Every attorney-client relationship begins with a face-to-face meeting. The only question is when it should happen.
If your matter is urgent, you should meet with a lawyer IMMEDIATELY. Because of legal deadlines, your matter may be especially urgent if you want to sue someone for something that happened a while ago, or if litigation has already begun. Your lawyer (or his/her assistant) may be able to help you determine over the phone if your matter is urgent.
Otherwise, you should schedule your appointment for at least a couple of days after you call. This will give you time to gather all of the records and information you need to bring with you on your initial consultation.
Don't wait too long to meet with your lawyer, however, because there are many time factors at play. If possible, you should have your initial consultation within a week.
Unless your matter is urgent, the ideal time to have your initial consultation with your attorney is within 2 to 5 days.
GATHER INFORMATION AND DOCUMENTS
Ask your lawyer what you should bring with you to your initial consultation. Your lawyer (or his/her assistant) will probably give you an idea of what you should and should not bring with you, but s/he may miss a few things in your brief phone conversation.
Gather all of the paperwork and records relevant to your legal matter. This may include financial records, contracts, e-mails, letters, memos, phone records, employee handbooks/agreements, business papers, incident reports, photographs, video, diary or journal entries, and so on. The basic rule of thumb is to bring everything that is relevant. If in doubt, bring it (unless your lawyer tells you not to). In the long run, this will make your attorney's job easier, allow him/her to be able to provide you with better advice, and may even save you in attorney's fees down the road.
WRITE YOUR STORY
Write down (or type up) everything that has happened in your legal matter from the beginning. Include as many details as you can remember - especially names and dates. Be completely honest, even if you think a particular fact is bad for your case.
MAKE A LIST
Next, spend some time thinking about each of your concerns and thoughts about your case. Craft a list of questions and other items for your lawyer. You will bring this list with you to the meeting so you don't forget to bring these issues up. Forgetting to bring up an important matter at the first consultation can hinder your legal representation.
STATE YOUR GOALS
Write down precisely what you want your lawyer to do for you. Be as specific as possible. There may be other things your lawyer can do for you as well, but writing down your specific goal(s) will help eliminate confusion and keep your lawyer focused on your priorities.
Examples include: "Get me the money to pay for my husband's medical bills," "Force the city to fix the sidewalk I fell down on," "Get back the $100,000 my business partner stole," "Make the seller take back the house we bought and refund us our money," "Make my landlord fix my dishwasher and refund me some rent money," and so on.
SEE IF YOU CAN SEND EVERYTHING
Once you have completed Steps 2 through 5, call your lawyer's office and ask if you can e-mail or fax to your lawyer the materials you have prepared. If so, do so. This will allow your lawyer additional time to review the materials and be better prepared for your initial consultation.
ARRIVE PROMPTLY AND PREPARED
On the day of your initial consultation with your civil litigation lawyer, bring all of the papers, records, and so forth that you prepared and gathered in Steps 2 through 5 (whether or not you sent them in Step 6). You should also bring your checkbook in case you are asked to pay a retainer or consultation fee at the initial consultation.
Try your best to arrive at least 15 minutes early for your appointment with your civil litigation lawyer. You may be asked to fill out a client intake form during this time. Do not be late!
MAKE ALTERNATIVE ARRANGEMENTS RIGHT AWAY
If you *are* running late, or can't make it to your appointment at all, call your attorney right away to let him know. Reschedule for as soon as possible. Again, time is a factor!
BE THOROUGH, HONEST, AND RELAXED
Your civil litigation lawyer will guide you through the consultation. He or she may ask you to tell your story from the beginning. Your lawyer might ask you specific questions for clarification. Just relax and answer your lawyer's questions as completely and honestly as you can - even if you think that a particular fact may be bad for your case. If you don't know the answer to a question, it is okay to say so. Your lawyer is not judging you. He or she just wants to try to help you.
By the end of your initial consultation, your attorney will tell you what the next steps are. He or she may decide to take your case right away or may need more time to analyze the facts of your case. Your attorney may also request additional information from you. If your civil litigation attorney accepts your case, it is very important that you stay in touch and keep him/her updated on new developments. Your attorney should keep you updated likewise.
***DISCLAIMERS AND NOTES***
The above Avvo Guide is provided for general informational/entertainment purposes only. It is neither legal advice nor the creation or implication of an attorney-client relationship. For actual legal advice, personally consult with an attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction. Although the author happily handles clients with civil litigation needs, he is a non-specialized, general practice attorney. He is licensed to practice in Massachusetts and Florida.
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