When facing legal matters, a lawyer can be a valuable ally. If you’re like most people and don’t have much legal background knowledge yourself, seeking advice and assistance from an experienced lawyer is critical.
Not all attorneys, however, are equally skilled or qualified to handle your case. And, even among those who are, not all will inspire confidence in an initial consultation. Remember that when you choose an attorney, you’re actually hiring someone to work for you, so think of the consultation like a job interview.
1. How much experience do you have in this area of law?
It helps to know your attorney’s real-life legal experience. Ideally, the lawyer you hire will have dealt with cases similar to yours so that he isn’t figuring it out as he goes. It’s absolutely fair game to ask how they’ve handled those previous similar cases as well. If you’ve chosen an attorney particularly for their specialty in one area of law, he or she should have plenty to draw on.
2. How many similar cases like mine have you dealt with before?
Like snowflakes, no two legal cases are the same. Ask if your lawyer has previously handled cases that are similar to yours. He’ll most likely be more capable of foreseeing potential problems. Ask to see a list of past customers whom you can contact. That may not be an option, however, as some attorneys may not reveal a client’s name without the client’s consent.
If you’d like to get personal referrals for a lawyer, it’s good to ask someone you know who has successfully accomplished legal work with the help of the attorney. You may also contact trusted attorneys in other fields and personally ask them for recommended lawyers who handle your type of case.
3. How will you manage my case?
Simply ask for a short overview of the actions the attorney will take to handle the case. If you get vague and general answers, then he probably doesn’t know much about the particular field of law, and he will have to research about it later on. On the other hand, an experienced lawyer will give you a rough outline of what he plans to do and what kind of approach he will use. Depending on your case, you may also want to ask about the possible outcomes, how long it will take to resolve, and any available alternatives to resolve the matter.
4. What are the legal fees and costs?
Before concluding an initial consultation, ask about the lawyer’s rates and his fee schedule to avoid unexpected bills later. Most lawyers charge a certain amount per hour, depending on the type of case. For example, if you need an attorney’s services for a real estate sales transaction, you’ll most likely have to pay an hourly fee. However, in cases such as managing property damage caused by a tenant, there may be a contingency fee arrangement wherein the lawyer gets paid only when the case is resolved. Ask for a ballpark figure for the total bill.
5. Is there anyone else who will work on my case?
In some law firms, the initial work will be handled by a paralegal or a junior attorney. Make sure to find out who will be involved in handling all parts of your case. It’s important that you’re comfortable working with each and every person who will touch your file, as you will be spending hours communicating with him.