How to prepare for your first appointment with a lawyer?

How to prepare for your first appointment with a lawyer

You need some legal advice and after selecting a lawyer, you are about to meet him/her for the first time. This initial appointment is important because it will lay the foundations of your relationship and the accuracy of your legal support.

1. Prepare your story

You are meeting a lawyer because you have an issue, it may be a question, an event, a specific request. You know exactly what is involved but your lawyer doesn't. It is always better to get your thoughts organised before trying to explain them to someone else.

How will you introduce the issue? What aspects are important to you? Who is involved?

The clearer your story becomes, the better your lawyer will understand the key elements. Don't be afraid to go into detail, it is often the small details that make the difference. Even if you are just consulting a lawyer for some basic information, having a clear story is essential. Imagine if you wanted to create a company, if that is all you tell your lawyer, he/she will only be able to give you very general advice and will have to ask you lots of questions. If you give your lawyer the full context from the beginning it will be a lot easier for him/her to give you appropriate advice.

2. Gather any documentation you might need

If you have documents relating to your case, gather them together, make copies and show them to your lawyer at the first meeting. If there are no documents make sure your lawyer knows that too.

Your neighbour damaged your garden? Take pictures.

A former partner made threats or harassed you? Print emails or messages.

You have problems with your landlord? Make a copy of the contract.

The documents that you provide will help the lawyer to work out the best courses of action. The way things are worded in a document can sometimes make a huge difference in law so having access to the original documents is really useful.

3. Define your goals or expectations

You've decided to meet a lawyer for a specific reason and it may seem obvious and easy to determine why. For example, you may want to challenge a wrongful dismissal. But what is really important to you? Do you want to challenge the dismissal to win a large sum of money in compensation or do you want to protect your reputation, prove that you were a good employee and show that the dismissal was abusive? Is your goal to be reinstated into your old company?

It is really helpful if you can get clear on your goals because they will influence the lawyer's strategy for your case. Think also about what sort of approach you want to take, do you want to be aggressive, defensive or conciliatory? Will you be prepared to make concessions, and if so, which ones? Are you willing to go to court?

In most cases, your lawyer will explore these points with you, but it is always better to have thought of them before.

4. Prepare your questions

You've prepared all the information to present to your lawyer but what questions do you want to ask him/her? It is always best to prepare your questions in advance so that you don't miss anything important.

What risks are there? What are my options? How long will my case last?

These are all questions that should be asked right at the start, there are no silly questions. After your first appointment you will decide whether to continue with your case or not and if you want to work with the lawyer you met. It is therefore important to understand and clarify all the elements that will guide your choice. In particular, remember to ask about billing methods and the rate that will be applied to you. If it is an hourly rate, don't hesitate to ask your lawyer how much time in total your case will need, based on his/her past experience. Even a price range will be helpful for you to make your decision. Some people believe that they can estimate how long the lawyer will spend working on a file. Quite often this estimate is false because, as in all trades, unless you have hands-on experience, it is very difficult to imagine all the tasks to be done, and even more difficult to estimate the time they will take. If your neighbour's lawyer charged him €2,000 for his divorce that does not mean it will be the same amount for you. You cannot be sure that he actually paid this amount (maybe he exaggerated). Perhaps he made strategic decisions for his case that you would not (e.g. being happy to sign the divorce papers without contesting). The opposite situation can also happen; many people overestimate how much a case might cost. It can be profitable to hire a lawyer even for a small case in the sense that what you "win" from the litigation is far more than the legal fees. Your neighbour owes you €500? A letter from a lawyer can be enough to force him to pay you back and will only cost you €100. So always remember to get as clear as possible on the overall amount that your case will cost. Prepare and ask all your questions so that you can leave the first appointment with a clear understanding of the next steps, your possibilities and your obligations.

5. Set your limits

You will explain your case to your lawyer, provide him with relevant documents and ask him the questions you have prepared. There is one last element you need to prepare: your limits. By "limits" we mean everything you do not want to do, all the things you do not want to go through.

You do not want to go to court? Say it. You do not want to be too aggressive? Talk to your lawyer.

Every situation is different and we all have our own sensitivities. Your lawyer is there to accompany you and defend you, so remember to specify how far you are willing to fight. Your limits can also be budgetary (I do not want to spend more than €5,000) or time-based (I want it to be settled for Christmas). It is important that these points are clear to your lawyer because they will influence the strategy he/she will propose. It is also important to discuss your limits with your lawyer because some can be difficult to maintain. Some may also go against your goals or expectations so it is always better to explore them with your lawyer at the beginning.

Remember that your lawyer will discuss these points with you, ask you lots of questions and guide you. So don't worry if you feel lost or if you have not had time to prepare your first appointment. Some issues may only be defined or discussed as your case progresses, and others may change dramatically between the beginning of your case and following stages. So be prepared to be flexible. However, preparing the first appointment is always helpful as it will lay the groundwork for the relationship with your lawyer and the initial strategy you adopt for your case.