It can be a big waste of time for both you and the lawyer if you're not prepared for your first meeting. You have to be ready to discuss the problem and help the lawyer understand what needs to be done.
It could cost you money, too. The more time she has to spend getting up to speed on your case the more she's going to charge you.
Here's a list of things to help you make the first meeting worth while:
- Prepare some information in advance. The lawyer may have sent you a questionnaire or form asking for basic information like your full name, address, home telephone number, and your business' name and address. Fill it out and bring it with you to the meeting, or if she asks you to, mail it back to her before the meeting
- If you didn't get a form to fill out, write down that information and have it handy in case the attorney asks for it
- Be prepared to explain a little bit about yourself, including your personal and business background. She'll also want to know something about your business, and how much authority you have to speak for the company. Again, she may have asked for this on the questionnaire
- Gather any documents you may think are important or the attorney asked for - either on the phone or on the questionnaire - and make copies for the attorney to keep
- Have a list of banks or financial institutions you're having problems with. If the lawyer - or another attorney in her law firm - represents anyone on "the other side of the fence," she has a conflict of interest and most likely won't be able to take your case
- Be ready to discuss everything and any detail, even if you don't think it's important. For example, if you're in default on a loan, be ready to give precise dates for what happened and when
- If necessary, make arrangements for time off work and child care well in advance of your scheduled meeting. Also make arrangements for getting to and from the appointment
- Do some research on your own. Check out some of the banking and finance materials on Lawyers.com or go to your local library and learn as much as you can about the legal issues involved in your case. It will help you and your lawyer have a meaningful discussion about your case
Written documentation is especially important in a business setting. Even if a lawyer doesn't ask for documentation beforehand, it's still a good idea to bring a copy of any documents connected to your case:
- It's absolutely essential you bring along any and all loan or financing documents you have, including loan agreements, title policies, insurance policies, promissory notes, security agreements, guaranties, UCC filings, deeds of trust, mortgages, and notices of default
- Look for any truth-in-lending documents and other forms that you signed
- Bring any information you have to show your payment history - bank statements, canceled checks, money orders, receipts, etc.
- Bring the originals and a copy of all correspondence you may have sent to or received from the financial institution
- Dates can be critical. Get a calendar and mark down dates of when things happened and when you received any notices or other documents. Bring the calendar to your meeting to use as a reference
- If someone guaranteed a loan or a lease for you, the lawyer will want to know who he is (he's called the guarantor). You should have this information available, as well as a copy of any guaranty documents
- Have the names, phone numbers, and business titles of anyone you talked to at the bank or financial institution
- Gather all letters, memos and other correspondence or notes - even emails - that relate to your problem with the bank. Bring the originals and copies to the meeting
- Diagram out your problem on paper. It will help you organize your thoughts and it will help your lawyer understand what you want to do
- Organize everything in a folder or envelope. You won't lose or forget anything, and it shows your attorney you're serious about your case and are willing and able to help
Your lawyer will ask you about your expectations. Be prepared to give your lawyer good business reasons for what you want to do. Be careful about pursuing a legal issue just out of principle. It's usually not a good idea, and it's waste of everyone's time and money.
Questions To Ask
Write a list of questions to ask at the first meeting. In theory, no question is too silly to ask. Keep in mind, though, that you don't want to scare a lawyer out of representing you. Some questions you may want to ask include:
- How much in-court litigation experience does the lawyer have?
- Does the lawyer typically represent lenders or borrowers?
- How many cases has she handled?
- When was the last time the lawyer took a case to trial?
- How many of her cases have settled?
- What does the lawyer think about arbitration or mediation?
- What percentage of her practice is in the area of expertise you need?
- What problems does the lawyer foresee with your case?
If you're hiring a lawyer to negotiate with a bank or other financial institution, you want to ask similar questions about the lawyer's background:
- How many transactions of a similar nature has the lawyer handled?
- How much of his work is done in this area?
- What paperwork is involved and how long will it take to finalize?
- How would the lawyer go about handling your situation? What's the process?
- How long will it take to bring the matter to a conclusion?
Don't forget about money. Ask how the lawyer charges for his services:
- Know beforehand if the attorney you're meeting charges a fee for the first meeting or initial consultation. Many lawyers don't charge anything to talk to about a case for the first time, but some do. If the attorney you're meeting charges a fee, make sure to bring a credit card or check book to pay for the advice you got at the meeting
- Ask for a copy of the lawyer's retainer agreement and have it explained to you before you decide on hiring him or his law firm. You may end up paying a lot of money to the lawyer you hire, so make sure you understand what you're signing up for
- Will the lawyer handle the case personally or will it be passed on to another lawyer in the firm? If other attorneys may do some of the work, can you meet them? Are their fees separate from the lawyer you met?
- What's the lawyer's hourly rate?
- What's an estimate of fees for your case?
- Does the lawyer ever charge a flat fee? What about a contingency fee?
- Does the lawyer advance out-of-pocket costs?
- Do you have to pay a retainer fee up front? Is unused retainer money refunded to you?
Being well prepared to meet your attorney can have a big impact your case. The attorney can give you a good idea of what can be done in your case, and because you have the information needed, he can move quickly to get things started. Make the most of it and get a good start on solving your banking and finance problem.