When people realize they need to hire an attorney for a divorce or some other legal matter, they begin to search around to find one. They may know one or get recommendations or research on the Internet. There are lots of sources of information about attorneys. At some point, the prospective client will set up a time for a first meeting with an attorney to decide whether to hire the attorney and to find out if the attorney is willing and able to take the case. The first meeting between attorney and prospective client is very important for both parties who want to size each other up. Gathering records and making a list of questions are very helpful for the meeting, but there are some other steps to prepare that shouldn't be overlooked. I have just read an excellent post, by Chris Marston on another blog, about the interviewing process. Although the post in Inside the Firm of the Future is technically about lawyers interviewing for employment at a law firm, it sparked some thoughts about how clients might benefit from some of the techniques when they are first meeting with a lawyer. Incidentally, the tips are also very useful for almost anyone looking for a job — a topic that I know often surfaces during or after a divorce. At any rate, here are my five slightly modified tips, based on Chris Marston's great post.
1. Differentiate Yourself. Some attorneys will take on any case that comes in the door. Others will accept only clients that meet their standards who have interesting cases. It's a good idea to explain to the attorney what unique qualities there are about you and your case, especially if you want or expect special attention. You should not assume that any attorney you visit will automatically accept you as a client.
2. Do your Homework. With the Internet, it's possible to find out a lot about almost any attorney. If you do a search and can't find anything, you might wonder how they have remained out of sight. You can also ask around if you know other attorneys or business people or professionals who might have had dealings with the attorney. Find out what kind of practice the attorney has and what organizations he or she is a member of. Make sure the attorney is experienced and works with the type of matter you have.
3. Get over Yourself. Don't just talk about yourself. You do need to give some background, but be prepared to discuss the overall issues and your goals. Think about what you want and need for the future. Be prepared to discuss everyone and all the issues that may arise in your case. While it's sometimes good to interview several attorneys, be sure to adapt your approach for each one.
4. Interview THEM! While it is important to provide information about your case, it is also important to find out if the attorney is a good fit for you. Believe it or not, every attorney has a different personality and each handles business differently. That means that some attorneys will be able to work with you very comfortably, but others won't. It's really better for everyone if you can be upfront in explaining how much communication and what type of communication you want from your attorney. Do you prefer an associate or assistant or the main attorney to contact you? Do you want periodic calls? Can there be too many letters from the attorney? (Some clients have requested that we cut back on some mailings, even when there's no cost involved.) Find out what the attorney's policies are on these and other issues that will affect you. If you aren't familiar with the legal procedures, ask for clear explanations. Make sure the attorney can speak to you without resorting to legalese. Do you really understand what the attorney is saying? Feel free to ask lots of questions!
5. There is only ONE right answer: Be Yourself. Don't try to impress the attorney or to hide your warts. In family law, we understand about people's imperfections. It is much better to admit to any problems up front so the attorney can help you. Surprises are not good in the legal system. There are often many ways to resolve or work around problems, and often what you think is terrible will be no big deal to the attorney. Many people are their own worst critics, but shouldn't be. Other people have been told by their spouse or other family members over and over how terrible or worthless they are, and they sometimes start to believe it. Don't worry about being embarrassed. Experienced attorneys have seen and heard much worse in all likelihood.
Again, if you are looking for a job, read Chris Marston's original post. If you are looking to hire an attorney, try out these suggestions. Thanks to Michelle Golden at Golden Practices for the tip about Chris' post.