Consulting a lawyer
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This article is written by Sushmita Choudhary from New Law College, Bharati Vidyapeeth, Pune (Deemed University). It aims to discuss how a client can make the most out of legal consultation and hire a good lawyer for handling his/her case.

Introduction

When you need to hire a lawyer for legal services, you want to be sure to hire the right one for your case. Going to the first meeting with some basic questions can help you clear your doubts and ensure you find the right person for the help you need. You will not get much legal advice at this consult as it is more of an opportunity to determine if you wish to hire this lawyer rather than getting legal advice.

The lawyer also uses this consultation in order to determine if he can completely represent you based on the information provided by you. It is important to understand that an initial legal consultation doesn’t imply that the lawyer is officially representing you or has taken on your case. A legal case to be taken up by a lawyer requires a written representation agreement which is to be signed by both you and the lawyer or you must be able to prove that through expressed words or actions, he decided to represent you. 

Things to be made sure before and while consulting

This section suggests how a person should act before and while consulting a lawyer.

Explore thoroughly

Locating a perfect lawyer aptly helps you with your particular problem and it may not be easy. Don’t assume that by simply looking in the phone book or reading in advertisements, you will locate a good lawyer. There may not be enough information provided in these sources to enable you to make a valid judgement. Taking personal reference would be a better approach by talking to people in your community who have experienced similar problems as you are facing. For example, if you have a complaint of sexual harassment, you can talk to a  women’s group and ask them what they feel about their lawyers. If you talk to at least half a dozen people who have faced similar problems, chances are you will come away with several good leads. 

Also with the internet, you can look for lawyers on various sites where you can connect with them much easier and faster. You answer a few questions about your case along with your contact information and then the suitable lawyers contact you directly.

If you have used a  lawyer in the past for something else you can ask him or her for a  referral. asking family and friends for names can also be helpful. Lawyer referral services are another way to find information regarding lawyers. There are various ways to look for lawyers. 

Be prompt

Lawyers value their time a lot. Generally, meetings with them cost by the hour. Showing up 10 minutes late can intrude on the rest of the lawyer’s schedule for the day. Clients often have plenty of questions and concerns before a meeting as a result they then forget to ask all of them when sitting face to face with the lawyer. Give the lawyer time to talk. You will have all sorts of information but the lawyer will be good at focusing on the background facts which he feels are relevant. It is often said that a good lawyer should be a good listener. the same applies to the clients too. The more you listen the better you will develop an understanding of your legal case. It is advisable to write those questions down ahead of time. This will ensure that each query made by you gets answered. A pen and pad of paper or any electronic alternative will do the work. Also, it will help you write down important notes on any questions that arise. The more prepared you are, the easier it will be.

advocate

Be honest

As Doctor House taught us, “People lie.” There are two people to whom you should never lie: your doctor and your lawyer. Your lawyer will also want to know who you are ranging from a bit of personal information two most importantly the reason why you decided to consult him for her. It is very important for your lawyer to know everything that is relevant to your dispute, not just your side of the story. This does not mean you tell him your life story. So you need to provide a piece of holistic information about your legal issue. It may be difficult to decide what is relevant and what is not however your lawyer will help you sort this out. Even if you do not end up hiring that particular lawyer everything you tell him generally subject to the attorney-client privilege. Lawyers seldom see cases from a black and white view, with one party being completely the good guy and the other the opposite. So, as in most cases, honesty always helps. It’s always better for the lawyer to know anything bad upfront than to be surprised later with some concealed facts. In order to give you a piece of good legal advice, your lawyer should be acquainted with all the facts.

Patience is the key

Think carefully about what your lawyer asked you to do. His judgments are based on legal training and practice. Regardless of the fact that sometimes you do not want to hear the best legal advice, your lawyer will make recommendations that keep your best interests in mind.

Chronology is important

Prepare in your mind that you tell your story chronologically because nothing is more confusing to lawyers than to tell things out of order. Complete every thought before moving onto another. Your lawyer needs to experience the events you are describing as closely as possible. Jumping on and off topics or going off on tangents is confusing And may result in important details being overlooked. For example, if someone is assaulting you and he also defamed you 2 years ago you are supposed to tell about the definition first. Otherwise, your lawyer will have to write it all down while talking to you in order to figure out what happened when exactly and consequently, he won’t be able to pay as much attention as he would like to.

Documents

You should carry all the relevant documents before your consultation. They should be able to accurately assess your case. In order to give good legal advice in the future, your lawyer must know all the facts. Be prepared and have copies of important documents. Take a file of documents because he will want to learn all about the details that are important for the case contracts, letters, receipts, invoices, court documents, and agreements. Make sure to provide him with the name and contact of witnesses who can support your case.

Avoid using legal terminology

You may not know how to use legal terminology. If you try, you will only confuse your lawyer or mislead him. For example, if you call something a contract, or a deed, or a will when it is not or go on using complicated terminology like referring to some statue and whatnot, the lawyer might get the impression that you know what you are talking about. maybe you do but if you don’t, two things might happen- 

  1. You might get upset or confused when the lawyer explains to you that it is not legally a contract or a will or a  deed. 
  2. The lawyer might misunderstand your question and give you the wrong answer. So just say what happened instead of using terminology.

Keep hesitation at bay

Ask your lawyer questions. You should feel comfortable asking questions that relate to the lawyer’s expertise, experience, special knowledge, and management of the case. Some people feel intimidated asking about these but the truth is that you are going to pay a lot of money for services. Take for example you would not hire an electrician who had never done wiring so it is pretty obvious to ask about the lawyer’s experience. 

Questions to ask

Below are some questions that you should  ask your lawyer:

If you have a legal problem?

Not all disputes need to be taken legal action upon. If there is a legal problem, you will want to know all the strengths and weaknesses of your case. Talk about the options for resolving your legal dispute. Some disputes can be resolved after the exchange of a few letters between your lawyer and the other party. You should ask about alternative ways to resolve your dispute without going to court like mediation, arbitration, or negotiation.

How long have you practised law?

Don’t be afraid to ask a direct question about his experience. You should know about the lawyer’s expertise and whether the lawyer is an experienced or a beginner attorney for instance. Your legal issue may or may not be very well handled by someone who is fresh out of Law School. It all depends.

What type of cases do you generally handle?

You will want to know how much of the attorney’s practice is devoted to the topic or area your legal issue falls within. For instance, you need help with an adoption case. here you may wish to seek a family law lawyer who has worked well on adoption cases.

Who is your typical client?

Your attorney should be somewhat familiar with your case’s legal environment. If not he or she should be ready to learn the ins and outs of it. This is an important question but is often overlooked. Take for example, if you are a client with a particular legal problem but the attorney you are meeting with represents only corporations, this may not be the best lawyer for you. If you have a corporate related problem Beware of the attorney who represents one or more of your competitors because you don’t want to risk a leak of sensitive information to a competitor.

How many cases have you represented similar to mine?

It isn’t time to feel shy. Be confident in asking about the attorney’s track record like the number of cases won or settled.

What will be the fees?

Ask about what are your lawyer’s fees and cost and how are they billed? Legal fees can be complex so you should get details at your initial consultation. If a portion of all of your cases will be handled by legal assistants for paralegals, they may charge differently. This will help you in deciding whether you can afford to avail this lawyer’s services or not. Also, you can negotiate over the fees being charged as money matters.

What is your philosophy for representing a case?

This can be helpful in 2 ways. First, if you are looking forward to seeking an amicable divorce for instance but the Attorney has more of a “go for the kill” approach in divorce cases, he may not be the right one. Second,  if you are looking for an attorney who has an aggressive approach towards handling an upcoming corporate merger, for instance, you will want someone who isn’t afraid to push the envelope.

How will you communicate with him?

Communication is key to successfully working with a lawyer. It’s necessary to ask the lawyer how often and in what situations you will hear from him or her. You will want to stay updated with your case all along and the important dates.

What is the probable outcome in my case?

Generally speaking, it is okay to ask the attorney about the chance of winning your case. You are just looking at an honest answer, not the “right” answer. Let’s say you’re facing an uphill battle in a nasty divorce situation, you’ll want to know straight up from the attorney so you can get yourself prepared for what lies ahead.

Conclusion

Your first meeting with a lawyer is a crucial step in dealing with your legal dispute. Like in a doctor-patient relationship, it’s your responsibility to make sure it turns out to be productive and satisfying. If you have questions, just ask them. Your lawyer should carry the ability to explain things in a manner that helps you understand clearly. If you want to know more about the lawyer’s experience, or anything related to your type of issue, ask about that, too. If those variables don’t add up and you are uncomfortable or you’re worried your lawyer is not that interested in representing your interests as he is in making a statement or earning a ton of money, don’t work with that lawyer.

References


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