Clients usually know to ask about an attorney’s years of experience and practice in the area of law in which the client needs help. They also know to ask the attorney about his or her fee structure. But below are five questions clients typically do not know to ask an attorney in a consultation. The answers can heavily influence the attorney-client relationship so be sure to ask them before hiring an attorney in your next consultation.
1. Are there Other Means to Resolve this Issue?
A good attorney will let you know all of the options available to you, the potential costs and his or her recommendation regarding which action you should take. For example, would it be more prudent to send a letter to the opposing party before filing a lawsuit? Once the lawsuit is filed, are mediation or arbitration viable options? What is the potential cost associated with each option and the likelihood of success? It is important to have an attorney explain the pros and cons of alternate means to resolve your case. An inherent conflict exists for attorneys who charge hourly; the longer your case goes on, the more they make in attorney fees.
2. What is Your Relationship with Opposing Counsel?
At the time of your consult, you may or may not know the attorney representing the other party. If you do, you should speak with the attorney in your consultation about his or her relationship with opposing counsel. Some attorneys have strong professional relationships which can often help grease the wheels for a positive resolution to your case. Other times, the attorneys are poorly matched in style. If the opposing counsel is an aggressive litigator and your potential attorney has a more collaborative style, you may want to discuss your attorneys gameplan for dealing with aggressive litigators or consider hiring an attorney who may be more equipped to deal with opposing counsel.
3. What is Your Representation Style?
All attorneys have personal philosophies and personalities which influence their handling of your case. Is the attorney an aggressive litigator? Does the attorney use a more collaborative approach? Is he or she in the middle? If you are seeking representation in a divorce case but would like to resolve things as amicably as possible, an aggressive litigator may not be the right course of action. On the other side of the coin, if you need aggressive representation, an aggressive litigator may be the right choice. Matching your case with an attorney’s style is not a one size fits all scenario. Don’t be afraid to ask around and compare and contrast the styles of the attorneys you speak with.
4. How Will We Communicate?
Clearly defining expectations and processes for when and how an attorney will communicate information to you in your case is extremely important. If your attorney doesn’t share with you in the consult how he or she will keep in communication with you, it may be a sign of future communication issues down the road. Make sure to have a conversation regarding future communication so that you and your attorney can agree on expectations. Review your fee agreement and how you will be billed for communications, as it’s not uncommon to be surprised at the amount of your first bill if you require frequent updates from your attorney.
5. May I See a Writing Sample?
A skill often overlooked by clients, it is extremely important to examine the caliber of your potential attorney’s writing skills. You may have hired a “pitbull” in the courtroom but if he or she cannot write a clear and concise document for you and the other party to follow, any resolution reached may only be temporary. The court order or settlement agreement your attorney drafts will be the cornerstone for future dealings with the opposing party. If the relationship remains contentious, one or both of you may eventually feel it is necessary to engage in litigation again due to ambiguous language in the agreement. Asking for a sample order or agreement your potential attorney has drafted in the past (with appropriate redactions to maintain confidentiality) will allow you to examine the caliber of his or her writing skills for yourself.
Your decision in hiring an attorney can affect your freedom, quality time with your children, and your pocketbook. You should insist on a level of comfort with your choice for respresentation.
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