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What to bring to your first meeting with a lawyer

You have been arrested, or you were served with a lawsuit.  Your spouse has threatened to divorce you.  You know you need to talk with a lawyer sooner or later.  In the back of your mind, you know that the sooner you sit down with an attorney, the sooner you will begin working on the solution to your problem.  But, then you start to question yourself:  “what if I forget to bring the right papers?”  That is what attorneys do right?  They work with documents and court filings – what if I look like I don’t know what I’m talking about?  Maybe I should wait until later to make the appointment.  Maybe I should do some research myself online.  Maybe I should wait until next week and deal with it then…

Waiting too long to deal with a legal problem can make it worse.  If you wait too long, often there is nothing that the attorney can do for you.  Most attorneys have seen large judgments against clients who could have won their suit, but it is too late.  The day before a trial or foreclosure is usually too late to get help.

On the other hand, every attorney has clients whose long term problems were resolved completely in their first meeting.  The sad thing is, many of them worried about the matter for months or years.  It is bittersweet to relieve a client’s worries and fears, but to then realize that they have endured stress and sleepless nights that could have been avoided.
As an attorney, I often meet clients that feel unprepared for their first meeting.  I wish that I could meet them before the first meeting and to tell them not to worry.  It is much more important to schedule the meeting and show up for it than it is to try to assemble the paperwork (and internet knowledge) that you think you might need.  Attorneys go to court all the time, and it is not difficult to for them to retrieve court documents online even during your talk.  Sometimes the document you are have is not the one that you need to be concerned with.  For example, a criminal defense attorney can often predict that indictments will follow the warrants that you were served.

Of course, some meeting preparation can be helpful.  If you are being sued, bring a copy of the document that was served on you.  If you are considering bankruptcy because of a particularly large bill, bring the bill.  Many attorneys have questionnaires or checklists of documents that you can bring to make the meeting more efficient.  If you can fill them out, then do it.  If not, then go to the meeting anyways.  In law, a “B” meeting today is worth an “A+” meeting three weeks from today.

Ultimately, the most important thing is to make the appointment and go meet the attorney. Law is a people business.  Attorneys deal with a wide variety of people every day.  They would not be in business if they were not able to relate to their clients and make them feel comfortable talking about their problems.