You or a loved one has been injured by the negligence of another person, a failed product or some poorly maintained property. You have selected an attorney and are now scheduled to meet for the first time. What questions should you ask? What should you bring to the meeting? What matters need to be resolved at this first meeting?
The first meeting with your attorney should affirm the confidence you have in your selection of an attorney. This is important. But much more needs to be accomplished.
Attorneys have their own style. I will explain my style. It is what I have developed after 35 years of practice and 25 years of teaching law.
My initial interview takes about 1½ -2 hours to complete. The most important function of the first meeting is the actual hiring of the attorney: signing a contract. Some legal matters are handled by a retainer contract. This type of contract usually requires a deposit from which the attorney works at an agreed rate. When the deposit runs low, monthly billing starts. At Corboy & Demetrio, we use a contingent fee contract. We are paid by a percentage of whatever we recover on your behalf. There is no up-money unless a medical expert is required to review a potential medical malpractice claim. The contingent fee percentage (usually one third or 33 1/3%) pays for the attorneys time and talent. This does not cover expenses–cost of filing of the lawsuit, hiring necessary experts, investigators, deposition transcripts, photographs, etc.
The contract must be in writing and signed by all parties. It should clearly reflect how the attorney will be paid, whether the percentage ever goes up (which is legal and ethical but never permitted at Corboy & Demetrio) and how expenses are paid. An experienced lawyer will have original contracts for all parties.
Once the contract has been signed, then the actual interview starts.
You and if available, your witnesses, need to tell the lawyer what happened. You should bring every piece of paper that may apply: police reports, photographs, insurance policies, medical bills, a list of doctors seen with name, address, phone number (business cards of the doctors are great!), list of hospitals, physical therapist, and so forth. The more information you can supply to the lawyer the better.
The law of the case should be explained to you. The elements of the tort, which is defined as a civil wrong, that need to be proved in order for you to recover money damages, should be explained to you.
A client questionnaire should be completed. We have a 20 page questionnaire for automobile cases; specific questionnaires for fall down cases, medical negligence, etc. This document is helpful as a reference during the case.
Necessary authorizations also need to be completed for medical records, tax returns, etc.
But more important than signing a bunch of documents and answering questions, the first meeting should develop a rapport with your attorney. You should feel confident in your selection. Your lawyer should allow you to “catch a breath” knowing that he will take care of you! You should feel that your attorney is your “legal Knight” and he will fight and win for you!