The initial interview is a great opportunity to inspire client confidence and show concern for the client as a person apart from the possible litigation. Observing a client’s manner may also give you insight about personality traits that could affect the litigation and may suggest ways to prepare the client later for direct and cross-examination at depositions and trial.
Beyond these less concrete aspects to the initial interview, you have to stay grounded—go over the ground rules of the attorney-client relationship and the nature of representation, including:
- Explain the attorney-client privilege. Emphasize that full disclosure to the attorney ensures that proper advice is given and that the privilege protects an initial interview even if it doesn’t result in representation. But also explain that even the client’s partial disclosure of confidential information to outsiders may cause the privilege to be waived, except that communication with the law firm’s staff to whom “disclosure is reasonably necessary” for the “accomplishment of the purpose for which the lawyer is consulted,” is permissible. See Evid C §952.
- Reach agreement on the fee arrangement. Explain the requirement that a representation agreement be in writing (Bus & P C §§6146, 6148) and discuss legal fees, costs, and expenses. Make sure you reach a clear understanding and agreement with the client on these matters.
- Explain the roles of attorney and client in litigation process. Inform the prospective client of the existence of various professional obligations, e.g., Cal Rules of Prof Cond 4–210 (restricting ability of lawyer to pay expenses for client) and 3–510 (communication of any settlement offers).
- Describe your office procedures. Most law offices have customary practices on client status reports, the returning of client telephone calls, the use of legal assistants and associate attorneys, and items included in billing. Make sure to describe your office’s practices to the client and answer any questions he or she may have.
- Explain the conflict of interest rules. Communicate your intention to determine immediately whether there are any conflicts that could preclude you from accepting the case. Under Cal Rules of Prof Cond 3–310, an attorney cannot agree to represent conflicting interests without all affected past and present clients’ informed written consent. You should also check for any conflicting interests that you may personally have in the matter.
After you’ve gone over the ground rules, answer any questions your prospective client may have and make sure that you’re both on the same page.
For more practical advice on accepting cases and implementing office procedures, turn to CEB’s California Civil Procedure Before Trial.
Other CEBblog™ posts you may find useful:
- Nice to Meet You: Getting Your First Client Contact Right
- Interviewing a Prospective Client: Know What to Ask
- 5 Things to Cover in Your Initial Case Assessment
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