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First Impressions of Your Lawyer: Knowing When to Get Up and Leave

Posted by: Chad Hemmat | Friday, March 20, 2009 | 0 Comments | Back to Personal Injury Blog

This blog should be read in conjunction with prior blogs including "The First Meeting", and "Making that First Call." Those blogs involved the selection of a competent attorney for your case and took you through the process of navigating through all the various law firms and reaching a short list of prospective attorneys' offices. In these prior blogs, I provided you checklists for what you should experience and some insight as to what should cause you concern.

This whole process culminates with meeting one or more attorneys and ultimately making a decision about the attorney you hire to help you with your injury accident case. This blog assumes that you followed the advice of our previous blogs, and now you are in the conference room or the attorney's office ready for your meeting.

OFFICE OR CONFERENCE ROOM?

Where should the initial meeting be held? An initial client meeting is the single opportunity for the attorney to get to know you. The meeting should be anywhere from one to two hours in length. It should not be interrupted by telephone calls and, because of the importance of attorney/ client confidentiality, it should not be interrupted with secretaries entering or exiting. The attorney's eyes should be on you, not on his mail, his computer, or other matters on his desk. This may be my personal preference, but I believe that it is for all of these reasons that your meeting should be in a comfortable conference room.

If the meeting is not held in a conference room environment and you get the chance to observe the attorney's office, take a quick look around the office and the desk. Is the office free from other client files and other client's papers? These are supposed to be confidential client documents. We, as attorneys, take an oath to protect the confidences of our clients. Believe me, if the attorney's office is strewn with client files, correspondence, and confidential medical records, you can assume your personal matters will be equally strewn around his office if you hire him.

I believe the only possible exception to the "meeting must be in the conference room" rule is if this particular attorney maintains a personal office with no client documents, medical records or client matters in his office. I have only met one attorney who maintained an office like that. Unfortunately, that attorney's Obsessive Compulsive Disorder became so acute that he ultimately surrendered his license to practice law.

So, as a practical matter, if the attorney meets with you in his own messy office, you should strongly consider interviewing other attorneys.

WHO SHOULD BE IN THE MEETING?

There is nothing wrong with the attorney meeting you one-on-one. The only exception to that rule is if the matters of discussion involve physical injuries, such as in a medical malpractice situations, where photos, scars or the type of injury could make a client of the opposite sex personally uncomfortable. In that situation, meetings that include an office employee of the same sex as the potential client is not only appropriate, but highly advisable.

However, absent the above notable exception, the attorney who meets with you and brings his/her secretary into the meeting is likely attempting to get the secretary up to speed to handle all your legal matters, should you hire that firm. It is really a bad sign of things to come. You can consider it a certainty of things to come if the attorney introduces the secretary as "her go-to gal who is going to handle your day-to-day concerns." This is code for "you will never see me again, and I never return phone calls." Do not just walk-RUN-away from that meeting, unless you prefer legal representation from a non-lawyer.

Alternatively, a meeting where the senior attorney brings a more junior attorney into the meeting could be a pretty good sign. It suggests an appreciation of you being an important case. The attorney has basically taken himself/herself out of circulation, as well as another attorney, for an hour or more. The "two or more attorneys" meeting projects a respect for your case, shows planning for big things, and should be viewed favorably.

HOW LONG IT SHOULD LAST?

The answer is largely fact-driven. For example, consider a rear-end collision, with the at-fault party admitting fault to the police, and a broken bone that healed completely. In fairness, that meeting could legitimately last 25 minutes. However, with the average case having more issues including medical expenses, future medical needs, etc., the attorney should be patient even if the meeting requires two hours.

Like anything else, if the attorney leaves you in the meeting to answer the questions of his secretary, this is a bad sign. If the attorney seems fidgety, looks at his watch, yawns, or leaves you alone for a prolonged period of time, that is a very bad sign. It should reflect the level of patience the attorney will have if you need his help later in the case.

WHAT SHOULD BE SAID?

First, this is YOUR meeting. YOU were injured. The attorney should spend the beginning one third of the meeting listening and saying very little. The attorney should not interrupt you during the meeting. Once you tell your story of how the injury happened and your concerns are voiced, the attorney should spend some time asking questions and clarifying injuries. Again, the attorney should be listening 80% and talking no more than 20%. The last part of the meeting should be the attorney addressing the law, strategies, and specific proposed plan of action for your case in a way that does not hide the ball. If the attorney becomes aloof at this point in the meeting, and seems not to want to share what he specifically would do, this is because the attorney is worried that you will take his advice, do it yourself, and cut him out of his fee. That is the type of attorney that should cause you to run screaming from his office.

To the contrary, the attorney should be very open to your ideas and should have no concern about laying out his plan of action with specific detail. The expression "the devil is in the details" is correct. If the attorney is not able to tell you what he is prepared to do, he likely doesn't have a clue. Good lawyers never worry about overloading you with details.

At Anderson, Hemmat & McQuinn, we work hard to fulfill the high expectations that our clients expect. It is that expectation that drives all of our actions.


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