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Get the most out of your consultation.

Often the first step in developing an attorney-client relationship is to do a consultation. A consultation is a brief meeting between an attorney and a prospective client to help both parties decide if they want to work with each other. Since choosing an attorney is a big decision, it's a good idea to prepare for the consultation.

General preparation

Whatever type of legal help you are looking for, there are a few things you'll want to know before deciding which attorney to work with. Here are a few topics you should consider:


Before you hire an attorney, you want to make sure you can afford their services. This can be tricky to figure out, because it's going to depend on their hourly rate and the amount of time they end up spending on your case. In the consultation the attorney should be able to tell you the hourly rate, but can generally only estimate the amount of hours they will spend on the case. It's also worth keeping in mind that the estimated time a case requires will likely change as the case develops and new issues come up.

When you're discussing price with an attorney, it's best to be honest with them about what you can and can't afford. Even if you can't afford their representation on all of the issues, they may be able to provide targeted limited assistance to help you get the most out of their services.

Billing procedures

Each attorney or law firm has their own billing procedures, and it's important to understand them before you hire an attorney. There are a number of things you might ask about:

  • Retainer: Many attorneys require clients to pay a retainer fee before they will begin to work on your case. The amount of retainer can vary quite a bit between practice areas and practitioners, so be sure to ask about it. Keep in mind that generally you will not be able to use that retainer fee to pay as you go; the retainer fee generally is returned to the client after the case is closed.

  • Billing frequency: Much like the retainer fee, there is a lot of variability in when you will be billed. The biggest distinction is whether you're billed regularly (for example, a monthly bill for all services rendered in that month) or on a contingent fee basis. A contingent fee means that you will only have to pay your attorney if a condition is met; a common example is payment contingent on a successful outcome of the case. Not all lawyers offer contingent fees, and contingent fees don't make sense in all practice areas.

  • Late payment policies: When an attorney sends you a bill, it will typically tell you the date that payment is due. If you don't pay by the deadline, some attorneys will charge late fees.

  • Payment methods: Each attorney and law firm has their own policy about which payment method(s) will be accepted. Some accept credit cards, some accept checks, and some accept a few different methods. It's helpful to figure out the payment method before the bill is due in case you need to prepare on your end (for example, if they only accept checks you may need to order a checkbook).

Preparation for special education issues

When you're consulting an attorney for help with a special education issue, there are some steps you can take to make that consultation meeting as productive as possible:

  • Be prepared to give a concise but thorough explanation of the issue you're dealing with. You often have only 30 minutes, so make sure you can explain the issue briefly to allow time for discussion of the issues.

  • Have any relevant documents in your hand during the meeting. Relevant documents in a special ed case will include IEPs, Section 504 plans, special education evaluations, medical records related to their disability/ies, and sometimes attendance and discipline records. You can request educational records from the school. In Massachusetts public schools have ten days to provide you the records, so be sure to request them in advance of your consultation so you have time to review them.

  • Keep a log of your meetings and communications with the school on the matter at issue. This way you can tell the attorney exactly when the last IEP meeting was, or when your child was last evaluated, both of which are important pieces of information. This will also save your attorney time (and therefore save you money) down the line if it becomes important to identify the exact date that a certain statement was made.

  • Write down a list of your own questions before the consultation. Consultations are quick, and the law can be complicated. If you don't have a list it can be easy to miss important questions. You might even consider summarizing your main questions for the attorney during your initial communications so they can tailor their questions to your specific needs.

When in doubt, ask about it.

Hiring an attorney can be confusing and stressful. You probably have a lot of questions. You may not get all of them answered right away, but it's my job to help you understand your options. No question is too silly!

Interested in scheduling a consultation with me to discuss special education issues? Get in touch.

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