During initial consultations, potential clients will often ask direct questions where they seek direct answers to their questions. They want to know what is going to happen. They will want you to predict the future. They want certainty.
Of course, giving certainty to a potential client is virtually impossible (and ordinarily inappropriate) during an initial meeting. How can an attorney know what a judge or jury is going to do after one meeting? How can an attorney know all the facts after one meeting? In some instances, the case might not even be filed yet. Discovery likely hasn’t been done. There may have been no depositions taken. Without the benefit of a crystal ball, how can an attorney give the certainty that the potential client wants?
The reality is that an attorney really cannot predict future events with any level of exact accuracy in the vast majority of situations during an initial meeting. From a practical standpoint, it’s inappropriate for an attorney to give legal advice before (a) the client has retained the law firm; and (b) until the attorney really feels comfortable that they have gathered enough facts. At the same time, if the attorney simply says carte blanche that they cannot answer the question, most of the potential clients will walk away unsatisfied and will not hire the law firm.
So, how does an attorney deal with these direct questions in an initial when they come? The answer is IRAC. IRAC stands for Issue, Rule, Analysis and Conclusion. Most attorneys learned about IRAC in law school or when they were studying for their bar examination. This same approach works during initial consultations.
So, when a client wants to know whether X, Y or Z will happen in their case, the best approach is to:
(a) State the Issue – Make sure you understand the question the individual is asking by repeating it back to them and asking for verification.
(b) State the Rule – Without giving legal advice, make sure you explain the rule (statute, case-law or otherwise) in a general sense.
(c) Give Some Analysis – Explain the pros and cons of the client’s case, in a general sense, based on the limited information you have.
(d) Give a Conclusion – Based on the limited facts you may have during the initial meeting, you can give some general conclusions about what you see based on what you know at that time. Of course, this has to be done with the disclaimer that things could change as more facts become evident, discovery is conducted, you get some feedback from the court along the way, etc.
Attorneys who give IRAC answers during initial consultations generally do very well. IRAC answers show that the attorney is willing to engage with the potential client without giving legal advice, stonewalling or naysaying. It also shows that the attorney is listening, knows the law and has the ability to analyze the case in a thoughtful manner.
If you have any thoughts, feel free to share them below.