a few questions I wish potential clients would ask more often:
- How does communication work between the client and the attorney?
To me, this is one of THE most important questions out there, and it’s one that is rarely asked. You absolutely need an attorney who fits your needs and communication preferences. There is no right or wrong answer to this question per se-it all depends on you. If you’re a student or work from home, the fact that your attorney is only available during regular business hours won’t affect you as much as if you commute 3 hours a day and taking any time off of work means not enough money to pay this month’s bills. You should never retain an attorney without knowing if you will be working primarily with a paralegal or the attorney. Does the attorney use e-mail, and is the firm willing to send you files in PDF format versus USPS if necessary? Do you receive copies of everything received or drafted on your behalf? How are you kept updated on the status of your case? Knowing how your attorney’s office operates from the get go makes for a much smoother relationship in the future.
If you have certain expectations, be sure to voice them upfront. Attorneys aren’t mind readers! From this attorney’s standpoint, I would much rather have a client clearly articulate what he or she needs at the beginning of our relationship than have that person call up irate a month later because I did something I didn’t know I was supposed to do.
- What are the firm’s billing practices?
- Can you propose a course of action for my case?
This question allows you the opportunity to see your attorney’s legal approach. Some attorneys will jump straight in to outlining an aggressive, litigious plan for you. Others will suggest a more settlement-oriented path. Still others will ask you for your opinion as to how you’d like your case to proceed before answering. Again, there isn’t a right or wrong answer here-it all depends on what it is you’re looking for and want in an attorney. For example, if you prefer your attorney to take the lead and direct your case, you won’t want someone who asks you for your opinion before offering advice. You may be looking for someone aggressive or, in the alternative, someone willing to be creative and try to keep things out of Court.
Let’s face it, attorneys are expensive! For me at least, I’m not trying to run your finances into the ground, and neither are the decent attorneys I know trying to do so, either. Having a frank and open-minded discussion regarding ways to maximize your retainer is to your benefit. Understanding when you’re charged, what you’re charged for, and how to minimize those charges is priceless. When clients ask me how to ensure their retainer lasts as long as possible, I am thrilled to offer my advice.
The bottom line is that you need to feel comfortable with your attorney and trust him or her with the utmost confidence. You need to believe you can have a professional and courteous working relationship with that person. There is no one-size-fits all attorney, and it is extremely important that you take the time to select the right attorney for you.