5 Questions to Ask Before You Retain An Attorney
Updated: Dec 6, 2019
It's a nightmare situation. Any kind of lawsuit is not ideal- but in a world like ours, they are inevitable. So how do you ensure that the firm and attorney representing you have your best interests at heart? After all, your finances and your reputation are on the line.
It's a common misconception that you should go with the first attorney or firm that you meet with. Especially if you've never dealt with a lawsuit of this specific nature before, it's important to do your due diligence. Just because someone you trust recommended this firm does not mean that they have the knowledge, expertise, or experience to get you the results you need. So what kinds of questions should you ask to get a good idea for who this person/firm is, what they're capable of, and if your priorities are aligned?
1. What's your experience with this specific topic?
Just because you've got the "best" personal injury attorney in the game does not mean they have experience with your specific topic. For example- if involved in an aviation accident, would you rather work with a firm who has taken on one or two similar cases, or a firm that specializes in aviation and knows the delicate intricacies involved in those dealings? As proven by MM&J, there is no niche in which you can't find a highly specialized firm for a fair price if you search well enough.
2. What are your fees and costs, and how are they billed?
This is obviously a crucial question- because you need to be able to look at the benefits of litigation versus the costs- only then can you decide if a settlement or offering (or accepting) policy limits is a better idea. A great question to ask yourself is whether you can find someone with equal experience and positive results for a lesser expense. Don't be afraid to comparison shop- just keep in mind the confidentiality of the case.
If the case work on your behalf will be performed by assistants or paralegals, talking about a reduced cost is always a good idea. Most firms will bill you the same whether a partner or a legal assistant is doing the work, so you want to be sure you're getting what you pay for- or rather, paying for what you're getting.
This is also a good time to talk about payment options, methods, plans, etc. How often will you be billed? Do you need detailed breakdowns of the time spent, or do you prefer to just not worry about it?
3. What's the team we will have working on this case, and what will their designated roles be?
Litigation is a team effort.
You will need to be involved in case preparation- but how much depends on the lawyer you work with. Often, you'll be asked to provide as much detailed information as you have, including producing relevant documents. If you know you are, or enjoy being, a hands-on client, make sure you have an attorney who will be complementary to your style. On the other hand, if you want to hear nothing about your case unless its a pertinent detail, you'll want to choose an attorney who you trust to take the reigns and manage everything independently.
This is also a good time to ask about who will be doing the majority of the work on this case; will one of the partners be dedicating their time entirely to you? Or are you going to be paying an attorney's bills for a paralegal's work? Who will be attending court on your behalf or with you? A new associate attorney or a seasoned veteran?
Likely, there will be a mix of all of the members of the firm: experienced attorneys, their junior attorneys, paralegals, administrative assistants, etc. It's perfectly fine to inquire into the backgrounds of these other team members- after all, a paralegal with 30 years of relevant experience can be worth 7 associate attorneys with no background in the subject. How involved will your attorney be in every aspect of the case?
4. How often and by which method will we be communicating?
This question is a crucial one that often gets forgotten. Many firms communicate with clients constantly at first, before "getting too busy to call back" once the case starts getting more detailed. Again, this is a good time to think about how involved you want to be with the case, and to lay down specific deadlines for written status reports each month, setting up a weekly call, or planning another method of regular communication to stay on top of the case.
5. What's our strategy here?
This is a heavy question, so you might need to give it time before this one gets a solid answer. But it's a good idea to select an attorney who has a battle plan laid out before even looking at the case. Of course, things will change dramatically as the case unfolds, but you want to be sure you're choosing someone who knows where to start.
This is also a good time to talk about outcomes. Of course, these will change too, but it's nice to know whether you're going to need to set yourself up for a nasty uphill battle, or a simple and cordial negotiation.
Is trial going to be a likely necessity? If so, factor that into your costs. Mediation tends to be far more cost-effective, but may not be appropriate for each case.
Now these obviously are not all of the questions you will need or want to ask your potential attorney. Ensuring that their credentials are up to date and that they have the necessary tools to conquer the case are usually a given. You might need to explore conflicts of interest, sanctions, misconduct, specific experience with a certain courthouse, the list goes on and on.
When you're being sued or considering a suit against another party, there are so many moving parts that it can be overwhelming to sort through- but ensuring that you ask the right questions is a solid foundation upon which to build your attorney-client relationship and safeguard the outcome of your case.
The Law Offices of Michaelis, Montanari & Johnson specialize in the niche area of aviation law. With decades of experience and the results to prove it, the firm represents global aviation insurance companies and manufacturers as well as individual pilots and aircraft owners.