How to Nail Your Meeting with a New Lawyer
Clients often hire the wrong lawyer. One of the big reasons clients hire the wrong lawyer is because they find a list of stock questions to ask during their first appointment and insist on limiting the first appointment to their script. They base what can be a critical decision on stock information, hire a lawyer who has not provided anything insightful, and are later disappointed with the representation.
Stock questions and answers are a waste of time. Relying upon stock questions and answers is dangerous.
Here are five scripted questions clients ask and the reasons why they’re a waste of time.
Do you have any special training or certification in family law and divorce that distinguishes you as a “divorce specialist? This is all over the internet for free. If it’s not, your answer is, no.
How many years have you been handling divorce and family law cases? See above.
How many years have you been practicing in Ohio? See above.
Do you have courtroom experience? This is contained in every court’s county clerk web system. For free.
How much will a divorce (or custody case) cost & how long will it take. Impossible to know, but it depends upon many legal and personal factors, blah blah blah.
Some scripts from the internet differ a little, but they almost always contain predictable questions. Here are still more stock questions I get all the time and the reasons why they’re a waste of time.
Are you a good attorney? Yes. Just ask my mother.
How many cases do you win? None. Divorce is damage control.
Why did you become a divorce lawyer? I like to help people? It pays well? I get to work indoors?
How much of your practice is devoted to family law? Google, please.
Do you practice in Montgomery County (or any of Ohio’s other 87 counties)? Google me before you call, please. You would not have gotten an appointment if I do not practice in your county.
All of these types of questions contain the same flaw: the answers tell you absolutely nothing about what the representation will be like, whether we will be able to work together, or whether our approaches are compatible. The purpose of an initial consultation is for me to see what your legal issues involve and for you to see if the two of us can reasonably become a team. The goal is to gain insight into the lawyer, your case and family law.
When I last hired a lawyer, I didn’t ask any questions at all. Naturally, as you would expect, this did not work well. I’ve given some thought to open ended questions that will engage the lawyer and client immediately. Here are some examples, and the very short version of my answers.
How do you keep up with the changes in the law? I have the Ohio State Bar Association app on my phone and it updates cases from across Ohio every weekday. I read it before I get out of bed. I am not kidding. The more interesting way I keep up with the changes and trends is social media, where I subscribe to pages that I change frequently. I also read the Dayton Daily News, the Wall Street Journal & the Huffington Post. The best way I keep up is by talking to other lawyers, on the phone, over the internet and even, sometimes, in person.
What are your clients’ lives like after divorce? It is unusual for their lives to be devastated long-term because of my representation. As the emotions subside over time, they usually do not suffer setbacks by discovering overlooked joint accounts, missed assets, or retirement debacles. If a parenting issue resulted in disappointment, there is usually a salvage plan. My clients’ lives after divorce are what they make them, without fallout from the representation (generally).
How do you get along with my spouse’s lawyer? I get along with most people, including lawyers. I do not get along with some, or simply do not like, others, but I can effectively deal with them because it is my job. There have been a few who present either a professional or personal issue for me that I tell my client about. It is ultimately up to the two of us to decide whether the representation can be effective.
What parts of my case involve law that is in flux? This is a great question that I’ve never been asked. Much of family law is settled, but not all; some issues (cohabitation’s effect on spousal support comes to mind) could change soon. Any change can impact timing and strategy and should be discussed.
Will we need to prove any specific facts in my case? We always have to provide an itemization of assets and liabilities, the terms of agreements, jurisdiction, grounds and venue, as well as the basic background in child cases. Beyond that, specific facts can be critical in domestic violence, custody, business valuations and spousal support cases.
What is the worst thing I could do in my case? The specifics will vary, but this is a great question because it indicates that the client is willing to take responsibility for his own behavior in the case and has sense enough to plan ahead.
What is the best thing I can do for my case? See above.
I have never had a first meeting limited just to stock questions, but almost every first meeting will have at least one or two. Some of this is to be expected as two strangers begin to interact about deeply personal matters. The most effective client meetings involve impromptu give-and-take; a list of questions prepared by an unknown person is a quick way to make the interview stilted and unproductive. A couple unusual questions can ignite the rapport between lawyer and client that will help make the whole thing helpful and lead to an effective relationship.
Copyright 2014. All rights reserved. Anne Catherine Harvey LLC.