How to prepare for a lawyer consultation

Finding the right lawyer for your case requires you to ask the right questions. Learn what you can ask before hiring an attorney to ensure you are choosing the right advocate for your case.

by Brette Sember, J.D.
updated May 11, 2023 ·  5min read

When you need to hire an attorney for legal services, you want to be sure to hire the right person for your case. Most lawyers offer a free consultation so that you have a chance to determine if he or she is the right person for you. Going to the first meeting with some simple questions can help you ensure you find the right person for the legal help you need. You will not get much legal advice at this consult since it is not meant to resolve your legal question, but is instead an opportunity to determine if you wish to hire this attorney.

Finding the right attorney

Before you can have an attorney consultation, you need to find a lawyer who might be a good fit. Look for an attorney who focuses his or her practice on your type of legal question, or someone who lists this as a type of law they regularly practice. Your local bar association may have a referral program. If you have used an attorney in the past for something else, ask him or her for a referral. It is also helpful to ask family and friends for names.

Background knowledge

When you have your lawyer consultation, one of your primary questions will be about the attorney’s background. Some people feel intimidated asking about this, but the truth is you are going to pay a lot of money for services. You wouldn’t hire an electrician who had never done wiring, so it is wise to ask questions about the attorney’s experience. You can find out basics on the firm’s web site before the appointment, which will save you time. You may want to ask how many of this type of case the attorney has handled.

For example, how many divorces has this lawyer done in the past year? A lawyer who has done one or two is not very experienced. You may wish to ask how long the attorney has been practicing law and how long he or she has practiced in your county or area, which will give you an idea how familiar the lawyer is with local judges and procedures. It is generally not very helpful to ask where the attorney went to law school since you can find this information online, and it often tells you nothing useful anyhow. Focus instead on experience with your type of case. You can also ask about the average verdict the lawyer has obtained in your type of case.

The legal plan

An important question to ask a lawyer is what the strategy for your case will be and the outcome the lawyer expects. You’ll want to get details on what kind of procedures to expect. Ask how long it will take for the entire case to be resolved. Discuss the legal strategies that will be used. Find out if your attorney will attempt to settle and if mediation or arbitration are options. Think about the answers and if you are comfortable with them. Maybe you want to avoid a trial at all costs but your attorney really wants to just go to trial, or perhaps you have no intention of settling and want your day in court. It is important that your lawyer’s strategy lines up with your needs. 

Working with your attorney

Another important component of selecting an attorney is finding out how the firm will handle and manage your case. In large firms, it is common for other attorneys to work on the case, so the people actually doing the work on your case might not be the person you first meet with. Most attorneys have paralegals or legal assistants who handle much of the paperwork and scheduling, so you will want to know who the contact person will be for your case. You should also find out how often you can expect to hear from the lawyer.

If you have legal questions, how soon will you hear back if you call or email? How often will the lawyer or firm reach out to you with updates? What do you do if something comes up after hours? What information and material do you need to supply to the attorney to make the case go smoothly?

While you are in the office, look around and get a sense as to whether this is a person or firm you want to work with. Are people friendly? Are they patient with your questions? Do you feel that your case is important to them? If not, you might want to go someplace else.

Money matters

Another important component of your case is the cost. Legal fees can be complex, so you will want to get details at your initial consultation. If different people will be working on your case (for example, a partner, associate, paralegal, and legal assistant) they all bill at different rates, so find out what those are.

Most attorneys ask for a retainer, which is an amount of money up front. They then bill at an hourly rate against that money. You will owe whatever charges are not covered by the retainer. Ask how much of a retainer is required, what the estimated total fee is, how the office will bill you and if there are payment plans or other options available to you. Don’t forget to ask about court fees which are charged in addition to the lawyer’s rates. Find out what you can do to keep your total bill down (for example, providing needed financial documentation in your case will save the paralegal from having to hunt it down, or not calling for an update every three days).

Meeting with a lawyer for an initial consultation is generally not a chance to ask legal questions that are in depth, but is instead an opportunity to get a sense as to whether this lawyer is the right one to handle your case. Use this meeting to help you decide which lawyer will be the best one for your case.

Asking an independent attorney in-depth legal questions is affordable and easy with LegalZoom’s legal plan. You can see reviews of attorneys from clients like you, then use our website to set up a consultation with an attorney of your choice. If you need to retain the attorney for additional services, you’ll get a discount on most of their hourly fees. If you're already a LegalZoom legal plan member, schedule a consultation with your independent attorney today.

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Brette Sember, J.D.

About the Author

Brette Sember, J.D.

Brette Sember, J.D., practiced law in New York, including divorce, mediation, family law, adoption, probate and estates,… Read more

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of the author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.