It can be a big waste of time for both you and the lawyer if you're not prepared for your first meeting. You have to be ready to discuss the problem and help the lawyer understand what needs to be done.
It could cost you money, too. The more time she has to spend getting up to speed on your case the more she's going to charge you.
Here's a list of things to help you make the first meeting worthwhile:
- Prepare some information in advance. The lawyer may have sent you a questionnaire or form asking for basic information like your full name, address, home telephone number and your business' name and address. Fill it out and bring it with you to the meeting, or if she asks you to, mail it back to her before the meeting
- If you didn't get a form to fill out, write down that information and have it handy in case the attorney asks for it
- Be prepared to explain a little bit about yourself, including your personal and business background. She'll also want to know something about your business, and how much authority you have to speak for the company. Again, she may have asked for this on the questionnaire
- Gather any documents you may think are important or the attorney asked for - either on the phone or on the questionnaire - and make copies for the attorney to keep
- Have a list of other businesses or banks or financial institutions you're having problems with. If the lawyer - or another attorney in her law firm - represents anyone on "the other side of the fence," she has a conflict of interest and most likely won't be able to take your case
- If necessary, make arrangements for time off work and child care well in advance of your scheduled meeting. Also make arrangements for getting to and from the appointment
- Do some research on your own. Check out some of the business law materials on Lawyers.com or go to your local library and learn as much as you can about the legal issues involved in your case. It will help you and your lawyer have a meaningful discussion about your case
Written documentation is especially important in a business setting. Even if a lawyer doesn't ask for documentation beforehand, it's still a good idea to bring a copy of any documents connected to your case:
- A business plan or at least a summary of the information about your business
- A pro forma balance sheet, including assets and liabilities of any new business you're thinking about forming
- A list of investors, directors and officers, including their addresses, telephone numbers, e-mail addresses and other contact information
- A list of vendors, contractors or other parties with whom you're doing or expect to be doing business
- Tax returns, financial statements or corporate records for existing businesses
- A copy of any documents related to the business, such as agreements, minutes of meetings and notes outlining how the business is to be organized
- Letters, memos and other correspondence relating to the business organization
- A diagram or organizational chart of your business. Drawing out a picture or diagram before you meet with your lawyer may be the best thing you can do. It will help you to organize your thoughts and help your lawyer understand what you want to do
- Any employment contracts between the company and key employees
Organize everything in a folder or envelope. You won't lose or forget anything, and it shows your attorney you're serious about your case and are willing and able to help.
Questions to Ask
Write a list of questions to ask at the first meeting. In theory, no question is too silly to ask. Keep in mind, though, you don't want to scare a lawyer out of representing you. Some questions you may want to ask include:
- How much in-court litigation experience does the lawyer have?
- Does the lawyer usually represent plaintiffs (people bringing a lawsuit) or defendants (people who are being sued)?
- How many cases has she handled?
- When was the last time the lawyer took a case to trial?
- How many of her cases have settled?
- What does the lawyer think about arbitration or mediation?
- What percentage of her practice is in the area of expertise you need?
- What problems does the lawyer anticipate with your case?
If you're hiring a lawyer to negotiate a business deal, you want to ask similar questions about the lawyer's background:
- How many transactions of a similar nature has the lawyer handled?
- How much of his work is done in this area?
- What paperwork is involved and how long will it take to finalize?
- How would the lawyer go about handling your situation? What's the process?
- How long will it take to bring the matter to a conclusion?
Don't forget about money. Ask how the lawyer charges for his services:
- Know beforehand if the attorney you're meeting charges a fee for the first meeting or initial consultation. Many lawyers don't charge anything to talk to about a case for the first time, but some do. If the attorney you're meeting charges a fee, make sure to bring a credit card or check book to pay for the advice you got at the meeting
- Ask for a copy of the lawyer's retainer agreement and have it explained to you before you decide on hiring him or his law firm. You may end up paying a lot of money to the lawyer you hire, so make sure you understand what you're signing up for
- Will the lawyer handle the case personally or will it be passed on to another lawyer in the firm? If other attorneys may be involved, ask if you can meet them. Are their fees separate from the lawyer you met?
- What's the lawyer's hourly rate?
- What's an estimate of fees for your case?
- Does the lawyer ever charge a flat fee? What about a contingency fee?
- Does the lawyer advance out-of-pocket costs?
- Do you have to pay a retainer fee up front? Is unused retainer money refunded to you?
Being well prepared to meet your attorney can have a big impact your case. The attorney can give you a good idea of what can be done in your case, and because you have the information needed, he can move quickly to get things started. Make the most of it and get a good start on solving your business problem.