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Top Questions Clients Should Ask Attorneys but Don’t

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We asked attorneys all over the country to tell us what questions they are surprised that their clients don't ask them. There answers might surprise you, but their candor gives our readers a rare look at what clients should ask their attorneys. We hope you enjoy their responses.

Do I need a lawyer now?

Can I pay just for consultations?

Do you have a problem handling this type of case?

Have you handled this type of legal matter before? With what results?

How often have you appeared in this particular court?

Are you a specialist? What is your specialty?

Is everything I tell you confidential?

Will I be charged for mileage?

Will I be charged for phone calls?

Will I be charged for emails?

Who will work on my case?

Do you work on Saturdays? How am I charged for work done on Saturday?

Is my retainer applied at the beginning or the end of my billing cycle?

What input do I have in the handling of my legal matter?

Will I get copies of every pleading, letter, and paper at the time it is produced? Will I be charged for copies?

Ramsey A. Bahrawy, Esq.
"Building Your Trust"

My name is John Wannamaker and I'm not an attorney. However, I'm the developer of an attorney questioning program which is yet to be released publicly. You would be amazed at all the questions a client doesn't ask an attorney whom they will hire, who may or may not hold their future in their hands. The reason I've found this to be the case is because no-one ever learned how to correctly hire an attorney. Attorneys don't even know how to hire an attorney or how to question someone who will represent them. This is true, because I've met over 50 attorneys in federal prison while I was there.

John Wannamaker

I am the President and Co-Founding Member of the Organization of Legal Professionals. Working with attorneys for the past 25 years, I have found a few questions clients almost never ask:
  1. Have you ever had a matter or tried a case like this one before?
  2. If so, what were the results and can you cite those cases for me?
  3. Who else will be working on my case? Would that be you, an associate, or a paralegal?
  4. How easily can you be reached when I need you?
  5. How many wins have you had since you began trying cases or what is your percentage of wins?
  6. What other costs besides your fee can I expect to incur?
Chere Estrin
President and Co-Founding Member
The Organization of Legal Professionals

I am often surprised that clients do not ask me 'Why are you so concerned with knowing all of the minor facts of my case?' In the case of numerous types of intellectual property infringement, minor facts can make a significant impact in the case. Facts such as when exactly did the client first become aware that their product, logo, or brand was being infringed? Or, when did the client first contact the alleged infringer and request that they cease the infringement activity?

Clients seeking to sue for infringement do not realize that defendants will seek to assert an assortment of equitable defenses to have the lawsuit dismissed. For example, a defendant may seek to have the lawsuit dismissed on a theory of laches. Laches describe a situation where a plaintiff knows a defendant is infringing on his intellectual property, the plaintiff waits an unreasonable amount of time to file a lawsuit, and the defendant has experienced material prejudice because of the delay in filing the lawsuit. Thus, in order for me to best represent the plaintiff, it is important that I am prepared to adequately respond to this type of defense with specific information. I guess sometimes plaintiffs may not realize that even a simple date can quickly become a major detail if the defendant(s) try to have the case dismissed.

My practice is in Los Angeles, California. Clients seek my services when they want to secure and defend their intellectual property or ensure that their social media presence complies with federal and state law.

Don R. Dennis Jr., Esq.

As an attorney, I am often surprised people do not ask the following questions:

-Is your pay rate negotiable? (It is, but only if a client asks)
-What do you and your firm do that makes you better than other attorneys?
-Why should I choose you instead of another attorney?

Jeremy Hudia

I am a debt relief attorney in Tampa Florida. I am most surprised that most clients don't ask what, in my opinion, the likelihood of success on the merits of the case may be. Usually this is something that I bring up in a consultation, and it is counterintuitive - if a client may pay funds to try to recover from an alleged wrongdoing - I would expect the first question that they ask is not "am I going to win?"

Bryant H. Dunivan Jr., Esq.
Christmas Spano & Owen, P.A.

I'm an attorney with 15 years of experience and I serve as the Advisors Forum Director (, the legal marketing arm of Wealth Counsel (, a national attorney organization. Attorneys are surprised that they don't get asked about:
  1. Fees.
  2. Their experience on similar cases and competency to handle the case presented.

As a lawyer who specializes in business and professional ethics, I'm always surprised when my clients don't ask me about how a focus on good ethics and business practices can proactively reduce their litigation risk. Clients focus too much, in my opinion, to defending against lawsuits after something has gone wrong rather than on making sure that their business policies reflect strong ethics and that their actual practices satisfy those policies. Paying attention to business ethics maintains customer trust and good relationships and has the added benefit of providing a solid defense when something goes wrong and a lawsuit is threatened.

Lauren Bloom

I'm surprised clients don't ask whether they should or should not make legal decisions while I'm representing them.(Ex. buy vehicles, borrow, etc.) I think the answer will be unique to the particular area of practice. I do bankruptcy work.

-Russell A. DeMott, Attorney

What are the weaknesses in my case, and how do they compare to the strengths? I'd fall over in shock if a client ever asked me that. Unfortunately, every client thinks they have the perfect case; the jury will believe every word they say; and that they are too special to be going through litigation.

-Shane Fischer, Attorney at Law

Here is a question that my colleague is surprised he never gets asked:

What Law School Did You Go To? I was shocked to learn when just starting out that clients do not care where you went to law school, only what have you done as a lawyer and what can you do for the client going forward.

-Christian Denmon, Denmon & Denmon Law
  1. Am I compassionate about and believe in their position? I certainly wouldn't want a lawyer representing me that was not a believer.
  2. What is my relationship with the other side and its counsel What have been the results of matters with the same counsel on the other side While you don't want a lawyer that has a conflict with the other side or who is in any way beholden to the other side or its counsel, you certainly may benefit from a counsel that has a good relationship, and one of mutual respect, with counsel for the other side. To the contrary, counsel that despise one another may not be efficient or able to resolve a matter in the client's best interest.
  3. Have I ever been before this particular judge previously and how have I done? It is important to know if your lawyer is respected by and successful in front of any particular judge involved. A track record counts.
  4. Have I performed similar services for others and how many times? There are lots of lawyers - you want a lawyer that is an expert in the area in which you are dealing - not someone who merely dabbles in it.
  5. What can I do to help you? What music to my ears this would be if it were spoken more often. Remember your lawyer is there for you - an extension of you - you can foster or impede your lawyer's ability to help you, so why not see what guidance or assistance you can provide them that will benefit you in the long-run?
-Robbin Itkin
Bankruptcy Attorney at Steptoe & Johnson, LLC.
Robbin Itkin leads the West Coast Restructuring Group of Steptoe & Johnson LLP and co-leads the restructuring group nationally.

It is my job as their lawyer to advise them since there are questions that, in my opinion, they would have no reason to know to ask.

What is the burden of proof in my case? As a civil litigator practicing employment law and defending employers, many clients have the misconception that the plaintiff/former employee, must prove their case 'beyond a reasonable doubt.' That is a criminal standard that we usually see on TV. Most civil standards are 'preponderance of the evidence' which is essentially more than a fifty percent chance or that the evidence in one's favor is outweighed by more than fifty percent. A higher standard of 'clear and convincing' evidence is used in civil cases for punitive damages, which are those that serve to punish parties when, for example, they are guilty of fraud, oppression or malice.

How long will this case take to be over? It's not like on TV when a lawsuit is filed and within a week the trial concludes. Most cases are now being litigated well over one or two years and trial is often set just shy of three years from the filing or service of a complaint. Now if a case settles (prior to trial), it can be done in an 'early mediation' but those often will still take at least three to six months from the service of a complaint to get in front of a private (and not free) third party intermediary to help try to settle the case.

Even if I win and receive some award of monetary compensation, how long can that take to collect? In an individual versus an individual, collections, if they occur at all, may take years and up to at least twenty years! Even when a party receives a court order for someone to pay, there is a good chance you may never see a penny of the money. And in fact it costs a lot of money to try to collect, thereby throwing good money after bad.

-Michelle Lee Flores, Attorney

Demo Reel:

The way many large trial law firms in America work is similar to a pyramid in the structure of client interaction. At the bottom legal secretaries and paralegals do most if not all of the client interaction in preparation with the lawyer having minimal if any contact with the client themselves. I know firsthand of many well-known large personal injury law firms in which all of the client interaction leading up to the actual trial is handled exclusively by support staff instead of the actual lawyer who will be trying the case. The problems with this structure are that first, most of these cases will be settled outside of the courtroom and before a complaint in lawsuit is filed, and second, much of the trial preparation and strategy is based on the facts garnered from the client at the onset of the attorney-client representation. If the attorney doesn't come on until after a suit is filed the client misses the entire benefit of hiring the attorney that they chose (likely based on representations about his knowledge, skills and ability) and instead relies on his support staff to attempt to obtain a maximum value for their claim. Also, having the attorney come on to a file right before trial is a disservice to the client because many of the important strategy decisions and legal advice are made and given at the onset of the representation.

The question I am most surprised that clients don't ask of their attorneys is 'will you personally be working on my file from the onset of my representation?' If clients ask this question at the onset of the attorney-client relationship and followed up on it throughout the representation I think many would be disappointed to hear the answer. I work at a small firm where the attorneys personally know each and every client, and an attorney is assigned to each case from the onset. The important work done in the initial intake process, and in strategy sessions, is done by the attorney that ultimately will file the lawsuit and continue it through to a verdict if necessary. This assures both us and the client that they are receiving the best legal advice and legal strategy available. Many large and advertising firms have eschewed the traditional attorney-client relationship in order to expand and grow rapidly, having less skilled and untrained support staff handle the client interaction. Our firm is contacted by dozens of clients each year who have fired their prior lawyer for this exact reason. This is why I am most surprised that clients don't ask the question of what involvement the actual attorney will have in the handling of their case.

-Daniel C. Tighe Esq.

Where is the best place to hide my drugs?

Do you know any non-extradition countries?

Can I have your private home phone number?

Where is the best country to hide my money?

Can you legally smoke weed on April 20th?

What can I take to wash pot out of my system?

Since the court will not allow me to stay with my wife, can I stay at your house?

Can you drive me home from court?

Moses and Rooth Attorneys at Law
Steptoe & Johnson LLP.

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