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Hiring an Attorney - the Basics

Most people hope to never have to hire an attorney. However, legal issues arise all the time. You might need help with a will or been injured in a car accident. Hiring an attorney who has the training and experience to handle legal issues could save you valuable time and money down the road.  

Making Initial Contact

The attorney-client relationship, or the establishing of a possible case, starts with you, the client, making the decision to contact a specific attorney. There are a variety of ways to go about contacting an attorney - you can ask friends and family if they know any attorneys, do an internet search or contact your local bar association for a referral. Once you have a name or two, then it is time to reach out to the attorney, usually either via telephone or the web. 

In either case, your first contact will likely be with an administrative person who will ask you a few questions to get an idea as to why you are calling and possibly, if the law firm can help you. Sometimes clients reach out to law firms assuming that they handle all aspects of the law only to learn that they do not and that they would be better suited speaking to someone else. For example, if you were in a car accident but you called an attorney who deals in trusts and estates, that attorney would suggest that you contact a personal injury attorney.

The initial contact also allows an attorney to determine if there are any conflicts of interest. For example, if you call an attorney and say that you have a medical malpractice claim against Atrium Health University City Hospital in Charlotte, but someone at the firm is on the board of Atrium Health, there may be a conflict of interest. In some cases it may be possible to set up a “Chinese wall,” which is a term lawyers use to mean that they will keep the matter separate from the attorney who has the conflict. While that is not always possible, it is something that can be determined before setting up an initial meeting. In the case of a conflict, the law office will advise you that they cannot represent you and recommend that you speak with other counsel as soon as possible. They may even be able to refer you to another attorney who has the expertise you are looking for.  

Meeting with the Attorney and Making a Decision About Representation

The initial meeting with an attorney is, arguably, the most important first step that you will take in pursuing a case, or deciding not to pursue a case. The initial meeting is your opportunity to meet and assess the attorney as well as the attorney’s opportunity to meet and assess you. 

It is important that you come to the initial meeting prepared to discuss with the attorney the facts of your case and why you are seeking representation. For example, if you were injured in a car accident, the attorney will want to know the specifics of the accident, if there are any documents concerning the accident (police reports, witness statements), if there were any witnesses and what your injuries were. The attorney will also want to know what damages you are seeking.

Oftentimes, after listening to your story, and likely asking a lot of questions, the attorney will advise you as to whether or not he/she thinks you have a case worth pursuing and whether he/she is interested in pursuing it on your behalf. Sometimes the attorney will ask you to provide them with some additional information before they will commit to giving you advice or taking your case. For example, a car accident attorney may request witness information or a copy of your medical records. 

It is important that you feel comfortable with the attorney at this initial meeting. You are going to be working closely with that attorney until your case resolves. It is also important that you discuss with the attorney his/her expertise. As you are discussing your case, it may become obvious to the attorney that the case has issues that he/she is not familiar with and is therefore not the best attorney to take your case. That is good to know upfront. You want to hire someone who has experience with your particular issues. For example, maybe a loved one suffered a traumatic brain injury due to very specific and unique medical malpractice by a doctor. A visit to a medical malpractice attorney who does not have experience with traumatic brain injuries might not be your best bet. You should ask questions and learn this at the initial interview stage.  

It is important that you and your potential attorney discuss the attorney’s approach to cases and potential litigation. You need to understand upfront what different scenarios may be involved. For example, in a car accident case, the attorney may explain to you that his/her first step would be to contact the other side and attempt to negotiate a resolution. The attorney cannot tell you if your case will resolve or for how much, that is dependent on a number of factors, but he/she can tell you what the next steps would be if the case did not resolve through negotiation. 

If you decide that you do want the attorney to handle your case (and assuming the attorney agrees to represent you), the attorney will give you a written engagement letter or written contract.  That engagement letter will set forth the terms of the representation. It should explain the scope of the representation and set forth any costs and fees associated with the representation. It will also contain certain promises by you like your promise to cooperate with the attorney. Once the letter is signed, then your representation begins.  

Choosing the Right Charlotte, North Carolina Law Firm 

The Charlotte, NC lawyers at Rosensteel Fleishman are experienced attorneys. They are available to discuss your legal claims with you. Please contact our office at 704-714-1450. There is no fee for an initial consultation.

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