Meeting an attorney for the first time can be intimidating. You may also be nervous about getting as much from this initial consultation as you can. Many legal consultations are free, yet this is your opportunity to learn more about your legal rights and what an attorney can do for you, making them extremely valuable. Below you will find tips and advice that can help you make the most of this initial consultation.
To prepare for your first meeting with a lawyer:
Write down your story
You’re going to an attorney because something happened. Maybe someone breached a contract and caused you a significant financial loss. Maybe you were in a car accident and injured. Maybe you and your spouse have come to the end of your time together. Or maybe someone blames you for their physical, psychological, or financial injuries. Whatever your situation, your attorney will need a thorough yet concise explanation. Writing it down beforehand, even if you simply jot down the major points, can help you remember everything and prevent you from being too long-winded.
“I try to work through some of the more mundane information first to set them at ease rather than just kind of letting them blurt out whatever they want and that kind of sets the tone reduces their anxiety and then I always allow them a narrative period to kind of tell me what they want me to hear,” says Kurt Schnelz, an experienced family law attorney and partner at Schnelz Wells. Schnelz prefers to talk about his process with new clients. “Each client has their view of themselves, their view of the marriage, their view of the other spouse, and they have their view that they want you to adopt of them as well because they want you to help them through this process.”
Prepare to be honest
Lawyers know that no one is perfect in any situation. They do not expect your story to point entirely toward the other person’s fault and make you out to be an angel. You need to go into your consultation prepared to tell the truth, even if there are parts that make you look bad. Only with all of the information can a lawyer truly assess what your rights and options are.
Gather your documentation
An attorney is best able to analyze your rights and options if you back up your story with the relevant documentation. This could be a contract, police report, medical records, real estate documents, legal demand letters or other types of reports, documents, and communications. Sometimes an attorney will even ask you to bring specific documents or information to the initial meeting.
Schnelz has a process he always goes through with new clients. “I try to ask them to bring what they own and what they owe, is how I phrase it to them, to the best of their ability and try to have some of that written down in an outline form or bullet point form just so we can have a more directive conversation after I get through the initial question and answer period.”
Create a list of your questions
An initial legal consultation is the time for you to interview an attorney to see if they are the right fit for you and your case. Research possible questions to ask and make a list of questions to take to the meeting. With a list in hand, you’re less likely to forget important questions. This also gives you a place to take notes. Don’t be afraid to ask seemingly basic questions about the procedure or legal fees. Attorneys expect that you will have little to no experience with the legal process and should be happy to answer any questions you have for them.
When you’re nervous, intimidated, or scared by possible legal trouble, it can be difficult to speak up. Yet your legal consultation is the time to be brave. Do not hesitate to ask any questions you need, for instance, asking the lawyer to repeat themselves or clarify something you don’t understand. Make sure when you walk out of the consultation, you understand your legal position and know whether you need a lawyer or not to move forward.