Many people are intimidated by lawyers. Some become uncomfortable and are eager to complete the hiring process as quickly as possible. Others are afraid of angering a potential lawyer, making him unwilling to take the case. They are reluctant to ask questions or raise issues, which can result in a very expensive mistake in hiring the wrong attorney. If you are intimidated by the procedure or simply do not know what to ask, follow this guide to interviewing attorneys.
Remain Calm and Realistic
There is no such thing as the perfect lawyer. If one refuses your case, it is not a personal rejection, nor does it mean that your case is without merit. Maintain a realistic attitude during your consultation. Focus on determining whether the attorney is right for you, rather than worrying about whether you are right for the attorney. Develop a sense of whether you and the attorney will work well together. If anything seems amiss or makes you uncomfortable, simply walk away. The questions that you should ask during an initial consultation can be grouped into three general categories: The Case; The Attorney’s Expertise; Fees and Payment.
Present the facts of your case clearly and succinctly. Ask for a professional assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of your case. Be extremely skeptical of a lawyer who guarantees victory.
Also ask how the attorney plans to handle the case. Will he attempt to settle out of court? Does he believe that a court trial will be necessary? Will he consult you at each stage or does he prefer to work alone on your behalf? Will he consult with other lawyers if the case becomes complicated?
The Attorney’s Expertise
Ask how much experience he has with similar cases. Ask about the last case he handled in your area. It is acceptable to inquire about an attorney’s win-loss record, but remember that only cases similar to yours are relevant.
If the attorney is part of a firm, will other attorneys also work on your case? What are their unique qualifications? How much work will be handled by the attorney and how much by paralegals and legal secretaries? It is perfectly acceptable for much of the legwork to be delegated, but be sure that your lawyer will remain closely aware of the progression of the case.
Fees and Payment
If your lawyer agrees to contingency, you will be responsible for his fee only if you win the case. A contingency agreement pays the attorney a set percentage of your winnings, often 33% of a settlement or verdict if you win in court. However, not all contingency agreements are the same. You may be responsible for the attorney’s out of pocket expenses such as phone calls, regardless of whether you win. You may be expected to pay these as you go, or may be billed at the end. Get a detailed agreement in writing.
Most of the time, you will be charged an hourly fee. Lawyer fees vary dramatically, so be sure to inquire about the rate. Also ask detailed questions. Find out what the rate will be for work performed by paralegals or legal secretaries. Be sure that you will receive detailed statements that clearly show exactly what you are being billed for. Also find out how often you will be expected to make payments. You may pay ahead, a certain dollar amount per month, or in various increments.
Interviewing a lawyer is intimidating for many people. Knowing what to ask, however, can lessen your trepidation and ensure that you get the answers you need. Remember that your lawyer will be an independent contractor employed to provide a service for you. Take the time to interview a few lawyers and find the one that is best for you.