How do you know if a lawyer is right for you and your business and what can you expect? It obviously starts with the first meeting…
Before you meet with a lawyer, research your options. Ask for recommendations, research and find lawyers with the right expertise and experience, and consider a range of different options. Come up with a shortlist, and then talk to more than one lawyer– it is very difficult to discern who is right without comparing.
In that first meeting with a lawyer, you may have some ideas about what you would like to understand: will I win, how much it will cost, is there a way of resolving this dispute quickly, how long will it take, and what is expected of me?
If you aren’t sure of what you should expect to learn from the first meeting, it can be challenging to evaluate who is likely to be the most effective in helping you resolve your dispute and achieve the outcome you want, especially if each conversation is different.
The purpose of this guide is to give you some structure around how to approach this first meeting, providing you with a better understanding of your dispute and your objectives. In turn, this should help you make a more objective decision about whether litigation is viable and which lawyer will best represent you – positioning you for the best possible outcome in your dispute.
In this guide, we will step through:
Why is the first meeting important?
What to prepare
What to expect
What to learn
What are the next steps?
Why is the first meeting important?
This first meeting with a lawyer is commonly referred to as the ‘value conversation’. This is because both you and the lawyer will be trying to understand if value can be created through the relationship.
It must be a two-way process. You need to understand how the lawyer will add value, and the lawyer needs to understand if they can add value. This can only be achieved when the lawyer understands precisely what value means for you – and whether they will be able to meet your needs and expectations.
You may have difficulty understanding what to expect from the legal process or how to evaluate your legal position, but you will have an understanding of what you would like to achieve and how a lawyer can help – that’s your starting point.
There can be no meaningful relationship without value. The value conversation is the starting point for the lawyer to form a proposal for how they will deliver value in a way that positions you for the best possible outcome. Without an understanding of this value, how can you determine whether you have a basis to be confident that the lawyer will deliver, or evaluate whether the lawyer is delivering?
The following is a framework for this first meeting that allows you to more accurately ascertain whether you can have confidence that you will receive value:
What to prepare: Form ideas about important questions
You may expect that your lawyer needs to understand the intricacies of the situation you are faced with in order to provide accurate advice. However, in this initial meeting, it is more important for the lawyer to understand the outcome you are seeking.
It is the outcomes you seek that will first frame how to respond. You are not after a perfect legal solution, you are not after an academic answer to a legal question, you want to achieve a particular outcome. You want to know how realistic that is, what it will cost and how best to position yourself for that outcome – but you must start with what you are trying to achieve. You will not benefit from this first meeting if you haven’t first thought about your objectives. Your lawyer cannot possibly frame a valuable response if they have not taken the time to understand your objectives.
Litigation lawyers don’t provide the answer to a legal problem, they map out a pathway to best position you to achieve outcomes for objectives that are presented by you, not tell you what your objective should be as a consequence of the situation.
So, before the first meeting with a lawyer, ensure that you have some sense of what a reasonable outcome should be, independent from how you intend for the dispute to be resolved.
First, gauge your understanding of your dispute, your goals, and your expectations.
Think about possible answers to these questions. Just thoughts for now:
What problems are you trying to solve (your pain) and what results do you want to achieve (your gain)?
How are those problems defined and how would we recognise when the results are achieved?
What are the financial and intangible impacts of the problems and results?
Apart from you/your organisation, who or what else is affected by the current situation?
What has stopped you/your organisation from resolving these challenges before now?
When do you need the results in place?
What resources and people are you willing to commit to deliver the outcome?
What issues do you want addressed to feel comfortable and confident?
When will any key decisions need to happen? Who is involved in making these decisions?
Once you have put some thought into the above questions, try and summarise your understanding of the dispute by asking:
what did the other party do wrong (or what are they alleging you did wrong)?
what should have the other party done (or what are they alleging you should have done)?
what was the effect of the wrongdoing – what did it cause to happen?
what will fix it?
Bring your response to the meeting with your lawyer.
Taking the time to summarise your dispute in this way, using language that makes sense to you, not legal language, will then help you to understand the framing of the legal problem:
the conduct that created the dispute (the wrongful conduct);
the legal obligation that was breached;
the loss or suffering created by the wrongful conduct;
how the loss or suffering was caused by the wrongful conduct; and
the legal remedy that will fix the problem.
After years of experience in litigation, we have found that every commercial dispute can be understood in simple terms using these five elements. And the party who is best able to articulate the answers (or responses) to these elements in a clear and simple way, is more likely to succeed.
What to expect: Lots of questions, not answers
Culturally, we are tuned in to thinking that the lawyer should immediately know and give the answers. But whilst it is counterintuitive, the lawyer you want is the one that asks you the right questions, not tries to give you the answer straight away. Diagnosis before prescription!
You should expect to be challenged about what you are seeking and what the constraints, risks and parameters might be. This demonstrates that the lawyer applies rigour to their logic, which creates a clearer understanding of your objectives, and a more direct path to resolution.
Whereas, if you are meeting with a lawyer and they are immediately promising that they identify a cause of action, a series of steps to be taken, and the outcome that will follow, then it should sound alarm bells.
The professional that jumps to the solution will inevitably fail to understand the problem. It is a lack of understanding, and a lack of discipline around early assessment and analysis of risk, that commonly increases costs, prolongs disputes, and results in poor outcomes.
When the lawyer who is patient with their advice eventually does recommend a legal pathway, it will be evident that it is supported by their questioning, and the investigation that has followed.
If you want to get the most out of your relationship with your lawyer and indeed get the most effective outcome, then in that early stage, you do not want answers. You want lots of challenging questions.
What to learn: What is understood, What is missing
First, you want to leave this conversation with some confidence that the lawyer understands what you are trying to achieve. Effectively, you want to hear back what you are saying. This confirms that you have a common understanding. A clear articulation from the lawyer of what you are trying to achieve demonstrates understanding, empathy, and expertise.
Second, you want to understand what to expect. This includes an outline of the process to follow, what you should expect from the lawyer, and what they will require from you.
Third, you want a sense of what else you need to know. In other words, what has been revealed as the gaps in information. It would be disingenuous for a lawyer to suggest that everything is understood about how to proceed in just one conversation.
Rather, the first conversation is a springboard for assessing the universe of information and materials that are required, and whether the objectives can be obtained by a legal pathway. Understanding these knowledge gaps provides greater clarity around the reasonableness of the objective, as well as a basis for sourcing further information to strength it.
What are the next steps?
Before deciding whether to engage the lawyer, wait for the next communication. Only in the communications following this first conversation should you be provided with confidence that value can be added towards helping you achieve your objectives. As mentioned above, it should take time for the lawyer to provide this recommendation and the recommendation should give you confidence in the value the lawyer can deliver.
However, the conclusion from the first meeting may be that the lawyer is unable to add value in this instance. A firm, and particularly a professional, cannot have the expertise to deal with every matter, or every client. If this is the case, seek guidance on where or how you might find a more suitable fit.
Once confident that you understand the value that can be delivered, that should then start the conversation about the price you pay for the value that will be created. That’s a conversation, and a guide, for another time…
To begin the process of understanding if Aptum can provide value in your commercial dispute, contact us today.
Now that you have an understanding of how to navigate the first meeting with a lawyer, here are a few more articles to deepen your understanding of the litigation process: