Preparing Potential Clients for Consultations
A potential client calls in. It sounds like they have a case that you believe you would be interested in handling. Are you and/or your staff adequately preparing your potential clients for their initial consultation? Frequently, initial consultations are done at low or no cost, so here are a few tips to make the most of that meeting.
This may seem like a bit of a no-brainer to mention, but you’ll need to obtain your client’s personal information. This will definitely include their name, address, telephone number, and email address. But consider the other, case-type specific information that you may need. This could mean contact information for other parties involved, social security number, names of treatment providers, personal assets involved in the legal matter, and so on. Be cognizant of the type of legal assistance the potential client is seeking, and what information you’ll need to see them through. It is not only a little embarrassing to have to continuously reach out to your client to obtain basic information about their case, but it is also a waste of valuable time.
Are you defending a client who has already been served with a summons and complaint? Is there a police report? A contract, will or prenuptial agreement? Your ability to assist your client and your overall strategy in their case will often hinge on the contents of these documents. Ask your client to bring what they can to your initial consultation. If you have all the necessary documents at the end of the consultation, you can get started on their case right away instead of standing by until they can get them to you.
Other parties involved. Attorneys have an obligation to screen for conflicts of interest. Rule 1.8 of the North Carolina Rule of Professional Conduct outlines avoiding conflicts of interest. Before you can do so, however, you need to know the players involved to determine if you represent or have represented a client whose interests are contrary to this potential clients’. By obtaining this information upfront, you can conduct a timely screen and inform the potential client if a conflict of interest will prevent you from handling their case.
Encourage your clients to come with a list of questions. Hopefully, once you’ve heard the potential client’s circumstances and determined that they have a legal issue which you’re willing and able to handle, you’ll have answered many of these questions simply by explaining the basis of their case and how you believe you could help. If questions remain, the client then has the opportunity to dig a little deeper about your experience with similar matters and your thoughts on how to best approach their case. This can prevent worried calls down the road from your client or wavering on the game plan going forward.
Your initial consultation is an important step in forging a relationship with a potential client. It allows both you and the client to determine if you could be compatible for a long-term working relationship. By preparing potential clients in advance for this meeting, it shows that you are committed to providing the best possible service to your clients from the outset of your relationship.
Jared Pierce hung his own shingle right out of law school and has spent every minute since then discovering the joys and difficulties of chasing success.