Knowing how to meet a potential client and conduct a successful initial consultation is crucial to the success of law firms. Many lawyers think that there is not a set way to approach an initial consultation and that every initial can be approached differently. But the reality is that while a lawyer must have the ability to adapt to a particular situation, there is a general order that most lawyers should follow and keep in mind in most first meetings.
Below is a general order that most lawyers should follow when meeting a potential client:
Listen to their story – After introductions have been made, and you have decided where you will conduct the initial consultation, a lawyer must listen to the story of the potential client. As much as possible, the lawyer should avoid interrupting and interjecting, but should instead just open their ears and listen to the circumstances that led to the potential client coming into the law office. If the potential client is not opening up initially, an attorney must ask what, where, when, why, and how questions to really begin that process.
Ask questions – After the potential client has gotten everything off their chest, and told the lawyer what they needed to hear, then and only then should the lawyer begin asking questions. The purpose of the questions should be to connect dots and fill in the blanks for portions of the story that were not clear.
Ask the client about their goals – After the potential client has told their story and fact-finding questions have been asked, it’s important for the lawyer to ask the potential client what their goals are in seeking legal representation. Many lawyers might assume what the potential client’s goals might be, but assumptions should never be made. Asking a potential client to put into their own words their goals is always critical.
Give a game-plan – After all of this has occurred, then and only then should the lawyer begin giving a general game plan based on what they’ve heard and based on the goals of the client. As much as possible, the goals should be clearly explained using non-legalese. It’s important as well to ask the potential client whether they understand what the game-plan would be and if they have questions. Of course, a disclaimer always has to be made that the game-plan could change as more facts are discovered and the case progresses.
Ask what the potential client knows about the lawyer or law firm – It is important to next move-on and asks the potential what they know about the lawyer or law firm. Many lawyers assume the potential clients know about the lawyer or law firm. But that is not always the case. Thus, a quick synopsis of the lawyer or law firm should help with a successful initial consultation.
Explain how the fees would work – After the lawyer has enough facts to intelligently know what kind of case they would be dealing with and the complexity, it’s important to talk about how fees would work. If it’s an hourly arrangement where an initial deposit/advanced fee/retainer would need to be paid, it’s important to explain what that amount would be. If the potential client would be billed hourly, giving the hourly rates are critical. And an explanation that the total costs could vary based on the length and complexity of the case is almost always important. On the other hand, if it is a flat-fee arrangement, an explanation of how this would work is important as well.
Ask if they would like to work with the lawyer or law firm – After all of the above has been covered, it is critically important that the lawyer ask the potential client if they would like to work with (hire) the lawyer or law firm. If they say they’d like to do so, then and only then should a fee agreement be presented to the potential client for their review. Of course, if the potential client has questions after reading the fee agreement, the lawyer should be prepared to answer them.
If most lawyers or law firms would follow this general order with potential clients, they would have a lot of success. Initial consultations that proceed in this order are natural. They allow the potential client to be heard first. It also allows the lawyer to understand the type of case and the complexity before quoting the fees they would charge.
If you have any thoughts on how to conduct a successful initial consultation, feel free to share them below.