The narrator of the 1948 detective movie, Naked City, gave this vivid description of the homicide detective’s painstaking investigative method:
An investigation for murder is under way now in the city of New York. It will advance methodically, by trial and error, by leg and brain work, by asking a thousand questions to get one answer. Ever look for a needle in a dark house? You can find it -- if you're patient enough. Just get down on your knees, examine every inch of every floor of every room -- and you'll find it.
A client and lawyer usually spend most of their initial meeting exchanging detailed information. When a well prepared client meets a skillful lawyer, the client and lawyer work together very productively and finish the initial meeting with clear expectations of possible outcomes and their responsibilities to each other. We are spotlighting the importance of asking good questions about legal services in this article and our next article. This week, we are focusing on questions that a client should expect from a lawyer in an initial meeting.
The best lawyers ask many questions in an initial meeting, with the types of questions varying with the client’s needs in each kind of case or project. These are some sample questions:
• Who, if anyone, might oppose or disagree with what the client’s objectives?
• Who is the client? Is it the person that is meeting with the lawyer, another person, or are multiple people seeking the lawyer’s advice or representation?
• What happened or failed to happen that made the client want to contact the lawyer?
• When did the client first know about that event or circumstance?
• What does the client want to know about the subject of the initial meeting?
• What is each bad thing for which the client seeks the lawyer’s help to avoid?
• What is each good thing for which the client seeks the lawyer’s help to achieve?
• Who was present at the time or aware of the event or circumstance?
• What has the client done about the matter before meeting with the lawyer?
• Has the client discussed the matter with another lawyer? If so, what happened in that discussion?
• What documents or records can the client provide to the lawyer about the matter?
• What documents or records may exist about the matter that the client does not possess?
• Who else knows things, or possess documents or records about the matter?
• Who might know something about the matter that the client does not know, and what might that person know?
• What embarrassing or potentially incriminating information about the client, the client’s family, or anyone else involved in the matter does the client not want anyone to know?
• What embarrassing or potentially incriminating information does the client know about any other person involved in the matter?
• If other lawyers are involved, what are the lawyers’ names and contact information, and what have the other lawyers done?
• How does the client expect to pay the lawyer’s fees and expenses in the matter?
• If the lawyer cannot give a firm estimate of fees and expenses initially, what are the client’s budget limits for the representation?
• With whom may the lawyer discuss the matter and how may the lawyer contact them?
• With whom does the client not want the lawyer to discuss the matter and what is their contact information?
• Of what important dates or deadlines should the lawyer be aware?
• What are the best times and ways for the lawyer to contact the client?
• When will the client be unavailable for meetings or phone conversations?
Our next article will describe how to ask good questions in an initial meeting with a lawyer.
Jeff R. Hawkins and Jennifer J. Hawkins are Trust & Estate Specialty Board Certified Indiana Trust & Estate Lawyers and active members of the Indiana State Bar Association and National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. Both lawyers are admitted to practice law in Indiana, and Jeff Hawkins is admitted to practice law in Illinois. Jeff is also a registered civil mediator, a Fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel, the American Bar Foundation, and the Indiana Bar Foundation; and he was the 2014-15 President of the Indiana State Bar Association.
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