Lawyers will often provide a free or very low-cost consultation to discuss the details of your situation and give you an opportunity to ask some basic questions about the attorney. This meeting should not only help you decide whether to go forward with a lawyer in general, but also whether you should proceed with this lawyer. If you later decide to hire the lawyer, you will go into a more detailed discussion of your case and ask more specific questions along the way.
Generally speaking, you'll want to have a list of questions in mind to ask during the meeting. Also, you should feel comfortable enough asking questions that relate to the lawyer's expertise, experience, fees, special knowledge, and management of the case.
Below are ten questions to ask your potential lawyer.
1. How long have you practiced law?
At a minimum, you'll want to know about the lawyer's expertise and whether the lawyer is a veteran or beginner attorney, for instance. Your legal issue may very well be handled by someone who is fresh out of law school, (or not). It all depends.
2. What type of cases do you generally handle? What percentage of your practice is devoted to (the practice area in question)?
You'll also want to know about a lawyer's expertise and how much of the attorney's practice is devoted to topic area your legal issue falls within. For example, if you need help with an adoption case, you may wish to seek a family law lawyer who has worked on, well, adoption cases. Click here for a full list of practice area definitions.
3. Who is your typical client?
This is an important, but often-overlooked question. For example, if you are an individual with a particular legal problem, but the attorney your meeting with represents only corporations, this may not be the best lawyer for you. Likewise, you may wish to know the financial background of some of the lawyer's clients. This is because there may be different issues a lawyer is used to factoring when working with high net-worth individuals vs. college students.
4. How many cases have you represented that were similar to mine?
Now is not the time to act shy. Feel free to ask about the attorney's track record, such as the number of cases won or settled, for example.
5. Other than a law degree, what kind of special training or knowledge do you have that might apply in my situation?
Some cases, like DUI and patent cases, require specialized training and knowledge for effective representation. Be sure to inquire whether your case fits into that category.
6. What are your attorney fees and costs, and how are they billed? Will a portion or all of my case be handled by paralegals or legal assistants? If so, ask about reduced costs.
This step is obviously an important one. You'll want to know whether you can afford the lawyer's services and how you will be required to pay. This is also the time to ask about payment options and how often, and under what circumstances, you will be billed.
7. What is your approach or philosophy to winning or representing a case?
This can be important in two ways. First, if you are seeking an amicable divorce, for example, but the attorney is known to "go for the kill" in divorce cases, the attorney may not be the right one for you. Similarly, if you're looking for an aggressive attorney to handle an upcoming corporate merger, for example, you'll want someone who isn't afraid to push the envelope, so to speak.
8. Are there others ways for solving my legal problem?
Go ahead. Ask the professional whether there are any alternatives for solving your legal problem, such as through arbitration or some other out-of-court arrangement. A good attorney will generally inform you if your case can be handled through other less expensive and time consuming means.
9. How will you let me know what's happening with my case?
Communication is key when working with a lawyer. Ask the lawyer how often and under what circumstances you will hear from him or her. You'll want to know how your case is coming along and about other important dates.
10. What is the likely outcome in my case?
Generally speaking, it is fair game to ask the attorney whether you have a good chance of winning your case. You are not looking for the "right" answer, just an honest one. For instance, if you're facing an uphill battle in, let's say, a nasty divorce situation, you'll want to know up front from the attorney so you can prepare yourself for what lies ahead.
While the answers to questions you ask your lawyer will vary widely, it is important to keep in mind that nothing should be taken as a guarantee. Instead, these questions should give you general knowledge of a specific lawyer's experience and skill-level, and whether the lawyer is a good fit for you.