Hiring a lawyer is a bit like hiring a therapist; you are choosing a professional to assist you through a very personal, and often quite stressful, process. As a result, not every lawyer is going to be the right fit for each client. Beyond the basic considerations (e.g. you probably shouldn’t hire a criminal defence lawyer to help with your divorce), it is super important to find a lawyer who you trust and who is the right fit for you, as your lawyer will generally be the driving force behind each decision made on your file.
The lawyer-client relationship is like any other relationship, in that it helps to know what you’re getting yourself into upfront. One of the best ways to find the right lawyer for you is by capitalizing on your initial consult. Here are some tips to help make the most out of your first meeting with a lawyer:
Come Prepared. The number one easiest way to maximize your initial consult is to bring all relevant documents with you (particularly any existing court documents, written agreements, or financial disclosure), and to prepare your questions in advance. It’s often joked that a lawyer’s favourite answer to any question is “it depends”, but it is next to impossible for a lawyer to give a straightforward or definitive answer to your questions if there are holes in the information they have to work with.
Coming to your initial consult with all of the relevant documents and details will also help your lawyer come up with a comprehensive plan on how to move your matter forward, which will then help you to determine if that lawyer is someone you want to work with.
Be Upfront About Expectations. It will be difficult for you to determine whether a lawyer is the right fit for you, or for the lawyer to provide you with clear and accurate answers, if you aren’t upfront about your expectations. For example, if you are conflict-adverse, you are not going to find success with a lawyer whose first answer to every problem is to make a court application. Don’t be afraid to ask your lawyer what their standard practice is for addressing issues that specifically relate to your matter.
Likewise, if your concern is finding a lawyer who has experience with your culture, religion, gender, sexuality, etc., don’t be shy about questioning the lawyer’s history with similar clients. Always keep in mind that a lawyer may still be a good fit for you if you like their personality and style of practice, even if they don’t have the exact experience you’re looking for. However, if that experience is crucial for you, a good lawyer will be honest about their experience and may be able to refer you to another lawyer who would be a better fit.
Be Wary of Promises. The law is open to wide interpretation (if it wasn’t, you probably wouldn’t need a lawyer in the first place). What this means, though, is that a lawyer cannot ever guarantee a certain result on your file. While it’s important to find a lawyer who you trust and who you can confidently say is in your corner, you should be wary of any lawyer who promises that they can achieve a particular outcome. There is no such thing as a slam dunk in the law.
Respect the Lawyer’s Assessment. Sometimes, you may really like a lawyer and think they would be a good fit for your case, but the lawyer disagrees and is not willing to take on your file. This could happen for a myriad of reasons. For example, if your matter has urgent deadlines and the lawyer doesn’t have the capacity to take on a rush file at that time. The lawyer may also believe that they don’t have the necessary experience to help you, or that they would not be able to deliver the result you’re looking for (see 2 and 3 above).
Lawyers generally have a good understanding of whether they will be the right fit for a client, so regardless of the reason, know that they’re doing it with your best interests in mind.
Trust Your Instincts. At the end of the day, the most important thing is feeling like you’ve made the right decision and hired the right lawyer for you. If your gut is telling you that a lawyer isn’t right for you, then you probably shouldn’t hire them, no matter how good they seem on paper. This also extends to a lawyer’s support staff; even if you like a lawyer, it may not be worth hiring them if talking with their assistant always leaves you feeling confused or like an annoyance. It’s far easier to move on at the beginning of the legal process, than having to switch lawyers partway through.
Keep in mind that the right lawyer for you may not be the first lawyer you talk with, or you may need to take a day or two after a consultation to think about whether you want to go forward with a retainer. Hiring a lawyer is a big decision, and you should take whatever time you require in order to make the right decision for you.
Please note that nothing in this blog post constitutes legal advice, and no lawyer-client relationship is created as a result of reading this post. This blog is for general information purposes only. You should consult with a lawyer about your specific circumstances before relying on any of the information contained in this blog post.