Bring All of the Relevant Documents
And other tips for your first meeting with a business attorney in Illinois
on December 2, 2020
Updated on April 21, 2022
Even though a sizeable proportion business owners has experience working with attorneys, there will also be a select few who have not. No matter the reason you’re seeking legal advice, we spoke with David B. Sosin—a business attorney and former president of the Illinois State Bar Association—to get general tips for those meeting with an attorney for the first time.
What’s the main piece of advice you’d give a client meeting with any attorney for the first time?
Be prepared—that’s the most important thing. Bring all of the relevant documents that you think are relevant. Bring any agreements, bring contact information for any people that the lawyer would need to speak to. Be prepared to give enough time to let the lawyer understand everything they need to know about the case. In general, I think a lot of lawyers are going to tell their clients ahead of time what they need, give them a checklist or something.
What’s the best way to communicate with an attorney?
Don’t tell the lawyer what you think they want to hear, but tell them the complete and best version of what they need to know. Tell them the bad stuff, not just the good stuff. It’s like going to your doctor: When he asks you how much you weigh? He’s going to put you on the scale.
I would also ask a lawyer, “How do you communicate with your clients? And how often do you communicate with your clients? And by what means?” For younger people, it’s email. If you’ve got a 75-year-old client that doesn’t have a computer—or is not good at it—you need somebody who understands they’ve got to communicate with people of all ages.
Are there any red flags a potential client should look out for?
Obviously, the world is full of a lot of personalities. From the client’s point of view, if they feel comfortable with what the lawyer is telling them, and the lawyer is being objective and not merely telling them what they need to hear, [that’s good].
Look at the lawyer’s office, and how it’s kept. If you walk into the office and there’s files everywhere and the desk is full of papers—to me, that’s a red flag. It would be to me. Then, you need to look at the technology the lawyer employs. Are they writing on the back of an envelope? Do they have a legal pad? Or are they taking notes on a laptop? It’s also important to look at what the lawyer has in front of them and whether they have a checklist, a questionnaire, a series of documents.
What about billing?
[Find out] if the lawyer is going to follow up with an engagement letter that sets forth how they’re going to bill you, and when they’re going to bill you. It’s hard, in many cases to give a fee, but you do want some kind of budget—especially in litigation. “How much is it going to cost to get to the point where we’re communicating? How much will it cost to get to the pleading stage? If we end up with discovery? Very few lawyers are going to say, “We’ll do your lawsuit for X.” But you need to know if it’s going to be 5,000 or 50,000 or 500,000. You better know that before you get into it.
If you’re a business owner in need of legal advice, reach out to an experienced business & corporate attorney in Illinois. For more information on this area of the law, see our overviews of business organizations and business and corporate law.