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How Attorneys Conduct a Client Interview

by Maggie Lourdes

Interviewing a client is the first step in judging whether a good attorney-client relationship is likely. It
reveals whether the parties have the same expectations for representation and whether they are
capable of sharing open, honest communications. The client should give the lawyer all the facts about
his legal matter during the interview. As the lawyer, you should determine whether your expertise can
be useful based on those facts, and directly disclose your analysis of the circumstances.

Attorney-Client Interviews
1. Ask open-ended questions, such as, "Can you tell me what happened?" or, "What brings you here
today?" Listen intensely and take notes outlining important legal points and facts. Make eye contact and
stay engaged with responses such as nodding or shaking your head.

2. Ask pointed questions about the story to determine if you believe a good case exists. Do not
sugarcoat the situation and be upfront with both your positive and negative opinions of the case.

3. Determine if you can adequately resolve the person's legal issue. Decide through observation and
questioning whether the two of you would work well together. Jointly decide if your expectations about
results, fees, time and commitment are the same.

4. Ask the client to fill out a questionnaire of personal information, including the individual's name,
address, and her financial abilities to fund the case before you commit to representation. Have a written
retainer signed detailing the terms of your representation before starting any legal work. Be sure no
conflicts of interest exist if you are suing someone on the client's behalf.
Why Do Lawyers Cost So Much?
By Sam Glover on February 12th, 2016 287 comments

There is a lot of discussion about the need for lower-cost legal fees. This is an important
discussion for lawyers to have, but I think it is also important to stop and reflect on why hiring a
lawyer is so expensive in the first place.

The Real Cost of Legal Services

On top of the considerable cost of acquiring a law degree, malpractice insurance, business
overhead, etc.—only some of which can be reduced by technology, procedures, and maybe even
non-lawyer ownership — I don’t know if the public really appreciates what a lawyer agrees to do
for her clients when we sign a retainer. In fact, I think some lawyers need to be reminded. It’s
true that many clients just want to get out of jail or a contract or for their insurance company to
pay up. But in order to do that, lawyers commit to much more.

What Happens When You Sign a Retainer

After a client signs a retainer with me, I look them in the eye and tell them “Okay, you don’t
have to worry about this anymore. Your problems are now my problems.” It is just a thing I say,
but it is a true thing I say. My clients go home and sleep soundly for the first time in weeks or
months. I go home and think about the legal issues all evening. At night I dream about my
client’s case. Sometimes I wake up in a cold sweat and pull up the scheduling order on my
phone, convinced I blew a deadline. When I am at the playground with my kids, I check my
email in case I get something from opposing counsel or the court. When I go out to dinner with
my wife, I talk about hearings and depositions.

You may have heard the story about the lawyer who abandoned his Ferrari in rising floodwaters
so he could make it to a hearing. Instead of taking the time to save his car, he abandoned it in
order to get to court on time. Everyone was amazed except lawyers, who were like duh. Missing
a hearing is not an option. As the lawyer who owned that Ferrari said, “You can’t let the client
down, no matter what personal exigencies you might have.”

Lawyers are expensive because you get a lot for your money. You get someone who will
abandon their precious supercar — or regular car — in rising floodwaters so he can attend your
hearing. You get someone who will lose sleep worrying about your legal problem so you can
finally get some rest.

Lawyers have a pretty singular value proposition. We take care of legal problems for our clients.
When you sign a retainer agreement, our client’s problem basically becomes our problem. They
can go back to sleeping through the night, and you start losing sleep, instead. You worry about
where to find the paperwork or file the forms or how to get to the hearing while they go about
their daily lives.

[N]obody thinks Facebook will really keep your secrets

This is why comparing non-legal products and services like Apple and Uber and Facebook to
legal services doesn’t really work. Nobody would expect an Uber driver to absorb the cost of a
parking ticket just so she can pick you up where you want. I’ve known plenty of lawyers who
parked illegally to be on time for a hearing and eaten the ticket as a cost of doing business.
Nobody expects an iPhone to absorb your stress and nobody thinks Facebook will really keep
your secrets. Lawyers aren’t like tech companies, and they probably can’t be.
So as long as that high level of obligation is what you get for your legal fee, the fee can only
drop so much. To reduce the cost of legal services past a certain point, you probably have to
reduce the lawyer’s obligation to the client.

That is easy to say but another thing entirely to do. Our obligations flow from our rules of
professional conduct, most of which we cannot ask a client to waive. All we can do is limit the
scope of representation — generally called unbundling legal services. Unbundling can make a lot
of sense for some things, but it is not a panacea for lowering the cost of legal services.

If the cost of hiring lawyers is really too great (and I am not convinced that is true across the
board), we need other solutions, and they might have to include reducing lawyers’ professional
obligations. So, just so we’re clear, when we talk about lowering the cost of legal services, what
we are really talking about is fundamentally changing what it means for a lawyer to represent a
client.