Your Initial Meeting with a Lawyer

When you are initially meeting with the lawyer, make sure that the first meeting is a free consultation

The area of personal injury litigation is very competitive and so there are many different lawyers to choose from.  When you are initially meeting with the lawyer, make sure that the first meeting is a free consultation.  If the lawyer is not prepared to see you on that basis, try the next one.

Your first meeting with a lawyer is your chance to assess the lawyer and whether you wish to retain him/her. Before hiring the lawyer, you want to be sure that:

  1. The lawyer has the expertise and knowledge to handle your case;
  2. The fees quoted are reasonable;
  3. The lawyer and his/her firm do not work extensively for ICBC as defense counsel; and
  4. The personality of the lawyer is such that you feel you can work with him/her over an extended period.

To get the most out of your first meeting with the lawyer, it’s important for the lawyer to have all the information available on your claim. What is helpful is to provide a chronology to the lawyer along with all the documents you have on your ICBC case that have come from ICBC and/or your doctors/therapists.  If you provide the lawyer with the information in advance of the meeting, the likely result will be a better discussion at the meeting.

Whenever you consult a lawyer, there is solicitor/client privilege.  This means that whatever you tell the lawyer cannot be disclosed to other parties without your consent.  Therefore, you should provide full disclosure to the lawyer, whether good or bad, so that you can get the best idea of how to proceed.  If you hold back information you may be proceeding forward in one direction when you should be going in another.  The last thing you want to do is find out halfway through the process that you have no ICBC claim because you forgot to or decided not to disclose critical information to the lawyer.

Like a job interview, you may wish to ask several questions of the lawyer to see if you feel comfortable with him/her pursuing your ICBC claim. Some questions you may wish to ask are:

Questions about the Lawyer
  1. Does your firm have a website with information about the law and the firm itself? (look at the website);
  2. How long have you been practicing law in ICBC injury claims? (You want a seasoned personal injury lawyer that acts principally for Plaintiffs only and not as an ICBC defense lawyer);
  3. How much ICBC defense work does you and your firm do? (You probably do not want someone that works extensively for ICBC in defending injury claims);
  4. Who will be working on my file? (Do you want a senior lawyer who offloads your file to a junior at the firm?);
  5. What duties will the legal assistants/ paralegals carry out? (Do you want a lawyer who offloads almost all tasks for your file to a legal assistant/ paralegal?);
  6. Have you handled similar cases to mine? (You want a lawyer who has worked on similar cases if your injuries/loss are unique);
  7. Have you been in trial in the last year or two? (You want a lawyer who is prepared to go to trial if the ICBC offer is not fair);
  8. How many files are you currently working on? (You do not want a lawyer that has a huge number of files and cannot give your file much attention?);
  9. What is your policy regarding returning phone calls or e-mail correspondence? (You want a lawyer that is punctual in returning your phone calls or correspondence); and
  10. Who will fund the disbursements on this case? (If the lawyer is not prepared to fund the disbursements you should look elsewhere as most firms will fund disbursements).
Questions about your Case
  1. Is my case a “minor injury” claim under the ICBC no-fault scheme?
  2. What is the likely outcome of my case?
  3. Can you tell me what the case is worth? and
  4. What are your recommendations on how to proceed forward and the timelines for doing these various steps?
Questions about the Legal Fees
  1. Have the lawyer show you a copy of the proposed fee agreement? (You should avoid lawyers charging 30-33.3% fees regardless of how long the file takes. The best fee agreement for you is one where the percentage charge increases as the case goes on longer and becomes more complicated);
  2. If the lawyer is proposing an hourly charge, find out everything about the proposal including when you are supposed to pay legal fees, the hourly rate, who covers the disbursements, etc. (It is very unusual to hire a lawyer on an hourly charge when pursuing an ICBC claim so it is best to avoid those arrangements); and
  3. What interest rate do you charge on the disbursements and expenses? (Most lawyers charge interest, but you want to avoid the ones that charge over 10%)

There are many other questions you may ask but the above questions will probably give you a good idea of whether this lawyer is the person for you. Note that if your claim has significant issues such as a liability problem or a “minor injury” designation you may have to be less picky and simply try to find a lawyer willing to take the risk on the case.

In summary, meeting a lawyer for the first time is like a job interview.  Not only is the lawyer analyzing you and the case to determine whether he/she will take your case, but you must also decide whether the lawyer is the best person for you. There are many personal injury lawyers to choose from. You do not have to settle on the very first person you meet.