How to Prepare for Your First Client Meeting
If you're new to this whole lawyer thing, you'll soon have to tackle your first client meeting. Do you know how to prepare?
Probably not. Unless you've spent time meeting with people in other professional settings, the initial client meeting can be thrilling and nerve-racking for some attorneys. Fear not, it will get less scary with repetition. But in the meantime, here are some things that you should do at your very first initial client meeting.
It cannot be over-emphasized. Many pitfalls along the way to success can be mitigated with proper preparation. By the time your first client meeting arrives, you should already have at least a notion of what area of law the potential client's case will implicate. Is it employment? Is it personal injury? Check your relevant state and municipal laws. Preparation can keep you from being caught off guard.
It can also help your client -- and that's what the primary goal ought to be. You should have a set of prepared questions to ask them ready to go. Stick to the facts of what happened to them and don't let them stray too far from the point. Half the time, clients want their lawyers to be their therapists. Don't let them do that. Get to the facts and the real heart of the issue.
2. Maintain Professionalism
We can't think of a single attorney who has ever proclaimed, "Boy, my job sure is stress free!" Everybody knows it: stress causes you to act and say things you would not normally say with a cooler head. Before you enter into an initial client meeting, find your balanced place again.
At the same time, you don't want to be overly relaxed with your client. If you do, you'll be turning into their buddy. And once you're their buddy, they'll have difficulty seeing you as anything else. More importantly, buddies don't pay their buddies for favors.
3. Be Punctual
Depending on whether or not you've explained to the client that you're charging them for your time, you should always strive to be punctual -- if not for you, then for the sake of the profession. Doctors and lawyers get a terrible rap for being late and for not returning calls or other communications. At several hundred dollars per hour for work, people expect their lawyer to be on time. Of course, at that price, many clients do not return the same courtesy, but alas, that's part of the life.
4. Manage Client Expectations
Many attorneys have dealt with clients who were absolutely after the other side's blood. With these clients, you would do well to rein in expectations and to bring them back down to earth. Some clients want the moon. They can't have the moon, though they don't know it. Let them know this. The sooner they taste reality, the better it will be for them. Fantasies should be dispelled in the first initial client interview if possible.
In other cases, many clients are unaware that they could potentially have a huge case on their hands. If that's the case, the better strategy is to inform the client that their case is good and to offer to take the case on contingency. If the case is really slam dunk, you'll take a good percentage, your client will be happy, and you'll end up looking like a genius.
5. End With Good Followup
After you've covered all your important questions and points, end with this closer: "Are there any other facts that I should know about? Really think."
You would be surprised the number of times new facts suddenly start popping out of the woodwork after this line.
Also, always keep in mind the most important aspect of the attorney-client relationship: Trust.
Attorney-client privilege and confidentiality is aimed completely at preserving that sacred relationship shared between the lawyer and the client. It's all about trust. You must make it absolutely clear to clients that you are there in the capacity of a lawyer who must know everything -- warts and all. You can't do your job without information, even the really embarrassing stuff. This is why you must followup with one last final squeeze for information.
- Guidelines for Success at Initial Client Meetings (American Bar Association)
- 5 Ways to Help Sign a Client at the Initial Consultation (FindLaw's Strategist)
- How to Kick a Client Out of Your Office (FindLaw's Strategist)
- Making a Good Impression With Clients: 3 Simple Tips (FindLaw's Strategist)
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