There’s a lot that goes into trying to find the person that you can work with so it will be a good and successful fit. Certainly, one of the most important things to explore when you’re sitting down with someone in that initial meeting and you’re considering hiring someone to represent you is the issue of communication. How does the lawyer like to communicate? How are you comfortable communicating, is that by text message, email, telephone, or letter? How is the communication going to be most efficiently handled?
What kind of hours is the lawyer available? If the lawyer is in court all day long and doesn’t get back to his or her office until five in the evening, when is it going to be most opportune to communicate with the lawyer? You want to know how many cases they’re involved in, how many cases they’ve handled that are similar to some of the issues that are presented in your case, and what the outcome was in those cases. I think you want to know whether or not the lawyer’s been successful in the past in navigating issues that are similar to yours.
One thing that I like to encourage people to do when it looks like a case that is going to be highly contested is encourage them to come to court when I’m in a hearing or presenting a motion and see how I do it. See how my style is, see if it’s something that you’re going to be comfortable with. I’ll typically give people a couple of opportunities or days when I know I’m going to be arguing something.
I like to introduce prospective clients to the staff. They won’t just be working with me, they’ll be working with a paralegal, maybe some of the other lawyers here if we know upfront that it’s going to be a situation where they’re going to have contact with a number of people in the office. I like to introduce them around. It can help put a face with a name and you know whether or not upfront the staff is a staff that you’re going to be comfortable with.
You need to be able to explain what your expectations are, the lawyers are going to have expectations of the prospective client as well. How many times do you think you’re going to have to go to court, what kind of involvement is the client going to have to have from an hourly standpoint? Is the client going to be active in managing the case? You want to know if the lawyer’s politically active and how does that affect the lawyer’s ability to interact with the judge that your case might be assigned to?
One question I really appreciate is,“how long do you think this is going to take?”
How long is my divorce going to last? Do you think I can get divorced this year? Do you think that if we get done by the end of the year, I’ll be able to file a separate tax return than my spouse? Those are questions that we hear everyday. Those are topics right at the front of what people are thinking about when they come into to interview a prospective lawyer.
Chuck Roberts is family lawyer at Momkus McCluskey Roberts, LLC, one of the largest law firms in DuPage County, Illinois.