I’m often asked: how do I determine if the lawyer I’m speaking with is the right one for me and my situation? My answer is very simple: do your due diligence and, if you’re satisfied and comfortable with the lawyer’s responses, feel free to go ahead with him or her. People need different lawyers for different things. Some people need lawyers to facilitate a simple residential real estate transaction, while others need lawyers to negotiate commercial leases with landlords. The latter situation raises lots of additional issues – such as hourly billing instead of fixed fees, negotiation strategy, legal drafting and revisions, etc. – that should be addressed before the lawyer is retained. At the first meeting with the lawyer, you should ask some or all of the following 15 basic questions related to:
- What services will the lawyer specifically provide (e.g. transaction, representing, drafting, negotiating, etc.);
- Billing (both legal fees and disbursements) and budget: how will it be done (e.g. hourly, fixed fee, contingency fee, etc.) and how often will the bill be sent;
- Are there any concessions for paying early, settling early, additional business?
- Time line;
- Communication (e.g. by phone, e-mail, etc. and how regularly) and who can be contacted to inquire about the status of the case;
- Past Experience generally (e.g. how long have they been practicing law and in what jurisdictions);
- Past Experience in a particular field (they should have past cases they’ve done or some synopsis of transactions they’ve facilitated);
- Past results (and possibly referrals?);
- Possible Strategies;
- Alternatives, possible outcomes, and evaluation of alternatives;
- Style (e.g. aggressive trial lawyer or alternative dispute resolution lawyer);
- What is the process or formalities for facilitating or resolving this matter?
- What potential difficulties/complications/factors could affect the matter, its time line and cost?
- Will any other parties at the firm (e.g. other lawyer, paralegal, law clerk, etc.) be handling the matter?
- Terminating the retainer (e.g. failure to pay, failure to act, breakdown in the relationship, loss of confidence, etc.).
Make sure you keep a copy of the retainer agreement you ultimately sign.