“Mr. Beaver, I have an appointment with an attorney about starting my own computer repair business, and frankly, I am a little intimidated. I’ve never even met a lawyer before and don’t want to look stupid or make a fool of myself.
“My mom reads your column in the Kingsburg Recorder and told me to ask you for advice on how to act and what to expect. Thanks, Terry.”
Yes, lawyers do intimidate
Terry’s concerns are real and too much of the general public, who do not have on-going contact with lawyers, the legal profession does intimidate. Lawyers have more formal education than most people and know a great deal about many legal topics.
We are also born problem solvers, here to help, not to make our clients feel inferior or afraid of saying the wrong thing or, as Terry wrote, “Looking stupid or making a fool of himself.”
And our ability of providing that help starts with the first meeting.
First impressions matter
“Whether free or for a fee, your first consultation with an attorney is far more important than many people realize,” observes Los Angeles-attorney Leigh Chandler. She and her husband, Aaron Shechet, practice business and real estate law together, and serve the Los Angeles and Santa Monica Bar Associations as Attorney Fee Dispute arbitrators. They are longtime friends of this columnist.
“It is important to think of that first meeting with a lawyer as a chance for you both to get a feel for each other and figure out whether you want to work together. Both the lawyer and the client often feel pressure to make a good impression, but many clients would never even think that the lawyer might also be nervous,” she noted with a big grin.
“Do I want to take this case? Will I be dealing with a responsible person who will help in ways that they can, or someone who I can’t trust? Do the things they are saying make sense? Will they pay my bill?” she asks.
“Lawyers are like scientists, making observations and relying on a wealth of experience with many clients and reaching a conclusion about this client. Remember, a lawyer is not obligated to take every case that comes their way, and good lawyers carefully choose clients they think they can work well with,” Shechet points out.
What to bring to that first meeting
“Treat your initial meeting like a job interview. Be on time, and be prepared to ask and answer questions. And you should expect the same courtesy and professionalism from the lawyer. If the attorney doesn’t behave professionally or seem interested in learning about you and your case, get out of there,” Leigh recommends.
“In general, consider that first consultation to be an interview, and not for the purposes of obtaining legal advice specific to your case. Your job as a potential client is to bring to the lawyer a really good explanation of the case – of why you are there and what you would like to accomplish. The more information you can provide, the better, especially documents relative to a dispute,” Shechet stresses.
“Do not make the mistake of leaving out important parts of your case just to look good,” Leigh advises. “The truth matters and will eventually come out, which could help or hurt your case, so at this initial stage, please be completely honest about the positive and the ugly. We need you to be honest and well-prepared.”
Warning signs for clients
Shechet outlined some warning signs for clients, saying “if your attorney implies that you’ll get special treatment, watch out. High pressure sales tactics are a warning sign. You want to hire a lawyer who is realistic and professional, and who gives you time to think about whether you want to go forward.
“Watch out for big promises, such as, ‘You are going to win and win big.’ There is no such thing as a slam-dunk and every case carries with it the risk of loss. Lawyers aren’t allowed to guarantee an outcome.”
To Chandler, the flip side of the client who leaves out important pieces of information is the lawyer who does not ask probing questions. “You do not want a yes man; you want to hire a lawyer who exposes every flaw in your case in a thoughtful manner.”
“You want a lawyer who has the courage to tell you what you don’t want to hear,” she concludes.