By Kerri Quintal
Dolan Media Newswires
Hiring an attorney can be a stressful and time-consuming task for people who suddenly find themselves in need of legal representation. The following are my top seven items that I discuss during an interview with a potential client:
1) “There may be a more effective option to solving this issue than using the courts.”
If someone is suffering a mental disorder and may be threatening an attack, to cite one example, a restraining order might not be the best solution. A piece of paper may not protect a potential victim. You might want to investigate another route, such as social services.
2) “It’s not worth the cost of going to trial or using me as your attorney.”
What alternatives are there? Is it worth the cost of hiring an attorney and a court filing because your neighbor’s swing set blocks your view of the sunset? Always go over a cost-benefit analysis with a client before taking legal action.
3) “I really don’t know the answer to that.”
Lawyers fear saying this, for obvious reasons — they might not be hired as a consequence. However, not knowing the answer to everything is just human. And not knowing the answer right off the bat doesn’t mean that you can’t find the answer. If an attorney can say, “I don’t know the answer to that right now, but I can find out,” it’s an indication of honesty, not ignorance.
4) “I’m not sure I believe everything you are telling me.”
Being truthful is important, and the client needs to appreciate that straight away. Many people just don’t want to admit that they’ve done something wrong or tell the whole truth. However, if one tries to fool an attorney by leaving out the details or making up a story, things likely will go south in court. Make it clear that you are not here to judge, but to defend. Many people think if they can fool their attorney, they can fool a court or jury as well. That approach often backfires.
5) “That’s misguided (or stupid, wrong or idiotic).”
The truth can hurt, but attorneys likewise need to be honest. Clients pay their hard-earned money to lawyers and expect honesty about what needs to be done, even if it hurts.
6) “It is not a realistic fear.”
What issues are lurking under the surface? There are all sorts of issues that may or may not come up during a trial or legal action. Some fears are realistic, but many are not. Focus on the ones that are likely, not the ones that are very remote. Remember, the biggest monsters are always created in our minds.
7) “Are you sure you want to say that?”
A client needs to know the consequences of everything that is said in court. It’s not the dinner table. For example, in a custody case, does a client really want to expose his or her children to a spouse’s unfaithfulness in cross-examining? Is what a client hopes to win worth the pain to the kids? Cut through the anger and make sure your potential client enters into a matter with priorities in line.
Kerri Quintal is a family and juvenile lawyer in North Attleboro, Mass.