As a private firm with a civil litigation practice in a mid-sized town, we receive inquiries from potential clients looking for information and wondering if they “have a case.” We are often surprised by the expectations of many of these individuals, including the assumption that a retainer or initial consulting fee will not be charged.
An attorney’s inventory consists of his/her time, expertise and judgment. An evaluation of a case draws on all three, and fair compensation is appropriate. Consulting and retaining an attorney requires a substantial emotional and financial commitment.
Since a litigation practice inherently involves helping clients to resolve disputes or controversies, the stress level is always high, even before the first introduction. We found that the following suggestions can help both potential clients and attorneys (no matter what the size of the firm) navigate through the beginning of the process.
Communication is key. An important element to a successful outcome is the attorney - client relationship and the sharing of knowledge. Be sure you are comfortable with one another. Both parties should be reasonably available.
Be realistic. Both client and attorney need to be sensible about whether a case is viable. Many potential litigants mistakenly believe that hiring a lawyer will easily resolve their problems. Clients should also understand the potential extent of time (and inherent costs) for litigation.
Be wary. Litigation is inherently risky. Any attorney who guarantees a particular result should be avoided.
Agreements should be formal. The attorney’s terms of representations should be in writing and explained to a client’s understanding and satisfaction. Be honest and make sure each party knows what is expected of the other.
Fee arrangements should be written out in detail and signed by both parties.
Clients have work to do, too. Clients are responsible for gathering relevant materials in a timely manner.
Experience counts. Make sure that the firm or attorney you are considering is experienced in the area in which you are dealing.
Be open to a fair settlement. The goal should be a satisfactory, reasonably economical resolution of the dispute. “Go for broke” -- and you just might get there.