My fifteen years as a trial lawyer in Central Florida have reinforced a basic truth: In litigation, “knowledge is power”. Plainly, you want to give your lawyer as much power as possible. The kind of knowledge you pass on to your lawyer varies from case to case, but one thing never changes — the importance of the first meeting of lawyer and client. It is a critical event.
Let’s start with the “don’ts”. It is not enough to simply tell the lawyer what help you need, or why you are seeking legal advice. NEVER simply meet and greet the lawyer, leaving her with a box of documents to sort through. Don’t leave her to guess at which documents are important, or your view of what their meaning is. Whether you are seeking legal advice for litigation (personal injury, contract breach), business formation, a family law matter (custody, divorce, marriage, child support), criminal defense, or estate tax planning, the more your lawyer knows, the better your lawyer can help you. Perhaps more importantly, the sooner your lawyer knows, the better your lawyer can help you. In the legal business, sooner and better are often synonymous with “increased chances of success” and “more efficient use of the lawyer’s time”.
Now the “do’s”. Arrive at the initial meeting armed with as many details as you can: names, dates, insurance information (if applicable), addresses, and documents are a minimum. Even better is a timeline, a description of the issues and people, and a written narrative of key events, all of which you can give your lawyer to learn from and build upon. Now do more. Tell your lawyer what your goals are, where your priorities are, and where you think the lawyer’s priorities should be in your case. He may not agree with you, and if not, ask why. Sometimes, the lawyer and the client simply cannot see eye-to-eye — something best learned and dealt with during the initial attorney-client interview, and not six months later. More often, the lawyer can explain strategies and insights unknown to the client, or at least seen from a different perspective.
Before the first meeting, your lawyer may have done a “conflict check” to ensure there are no ethical conflicts with other clients he or she represents. If not, then this too must be part of your initial meeting.
If well handled by both attorney and client, the initial meeting concludes with a clear set of goals and a plan for how to achieve them. Especially in litigation, new facts are often discovered and the “how” of your original plan may need some changes. The goals and overall strategy developed in the first meeting seldom do, though.
Knowledge is power, for both attorney and client. No attorney ever complained that he knew too much, or was too well informed. Neither have any clients.