1. Are you qualified to handle my case?
Ask the tough questions – what experience does the attorney have handling similar cases? Put the attorney’s name into Google. Does he or she have articles written on the topic? Are they Board Certified? Go to the Bar website and look up disciplinary history.
2. How do you expect to be paid?
How is your attorney going to be paid? Hourly, contingent, some type of success bonus with a lower hourly rate? You need to have that conversation early on so there are no surprises.
3. Who in your office will handle my case?
Who is actually going to do the work on any file? Is it going to be the attorney that you met with? Is it going to be one of his partners or associates? It’s critical that you have an understanding of who is going to be working on the file because the relationship with an attorney is very personal and you want to make sure that the attorney performing the work is up to your standards.
4. Are your fees negotiable?
Know in advance if there are ways the attorney’s fees can be paid. Will the attorney accept a payment plan; can some of the fees be recovered from the other side?
5. What costs will I incur to prosecute my case?
Costs can add up in a legal case: copies, scanning, transcripts, court reporters, expert witnesses, just to name a few. You need to have a clear understanding of the costs, not just the fees, that are associated with prosecuting or defending your case.
6. What information do you include on your invoices?
Bills from your attorney can be very difficult to understand. Ask for specific formats or information to be included in the bill. Some of the information you should expect to see on a bill would include: a description of the task performed, the date that task was performed, the time spent on that task, the cost for that task, and who performed the actual work.
7. What if I have a question about my bill?
Ask – and ask as often and with as many questions as you may have. There is a difference between becoming a nuisance and being diligent.
8. Do you have malpractice insurance?
This is a critical question you need to ask your attorney at the time you hire him or her. If something goes wrong in your case, and it’s the attorney’s fault, who’s going to pay? If the attorney doesn’t have malpractice insurance, it may be very difficult to obtain any recovery.
9. Will you follow my instructions?
You need to make sure that the attorney you select properly represents you both in and out of court, and is an advocate for your specific goals.
10. Can I terminate your services?
If it gets to the point where you need to make a change in legal counsel, how do you do it? First, you need to inform your attorney that you are unhappy with his/her services and that you are going to be transferring the file to another lawyer. More importantly, you need to be sure that you have copies of all of the records that you gave your attorney. Attorneys have a right to assert what is called a charging and retaining lien. As a result, if you don’t pay your lawyer, he/she may not need to give you back your file materials. If you keep copies of those records, then the retaining lien that your attorney files may have very little significance, and you new attorney can get right to work.