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December 03, 2020

Questions to Ask

Don't be intimidated when meeting with a lawyer. Remember, you are the client. By asking the right questions, you can help yourself find the right lawyer.  The following questions and answers should provide you some guidance on these issues.

If I am thinking about working with a civilian attorney; can I meet with him or her before actually hiring him or her?

A lawyer will usually meet with you briefly or talk with you by phone so the two of you can get acquainted. This meeting is a chance to talk before making a final hiring decision. In many cases, there is no fee charged for an initial meeting. However, to be on the safe side, ask about fees before setting up your first appointment.

What else should I do when researching a potential lawyer?

You should also take steps on your own to ensure that the lawyer is admitted to practice in your state and is considered “in good standing” by the state licensing authority. You will also want to find out if there has been any disciplinary action taken against the lawyer for ethical violations. The state licensing authority can tell you this.

What sort of questions should I ask?

Ask about the lawyer's experience and areas of practice. How long has the lawyer been practicing law? How long has the person's law firm been open? What kinds of legal problems does the lawyer handle most often? You may also want to inquire whether the lawyer has malpractice insurance. In most states, a lawyer is not required to carry malpractice insurance, but whether a particular lawyer has coverage is something that might factor into your decision to hire that lawyer. Finally, you should find out whether the lawyer will ask you to sign a "retainer agreement." This agreement will spell out what the lawyer will do for you, and what you will agree to do in turn, including terms of payment to the lawyer. The lawyer may or may not be required to give you a retainer agreement, depending on the kind of case and rules in your particular state, but it is always helpful to have the terms of the representation set out in writing.

Is it okay to ask if anyone else will be working on my case?

Yes. Ask if non-lawyers, such as paralegals or law clerks, will be used to research or prepare your case. If so, will there be separate charges for their services? Who will be consulted if the lawyer is unsure about some aspects of your case? Will the lawyer recommend another attorney or firm if this one is unable to handle your case?

Should I ask about the possible outcome of the case?

Certainly, but beware of any lawyer who guarantees a big settlement or assures a victory in court. Remember that there are at least two sides to every legal issue and many factors can affect its resolution. Ask for the lawyer's opinion of your case's strengths and weaknesses. Will the lawyer most likely settle your case out of court or is it likely that the case will go to trial? What are the advantages and disadvantages of settlement? Going to trial? What kind of experience does the lawyer have in trial work?

During our first meeting, should I ask what will happen if the lawyer and I disagree?

Yes, your first meeting is the best time to ask about resolving potential problems. Your lawyer may have procedures in place to refer client disputes to arbitration or a state bar programs. You have a right to, and should, understand how your lawyer will handle these matters.

If an attorney has offered pro bono (free) representation, what additional questions should I ask?

You should ask about what kinds of services that the attorney plans to provide for free, and ask the lawyer to put this in writing for you in the form of a retainer agreement (described above). Also, while an attorney may agree to provide his or her time to you at no cost, you should ask the attorney if you will be responsible for other expenses, such as court filing fees or litigation costs, like expert witness fees, copying , postage, and the like.