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When Hiring a Litigation Attorney, What are Key Questions the Interviewer Should Ask?

published April 19, 2014

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We asked attorneys in the United States what key questions the interviewer should ask when hiring a litigation attorney. As you can see from our responses, most hiring attorneys have a standard list of questions they ask to determine if the candidate is qualified for the position, but they are different for every firm. We hope you benefit from and enjoy their responses. A few attorneys also wrote in with questions that a client should ask a potential litigator before using them, which could also prove very helpful if you find yourself needing legal representation.

When interviewing potential hires, I focus on asking about experience. I first start by asking questions like "What is the address to the [local] Courthouse? " "How do you get a motion heard in Superior, Federal Court?"

Then, depending on the experience of the position we are looking to fill, I will propose hypotheticals regarding discovery disputes, depositions or trial practice and see how they respond. This would include questions like "What is the best way to secure the deposition of the corporate risk manager?", "How would you handle a discovery dispute over client records?", or "How would you respond to this motion in limine?"

As a litigator, it is important to ensure the candidate is intelligent, willing to think outside the box and has the right work ethic. Additional questions addressing these issues must also be asked, but in a way that allows for the candidate to respond. Yes or no questions do not help to ascertain whether the candidate is the correct fit.

-Peter C. Bowman
Pavano & van der Werff

Here are key questions that a client should consider asking a litigation attorney before choosing to retain them.
  1. How will you be charging for your representation? If it is hourly billing - how often do you bill, what items are billable, and what are the hourly rates? Can you provide an estimate up-front of the normal total cost for a case of this type?
  2. Who will actually be handling the case? Will it be primarily handled by the attorney who is responsible for signing the case up, or will it be delegated to an associate or paralegal?
  3. Regardless of who will be primarily handling the case, for the sake of efficient billing will routine matters be handled by lower cost associates or non-lawyer staff?
  4. What are your firm's communication policies? How will we be able to reach out if we have questions or concerns about the case? How regularly will we be notified of updates or developments? Is this a scheduled event in your office or something on an as-needed or haphazard basis?
  5. Have you actually taken a similar case to trial before? If so - how often? (a litigation attorney handling a routine case may have tried multiple similar cases in the past year or two, in a more niche practice area the lawyer's trial experience may be more limited but a litigation attorney should still have relevant experience trying cases to verdict).
  6. How familiar are you with the jurisdiction that the case will be handled in? Sometimes it is important to have a lawyer who is "plugged in" locally when dealing with opposing counsel, court staff and the judge. In other cases this isn't important, or a client may prefer to retain a lawyer who doesn't have pre-existing relationships with others involved in the case. A lawyer may also have to consider that a judge or jury in one area may reach a totally different conclusion about a case than a judge or jury located elsewhere.
  7. With regard to the specific case at hand - do you have any concerns about the cases or can you identify any weak points? (A lawyer who is not willing to critically discuss a case with a prospective client may not necessarily be objective.)
  8. Can you please describe for me your ideal client? What are the characteristics of clients that you typically are able to obtain good results for? A prospective client should listen to the lawyer's answer and try to determine if they do, or are willing to, meet the same criteria.
  9. Do you recommend exploring settlement or attempting to negotiate with the other side? Why or why not?
  10. What is the range of possible outcomes for the case? What are the main factors that will determine the outcome?

-James R. Snell, Jr., is a graduate of the University of South Carolina School of Law. He is a licensed South Carolina attorney and has managed his own office since 2004. He has tried cases to verdict in jury and non-jury cases involving civil lawsuits, criminal charges, administrative law, probate, and family law. He has also represented clients in appeals involving criminal and civil law matters. He operates the website: and
  1. How likely are the following?

    A. Winning/losing on a pre-trial motion? How many motions like that in this kind do case have you won/lost?

    B. Trying case before a jury How many jury? trials have you tried? Win/loss record.

    C. How likely is it that this case will settle?

    1. What will you need to do to get the case ready to settle? Motions? Discovery? How long will each of those phases take? What do you estimate they will cost?
  2. How many cases of this type have you settled? With or without a mediator? How much do you predict the settlement range will be? Are you willing to mediate earlier rather than later, i.e., before extensive discovery?
  3. D. Are you willing to work on a flat fee, i.e., charge me only what you predict litigating the dispute to settlement or trial? Have you ever done that before?

-Victoria Pynchon
25 years of commercial litigation, 9 as mediator, AAA arbitrator and consultant, and an author

Hello, I am a general litigation attorney in Maryland. Here are some key questions a client should be asking their potential attorney.
  1. Their experience with cases similar to yours.
  2. Their experience in the Court where your case will be proceeding. Oftentimes an attorney's good reputation and good relationship with the judges can go a long way in a case.
  3. Who else will be working on your case? It isn't necessarily a bad thing that the attorney plans on handing minor tasks off to associates, junior attorneys or paralegals. It helps keep your costs down as the client. Associates are usually adept enough to handle depositions and minor motions hearings as well. It doesn't mean the senior attorney is neglecting your case necessarily. They may be trying to be cost effective for you.
  4. What is the attorney's view of mediation and settlement? Most cases settle in this day and age and the mediation process can be valuable in helping the parties reach a settlement. If the client is open to settlement and avoiding litigation costs, they want to ensure they have an attorney who is open to the mediation process and reasonable settlement offers. In fact, it's my opinion that a discussion of settlement should happen at an initial meeting with a potential client as one of many ways a case may end.
  5. Is the attorney able to handle an appeal if the trial outcome is not in your favor? Not every practicing attorney handles appeals of matters and it may be a consideration for a client as to whether they will have to hire a second attorney from another office if an appeal is needed. If the attorney can handle it, or at least someone in his/her office can handle it, this is a plus since it will allow you to not switch firms
  6. Understand the way the attorney is going to bill you - If your case is taken on "contingency" (attorney gets paid a % of your recovery), you may still be expected to pay substantial costs for depositions, copying, filing fees etc. up front. If your case is billed hourly, understand that billing system too. Most attorneys bill in 6 minute increments and have to record their time every time they touch anything in a file. If you are going to be billed for every email and telephone call, you need to know that when you leave the office so that you plan your communications with the attorney accordingly.

-Tiffany S. Franc
  1. When preparing a witness for a deposition, what should the main focus be?
  2. When defending a deposition, how should you handle an uncooperative witness?
  3. When appearing for oral argument on a motion that you anticipate will be decided against you, what is the best way to address your position?
  4. What is the goal of propounding interrogatories?
  5. When are requests for admissions appropriate?
  6. Is it more important to submit a brief that sets forth your position clearly and concisely or should the emphasis be on oral argument?
  7. How should you address a question you did not anticipate in oral argument or a question that appears to be against your position?
  8. When is a case ripe for settlement?

-Rose A. Suriano, Esq.
Meyner and Landis LLP

I am the principal of a busy but small litigation firm. I have hired associates over the years and have found that there are certain traits you want in any litigation associate. First, you need an attorney who likes going to Court. The attorney cannot have any trepidation about public speaking or about appearing in front of a judge. Second, you need an attorney who understands procedure. The attorney must know how to litigate a case and how to employ tactics. Finally, the attorney must be personable and outgoing. It always helps to have an associate who is liked by the judges, the court personnel and the bar.

  1. Look for a lawyer who asks you the questions that are necessary to determine your goals first before arriving at a recommendation or plan of action.
  2. What experience do you have with my kind of dispute?

    a. What were the outcomes?

    b. Have you ever lost a case? (If the lawyer says no, that lawyer hasn't handled enough cases.)
  3. What experience do you have in this type of proceeding? (Jury trial, federal court case, probate court, bankruptcy court, etc.)
  4. What experience do you have in the assigned court and with the assigned judge or arbitrator?
  5. What experience do you have in this industry?
  6. If you need to learn more about my business or industry, will you charge me for that?
  7. Is there anything we can do now to avoid the dispute or get it resolved before it is filed in court?

    a. Can I try to resolve the case with the other side?

    b. Issues of confidentiality of settlement discussions
  8. If a lawsuit is necessary (or has already been filed against you) what steps do you recommend we take now?

    a. Should I sue first?

    b. Should I initiate discovery during exclusivity period?
  9. If a lawsuit is necessary, what is your plan for getting the case resolved as early in the process as possible?

    a. Is this case appropriate for motion to dismiss (demurrer)?

    b. Is this case appropriate for injunction, provisional remedy or lis pendens?

    c. Is this case appropriate for motion for summary judgment?
  10. What are the choices for the forum in which the dispute will be resolved?

    a. Choice of state or federal court?

    b. Choice of location (state, county)?

    c. Is private dispute resolution possible?
    i. Existing agreement for Contract Arbitration or post-dispute agreement to alternatives to court?
    ii. New agreement with other side possible?
  11. Do you intend to record depositions by video for use at trial?
  12. How are communications had and decisions made between us?
  13. What is a case like this likely to cost?
  14. What are my chances of success?

-Bernie Resser is a partner and litigator with Greenberg Glusker

See the following articles for more information: