You need a lawyer. You talk to friends, you do web searches, you even get out the telephone book and look for the person you think is just right. You call and make the appointment. Then what?
First, it is important to know where you are going. Sometimes, internet maps are not quite accurate, and not every address can be found with a GPS. When you make your appointment, ask for directions, even if you think you know where you’re going.
Arrive on time. If you see you will be late, call ahead. Sometimes, there may be a conflict, with clients booked in rapid succession. It is not fair to make someone else wait when you missed your scheduled appointment.
However, sometimes attorneys are unavoidably delayed. While it does not seem right that the client needs to be there in a timely fashion, while the attorney has the right to be late, sometimes things happen. The nature of the beast is that attorneys are frequently in court, or at appointments outside the office. They always try to call and alert their client that they will be late, but that is not always possible. Remember, the attorney serves at the judge’s pleasure.
Once you arrive, you will be greeted by a member of the attorney’s office staff. Most attorneys will have a client intake form of one kind or another for you to fill out. Completing this does not make that person an automatic client, but it is a way of identifying the party, and from preventing a conflict of interest if the other party in your lawsuit happens to make contact. Also, it is required by most state bar associations that attorneys obtain this sort of information. This is not something that will ever be shared outside of that office, and will remain “work product”. If you do not feel comfortable giving your potential lawyer you name, address, and telephone number, perhaps you should not be in his or her office.
Some attorneys rely heavily on their paralegal to perform a portion of their client intake. Again, it is not a sign of disrespect, but a way of maximizing the attorney’s time. The paralegal will be responsible for drafting the documents pertinent to your case, so it is in everyone’s best interest to take whatever time necessary with the paralegal.
At last, you are invited into the inner sanctum that is the attorney’s office. Don’t be surprised if there are files stacked up everywhere, and the place generally looking like a tornado hit. That is pretty standard for a busy law office.
Take the time to answer any questions the attorney may have. Do not be afraid to tell this person everything. Surprises are fine for birthdays, but not when retaining counsel. If you are seeking a divorce, and your spouse caught you “in the act” with someone, or you caught your spouse stealing out of church collection plate or whatever, you need to tell all. One seeming inconsequential fact can be the making or breaking of a case.
Ask questions. It is important that you feel good about this person sitting across the room. You will be spending a lot of time with this person, in the office, in mediation, depositions, court. You need to understand what will happen, and how the attorney will go about his or her job.
If you do not think this attorney will be a good fit for you, tell him/her. There is no insult to saying that you are still shopping.
Finally, not all consultations are free. Attorneys have only one commodity – his or her time, and that time is expensive. Every minute an attorney spends on a case is a billable minute. Some attorneys will offer a free initial consultation but will limit that time to half an hour or an hour. If you spend longer than that with the lawyer, you need to be prepared to pay for the time.