Answers to common questions about your first meeting with an attorney
If you've been injured in an accident, you might have no idea how to proceed.
Do you have a legitimate claim? Do you need to hire an attorney? If so, who should you hire?
An "initial consultation" is the first meeting with an attorney that takes place before you sign a contract to formally hire a lawyer. The initial consultation is intended to help both you and the attorney decide if you want to form an attorney-client relationship.
Because the 2 of you aren't sure yet whether you want to work together, most attorneys don't charge for initial consultations.
So how exactly does an initial consultation work?
Let's take a look at some common questions.
Is it really free?
The vast majority of attorneys offer free consultations. Many attorneys advertise this on their website.
Here at Enjuris, the attorney and law firm listings found in our free online lawyer directory usually say whether they offer free initial consultations. If the profile page doesn't indicate that it offers free initial consultations, call the number listed to confirm.
Some state bar organizations have arrangements that limit the amount attorneys can charge for initial consultations.
For example, Oregon attorneys who enroll in the Oregon State Bar Lawyer Referral Service must provide 30-minute consultations to prospective clients who are referred to the attorney through the service and can't charge more than $35 for the consultation.
What happens during an initial consultation with an attorney?
Because you and the attorney haven't yet formed an attorney-client relationship, initial consultations are limited in time and depth. Nevertheless, the attorney should listen to the details of your case and provide you with some important information.
After your initial consultation, you should be able to determine:
- Whether you have a valid claim. The initial consultation should include a discussion of the facts and potential legal claims surrounding your issue. The lawyer should be able to tell you, based on the law and the information you provide, whether you have a legitimate case from a legal standpoint.
- Whether you need a lawyer. The attorney should be able to tell you whether you need the services of an attorney or whether you're better off resolving the case on your own. This decision often involves weighing the potential damages you can recover against the financial cost of hiring an attorney.
- Whether the attorney can help you. The attorney should be able to tell you whether they handle your type of case or whether you need to seek out a different type of attorney. In some cases, the attorney may provide you with a specific reference to another attorney who can better meet your needs.
- What their services will cost. An initial consultation should include a discussion of the fees that the attorney may charge. In addition to providing some idea of overall cost, the attorney should explain the fee arrangement (e.g., contingency fee, flat fee, or hourly fee).
If, at the end of your initial consultation, both you and the attorney want to form an attorney-client relationship, the attorney will provide you with an engagement agreement to sign (or take down your contact information and send you an engagement agreement to sign later). Once the agreement is signed by you and the attorney, an attorney-client relationship is formed.
"During an initial consultation, you have the opportunity to discuss the facts of the case with an attorney. You will also be able to ask them questions about your case, how they would handle certain issues in your case, and about their experience in the field of law in which your accident has occurred.
This is your chance to take center stage and ask them how they would handle your situation.
At this point, you are interviewing the attorney and in the same regard, they are interviewing you. If you have a question, don't hesitate to ask."
Enjuris Partner Attorney
Are initial consultations confidential?
When you attend an initial consultation, you are NOT yet a client. Rather, you are a prospective client. However, lawyers still owe certain duties to prospective clients. One of these duties is the duty of attorney-client confidentiality.
Accordingly, the lawyer you meet with is prohibited from revealing information about you and your claim unless you give informed consent.
What should I do to prepare for an initial consultation?
To get the most out of your free initial consultation, you need to be prepared. Keep in mind, there are 2 main things you want to accomplish with an initial consultation:
- Find out more information about your case.
- Find out whether you want to hire this attorney.
To learn more about your case (such as whether you have a legitimate claim and what amount of damages you can expect), you'll need to bring all the relevant documents you have. Not sure what documents you should bring? Take a look at our checklist:
In addition, you need to be prepared to answer any questions the attorney might ask about your accident. Not sure what questions the attorney will ask? Here are some questions that you should be prepared to answer:
As for determining whether or not you should hire the attorney you're meeting with, here are some questions to consider asking them during the initial consultation:
Be sure to write down all the questions you've been gathering in your head. Consultations can't last forever, so it's best for both you and the attorney you meet with to have your questions already prepared ahead of time."
Westmoreland, Patterson, Moseley & Hinson, L.L.P.
How do I schedule a free initial consultation?
Now that you know how beneficial free consultations are, we think you'll agree that there's often no reason not to schedule one.
Visit our free lawyer directory to locate some experienced personal injury attorneys in your area. Each profile page in our directory contains the contact information for the attorney and shows whether they offer free consultations.