Chapter 11: Questions You Should Ask a Prospective Attorney

Now that you know how to find an attorney, what to look for in a prospective attorney, and your rights with regard to your relationship with the attorney, what exactly will you say or ask when you actually sit down with a real live lawyer for the first time? Regardless of what type of law a prospective attorney practices, there are questions that you can and should ask any lawyer during a lawyer interview before you decide who to hire. We hope the following questions will help you get started and will spark some thinking on your part as to what you are looking for and what you expect to achieve by pursuing legal action. Practice-specific legal questions are provided as well.

Attorney Interview Questions:

General Experience/Qualifications

  • What law school did you graduate from and when?
  • What kinds of law have you practiced in your career? Have you done trial work?
  • Where and in what courts are you licensed to practice law?
  • Have you ever been the subject of professional discipline? If so, for when and for what?
  • Do you have malpractice insurance?
  • Describe your experience in handling cases like mine.
  • - How much of that experience was in the last two years?
    - What were the outcomes of those cases?
  • What percentage of your cases are similar to mine?
  • Is this a specialized matter, and, if so, are you a specialist in this area?
    - Do you have any specialist certification?
    - Have you published anything or taught in this specialized area?
  • How long have you been practicing in this area of law?
  • Can you provide references from other clients?
  • What’s your current caseload? Do you have large trials scheduled over the next few months?
  • Where does my matter come in with your priorities?
  • What is the size of your firm?
    - Number of attorneys
    - Number of paralegals
  • Will you be working on my case, and, if so, will you be the only one working on it?
  • If associate attorneys and paralegals will be working on it, what is their experience and background? Can I meet them?
  • What would you do and what would the associate and/or paralegal do in my case?
    - If there’s a trial, who will conduct it?
    - Who will do discovery?
    - Who will draft papers?
  • Can I see a copy of the firm’s retainer agreement?

Handling Your Case

  • What information do I need to bring to my interview?
  • What law is relevant to my case?
  • How will you develop a legal strategy for my case? Will I have input in decisions concerning that strategy?
  • What steps will you take to handle my matter?
    - What can I expect to happen over the next few weeks, months?
    - How long will it take to resolve this case?
  • Are there other possible approaches to handling my case?
    - What are they?
    - What are the advantages and disadvantages of each approach?
  • Based on your experience, what is the possibility of a positive outcome in my case? What problems do you anticipate arising in my case?
  • What are the chances that I will lose the case?
    - What are the consequences of failure?
    - What is my potential liability if the other party is successful?
  • What is the range of possible outcomes in the case?
  • What would my responsibilities be in the case?
    - Are there things I can do to improve my situation?
    - Are there deadlines I should know about?
  • What are the chances that we could settle this case before trial?
  • Are there any alternatives to what you have already recommended, such as mediation,
  • arbitration, or handling the matter on my own?
  • If you can’t handle my case, can you recommend someone who can?

Fees/Expenses

  • Is there a fee for the first consultation and if so, how much is it?
  • What kind of fee do you charge in cases like mine?
    - Hourly fees:
    -- What is your hourly rate?
    -- What is the hourly rate of associate attorneys or paralegals who will be working on my case?
    -- If more than one attorney is working on my case at the same time, how will I be billed?
    -- How will I be billed during a trial?
    -- How many hours do you think my case will take?
    -- What happens if my case takes much longer than you estimate?
    -- Are expenses extra, and, if so, what expenses do you anticipate?
    - Fixed or flat fees:
    -- Does the fee include expenses? If not, what expenses do you anticipate?
    -- What happens if my case takes more or less time than you expect?
    - Contingent fees:
    -- What percentage of the recovery do you take as your fee? Is that the same percentage as other attorneys in town?
    -- How much do you estimate I could recover?
    -- Would expenses be deducted from my recovery? If so, what expenses do you anticipate?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of each kind of fee?
  • Can we agree to some other fee agreement such as an hourly fee with a cut-off point, a contingent fee with a sliding scale or that has a beginning or cut-off point, or some combination of fee types?
  • Do you have a minimum unit of time that you bill?
  • Will our fee agreement be in writing?
  • What costs and expenses aside from legal fees do you anticipate in this case?
    - How will these costs be calculated, for example, what do you charge for copying, phone calls, faxes (incoming and outgoing), and so on?
    - Will all information about costs be included in our retainer agreement?
  • How much and how often will I be billed?
  • What is your general estimate of how much all this will cost me?
  • Do I have to pay money up front (a retainer), and, if so, how much?
    - What happens when the retainer has been used?
    - What happens if I get behind in payments?

Communications/Handling of Case/Competence

  • How will we communicate about my case?
    - Should I telephone you? Email you?
    - Should I call or email someone else?
    - When should I call?
    - How will you respond to my questions?
  • Will you give me periodic reports on my case?
    - How will you give them?
    - How often?
  • Will you notify me immediately if something important happens?
  • Will I be informed of all developments?
  • Will I get copies of all letters, emails, faxes, legal papers, and other documents in my case?

Confidentiality

  • Will you keep everything you learn about me or about my case confidential?
  • What is the difference between confidentiality and the attorney-client privilege?
    - What are my rights under confidentiality?
    - What are my rights under the attorney-client privilege?
  • Does confidentiality apply to what you learn from evidence and witnesses in the case?
  • Do you think that in this case you will be required to disclose anything:
    -to a court or in other legal proceedings?
    -to someone else because the law requires certain disclosures?
  • Will you seek my consent before you disclose confidential information?

Conflicts of Interest

  • Have you checked your own situation and that of your law firm to make sure there are no conflicts of interest in my case?
  • Do you or any attorneys in your firm have personal conflicts that might influence the way you represent me in this case?
  • Have you or any attorney in this firm ever represented the other party (or parties) in this case on a similar matter?
  • Are there any current clients of your firm whose interests might conflict with mine in this case?
  • Are there any former clients of the firm whose interests might influence how you represent me in this case?
  • If the answer to questions 2–5 is yes, do you feel you can ethically and fairly represent me in this case?

Lawyer Interview Questions for Specific Practice Areas:

In addition to the general questions provided above, link to these interview questions tailored to specific practice areas.

Aviation & Maritime
Bankruptcy
Car Accidents
Divorce
Drug Litigation
DUI/DWI
Elder Law
Employment Law
Estate Planning
Immigration Law
Insurance
Medical Malpractice
Nursing Home Abuse
Personal Injury Law

Introduction: How to Hire a Lawyer
Chapter 1: Which Lawyer is Right for the Job?
Chapter 2: Attorney Fees
Chapter 3: Attorney Fee Agreements and Bills
Chapter 4: Low and No-Cost Options for Legal Representation
Chapter 5: The Attorney-Client Relationship
Chapter 6: Lawyers and Communication
Chapter 7: Lawyers and Competence
Chapter 8: Lawyers and Confidentiality
Chapter 9: Lawyers and Conflicts of Interest
Chapter 10: Mad at Your Lawyer?
Chapter 11: Questions You Should Ask a Prospective Attorney