You believe you have a great case. You called a couple of lawyers and discussed it, and one has said he’ll take it. The question for you then becomes: what do I expect when I meet with my attorney?
Here are five things you should do when you go to meet your lawyer.
1. Don’t expect clear and concise answers. It is a fact of the practice of law that attorneys are trained to provide alternatives to allow you to consider the risks and benefits before engaging in litigation. Attorneys are trained to think in terms of gray, and this can be both disturbing and frightening for a client if they are not prepared to hear it. But most cases are rarely black and white. There is no excuse for not getting straight answers to your questions but don’t be surprised if you are given more than one choice in how to proceed with your case.
2. Bring any and all documentation that is related to your case. Even if you don’t think it is important, if it is related to the case, bring it to the meeting. I can’t tell you how many times a simple phone message, fax cover sheet or email has turned a case on its head. Plus, the lawyer will be very cranky if during the case, halfway through discovery, you come up with a document and say “oh, I just found this underneath the coffee table, I hope it’s not important.”
3. Be prepared to give the facts of your case. You will need to state as much specific information about your case as you can. This includes names, phone numbers, and contact information of the people involved. If you are suing your business partner, you’ll want to bring all the information on the partnership. If you’ve been in an accident, you’ll want to bring your insurance information (even if you’re not making a claim against your own insurance), a copy of the police report, photographs, and a witness statement (remembering that a witness who saw the accident, but doesn’t provide you with his name and phone number is as useless as a stick for purposes of litigation).
4. Ask Questions. Make sure you don’t leave the lawyer’s office until all of your questions have been answered. Don’t allow the attorney to brush off your concerns with statements such as “we’ll work that out”, “we’ll talk about that later” or “that will be resolved as the case moves forward”.
5. Make sure you have a clear and concise agreement as to how the attorney is going to be paid. If the attorney is going to be paid by the hour, you need to not only know his hourly rate, but also the following: Does he have different hourly rates for meetings and in-court and out-of-court attorney work? Is anyone else (an associate attorney) going to be working on the file? If so, what is their hourly rate?
If the attorney is going to be paid on a contingency basis, you need to ask questions: What percentage if the case is settled before filing a lawsuit? What percentage of the case is settled before it goes to trial? How about after trial?. Are the costs of the case included? Is there a cap on the total costs? Is there a separate fee if the case needs to be appealed? Am I as the client ultimately responsible for costs even if I lose the case?
Also find out what happens if you win the case. Who gets the money? For example, there is a common misconception that when a child sues for injury, parents get the money for the child’s benefit. This is not true. The money belongs to the child. In Cook County, the money will be deposited in a restricted account and no dollars can be removed without prior order of the court.
Bring all of your documentation when you have your meeting with your attorney, and make sure you ask all the right questions of your lawyer and you are comfortable with the answers. If yes go with him or her. If not, keep looking, this state is brimming with lawyers who can help you.