I’m sure you have seen lawyer advertisements offering a “free consultation”. It is quite common for lawyers to do this, especially for personal injury or wrongful death cases. A free consultation should be exactly what it says – an opportunity for you to meet with the lawyer free of charge, explain the facts of your case, answer the lawyer’s questions, and ask whatever questions you might have. After the meeting, the lawyer and client can decide whether there is a case worth pursuing.
I have always believed these meetings are of critical importance to both the client and the attorney. It gives the lawyer an opportunity to meet the client, evaluate the facts, and determine whether the lawyer wants to take the case. There are many factors that weigh into this decision, such as the extent of the injuries, the circumstances surrounding the negligence, the credibility of the client, and whether he or she will make a good witness if the case proceeds to trial. When a lawyer takes a case, he should be sure he is willing to take the case all the way to trial, if necessary. These decisions can usually be made at the initial consultation.
Perhaps more importantly, this consultation is an opportunity for you to interview the lawyer and decide if he or she is someone you want handling your case. Of course, you want someone who is experienced and will aggressively pursue your claim. There is no substitute for someone who has been there and knows what he is doing. However, it is also important that you trust your lawyer. Keep in mind that you will be working closely together as the claim proceeds. Do you feel comfortable being completely open with this lawyer and do you trust he will maintain client confidentiality? Will the lawyer be available to speak with you and answer your questions as the case moves forward? Unfortunately, some lawyers rarely speak to their clients after the initial consultation. You need to be sure your lawyer treats you with respect and candor, and maintains an open line of communication with you throughout your entire case. The dynamics of a case often change as new facts are discovered and depositions are taken. You will need to be advised of new developments as they occur.
Make sure you take full advantage of the free consultation. Be sure to truthfully answer the lawyer’s questions, but also make sure to ask your own questions. Ask the lawyer to describe his experience. Has he had any cases similar to yours? Find out if the lawyer believes in open and continuing communication. How often will the lawyer update you on the status of your case? Will he be available to take your calls if you have questions or will he just pass you off to his staff every time you call? By the time the consultation ends, you should have a good feel for whether the attorney is someone you want handling your case. Trust your instincts. If you don’t feel comfortable, go meet with another lawyer until you find the right fit for you. Remember, the consultation is free, whether you end up hiring the lawyer or not.