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Top questions to ask lawyers

BUILDING AN EFFECTIVE TEAM

You think you found your lawyer. Now what?

As you begin the engagement process with your potential lawyer, it’s important to begin with the end in mind. You want an effective and accountable partner, who communicates well with you and gets the best results.

Yes, you want the peace of mind that results from turning over management of your case to your lawyer. But remember, as you begin this process you must also recognize that the status of your case will change as the case or project unfolds. A solid foundation for further communication and strategy is the goal.

With that goal in mind, we start with good initial questioning and a positive give-and-take with your lawyer. Below are three areas of questioning that I have found to be effective for an effective client-lawyer relationship.

EXPERIENCE & ETHICS

You need to know the level of experience of your attorney:

  • Why do they practice law (always a key question—this is NOT a philosophical question!)?
  • How many years have they been practicing law?
  • What areas of practice?
  • Does your lawyer know the courthouse and the judges where your case is (or will be) pending?

Similarly, your lawyer needs to demonstrate an awareness and sensitivity to existing or potential conflicts of interest—the ethics of the law.

  • Do they have any relationships—of any kind—with the parties on the other side of your case?
  • Does your lawyer know the lawyer on the other side?
  • Do any of those relationships potentially affect your case in any way?

EVALUATION, EVIDENCE & EXPENSES

You must obtain an early sense of your lawyer’s evaluation of your case.

  • What does your lawyer think about your case?
  • How does she propose to proceed with it?

Equally important, be sure to measure your lawyer’s level of engagement and interest in your case.

  • Do they have many questions?
  • Do they drill into the details?

Getting a good sense of your lawyer’s willingness to dig for and grasp the details of your case is essential. The practice of law is ultimately about building and deploying EVIDENCE—the details of your case or your project. If your lawyer has no interest nor capacity for that work and effort, look for another lawyer

Hand in hand with the evaluation of your case, is measuring the fees and expenses to accomplish the desired results.

  • How much will your case cost, in part or in full?
  • Can the case and the related expenses be broken up into segments?

It’s essential to obtain a solid estimate of all the fees and expenses likely required to complete your case. Many lawyers must caveat their estimates to account for events outside their control—such as an especially litigious opposing party.

CASE COMMUNICATION

Finally, you must understand the process of communication and case management that is about to unfold.

  • For example, how will you and your lawyer communicate and when?

Setting in place an initial communication routine is very helpful (e.g., once a week). You should also come away from your initial meeting with specific next steps and additional information required to proceed.

With these initial areas addressed, you and your lawyer will be well on your way to an effective and winning team effort.