There are a lot of things that I like to cover in a first client interview. As a board stroke, the first thing I like to go over with clients is determining what the current status quo is. This is important for a number of reasons, but primarily because a judge’s predisposition at a temporary order hearing is typically to maintain permanency for children and not to rock the boat. The other reason is to discuss what with my client what things are good about the status quo, and what things we will be looking to see if we can modify, either via agreement or via judicial intervention.
I typically try to get a feel for my client as a person as well. Is this a person who is motivated by rationality and finances? Are they motivated by emotion? Some combination?
This determination has relevance as to what stance is taken with opposing counsel and the bench, as I try to tailor my own persona to how my client would wish to be perceived to a certain extent. It also has relevance to things I would ask for, as well as my own personal dealings with my client. Do they need me to fulfill the counselor part of my job as well? Would they prefer I stick to strictly legal work?
Obviously, finances need to be discussed as well. Typically, I have gone over this with a client somewhat prior to a first interview, but making sure to get a retainer that is reasonable based on the facts of the case is important.
The most important thing, though, that I utilize the first client interview for, is to ensure that both myself and my client are ON THE SAME PAGE. I find most issues that people have with their attorneys stems from a lack of communication, or a mis-communication. It is vital to me to have realistic expectations and to have my clients understand that as well. It would be easy to simply promise clients whatever they wanted. The problem with that, is that when the verdict comes in, and its less than your client expects, they will blame you as their attorney, especially if you gave them unreasonably high hopes. It seems much better practice in my opinion to be up front with clients, and if they prefer to utilize the services of a different attorney, they are free to do so, and that attorney can deal with the unhappy client afterwards.
Also on the communication note is going over what level of communication the client expects from me. Do they want me to let them initiate phone calls? Do they expect me to check up with them on a routine basis and give them a state of the union? Often these expectations are unspoken, and while this is nobody in particular’s fault, it can easily be avoided by a 30 second conversation up front.
Ultimately, the first interview in a family law case is the beginning of what may be a lengthy relationship depending on the specific case, so it is important to get off on the right foot, and ensure that both parties are happy with the relationship.
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