The first meeting with the lawyer: What should I know? What Should I do? | Criminal Defence Articles by Tushar K. Pain

So you’ve found the right lawyer. What now?

The first step is to contact the lawyer. This can be done by telephone or, in some cases, by e-mail. Contact by telephone is usually better as it gives you the added comfort and insight that comes with hearing a human voice on the other end of the phone and speaking to someone directly. Don’t be afraid to call. Lawyers are in the business of helping people. They expect to be called. They want to be called.

Criminal defence lawyers are often in court during the day and return calls during the late afternoon or evening. Don’t be afraid to leave a detailed message if the lawyer is not in the office when you call. Leave your name, phone number and a time when you can be reached. If you are leaving a message on an answering system, be sure to state your name and number clearly so that the lawyer knows where to reach you and who to ask for. Too many times I have been unable to return calls because I have not been able to make out either the name of the person calling or the phone number I am to call. An organized lawyer will call you back promptly.

During the phone call you should introduce yourself by stating at least your first name and give a brief description of your situation. A lawyer will typically want to know if you’ve been charged with a criminal offence, what you’ve been charged with, when you were charged, when and where you must appear for court, and if you already have a lawyer. As anxious as you might be, this is not the appropriate time to get into the details of your case and get an opinion about what is likely to happen. That comes later. At this stage, you are gathering some very basic information from the lawyer: Do you practice in this area of law? Do you practice in the jurisdiction where I must appear? Do you think you can help me? Are you available to take on my case? What is the next step? Apart from this, you are also getting a feel for whether you might want to hire this lawyer. Was the lawyer attentive or dismissive of my call? Was the lawyer polite or rude on the phone? Do I feel comforted by having spoken with this lawyer? If the conversation leaves you feeling positive, then the next step is to arrange a full consultation.

When you book your meeting, make sure you’ve scheduled it so that you have left yourself enough time to prepare for the consultation, to arrive on time, and to attend the meeting for as long as required without being distracted. I advise my clients that in preparation for the meeting they should type out (or write out, if they don’t have access to a computer) all of the details surrounding the event. Typing is preferable as it allows you to easily revise your document, if needed.

The document should state at the top, “Private & Confidential: To My Lawyer”. This will maintain privilege over the contents and prevent the document from being used against you, should it fall into unintended hands. I encourage my clients to include as much detail as possible. If the offence is alleged to have been committed against someone with whom you have (or had) a relationship, then include any relevant history with that person. If you’re not sure whether you should include a particular detail, it is better to put it in.

There are two purposes to this exercise: The first is to provide as much detail as you can to your lawyer. The more information you can provide to your lawyer, the better advice he or she will be able to give you. The second purpose is to preserve your memory of the event. If your case goes to trial at some point in the future (sometimes a year or longer), this document will allow you to refresh your memory in preparation for your trial.

Once you have completed this exercise, create a second document (Again, the document should state at the top, “Private & Confidential: To My Lawyer”.) with a list of all the questions you want to ask your lawyer. I encourage my clients to do this because when they show up, they have so much racing through their minds and they inevitably forget a burning question they had wanted to ask.

Along with your write up, bring all documentation given to you by the police, the courts, and anyone else involved in the case for the lawyer to review. It is best to gather all these materials and place them together in an envelope or folder so that you don’t forget anything and so that they stay private. Double-check your documents before heading to your lawyer’s office.

During the meeting, the lawyer should be aiming to understand two things before giving any advice; who you are and the story behind the charge. The lawyer needs to know who you are or what your background is in order to understand and appreciate your concerns. The lawyer needs to know the story behind the charge in order to assess the nature of the evidence against you. It is only after this that the lawyer can outline your options and propose a potential course of action.

I like to start my meetings by asking some basic background questions relating to family status, educational background, employment, etc. I find that these easy-to-answer questions create a smooth start to the meeting and help create a relaxed atmosphere. The answers to the questions, of course, bring me some insight as to what the client’s concerns might be. Following this, we go through the details of the incident. This is the information gathering phase.

Once the information gathering phase is complete, I start to discuss the legal aspects of the case. I do this keeping in mind that the purpose of the consultation is for the client to understand the nature of the charge he or she is facing; to get an opinion about his or her case; to understand what his or her options are; to get an overview of how the court process works; to have his or her concerns addressed and questions answered (to the extent possible at this stage); and to get an estimate as to how long the case will take and how much the fees will be.

The is also an opportunity for you to meet the lawyer and decide whether you can work together.

A proper consultation is a comprehensive one that starts with the lawyer seeking to understand the client and his or her problem. This requires a thorough interview. The lawyer should be equally meticulous in providing information and advice to the client.

A criminal charge is something you may be dealing with for a significant period of time. A proper consultation in the beginning is essential to help you prepare yourself for the challenges that lie ahead and vital to ensuring a good working relationship with your lawyer.