You have a legal problem. You need help. You have spoken to your friends, have done your research and have now found the right lawyer that will guide you through the difficult time that you are currently experiencing. You have signed a costs agreement with your lawyer's firm and have attended to the administrative tasks that have been asked of you by your lawyer in order for your lawyer to commence working on your matter. Your first conference has been scheduled and it's coming up. It's all up to your lawyer now ... or is it?
The reality is, there are further notable things that you can do to assist your lawyer (and ultimately assist yourself) to achieve a favourable outcome for your case, and it all starts with preparing well for your first conference with your lawyer.
Practically, you want to make your lawyer's job easier and less time consuming. This ultimately benefits you too as the more efficient your lawyer is in doing their job, generally speaking, the less time they are putting on the clock for your matter and the less costs that you will billed for at the end.
The following is a suggestive guide and check-list for you to consider (and where relevant for you, also adopt) in order to assist your lawyer prepare for their first conference with you and to progress your matter. It should be noted that every lawyer is different and works and prepares cases differently, so the following recommendations are not a 'be all and end all' guide. Check with your lawyer first to see what works best for them.
Get on the same page – prepare a (brief) typed statement for your lawyer
Your lawyer needs to understand you and your problem so that they can effectively assist and provide to you legal advice. It is suggested that you prepare a brief typed statement (or chronology) of what your legal problem is about. Brevity is important here – try (as much as possible) to keep your statement/ chronology of short length so as to be easily followed and understood at your first conference.
Lawyers understand that there are many important details regarding your matter and that you have a lot to say about the issues in your matter; it is more helpful however that these details and issues are obtained from you in a systematic way so as to be properly understood by your lawyer. 'Unloading' all the minute details upon your lawyer right from the get go in an extensively lengthy statement/ chronology may be counter-productive as key details may be missed and overlooked if there is an 'information overload'. Again, lawyers work differently, so it is best to find out from your lawyer how best they are to receive your instructions contained in your statement/ chronology.
The idea of trying to keep your statement/ chronology as concise and as 'punchy' as possible is to have an effective first conference with your lawyer, where you 'get on the same page' and put yourselves in a position to progress your matter forward. The requesting, providing and understanding of further details will come as your matter progresses. Keep in mind that your lawyer has learnt and developed skills to obtain from you further details to expand upon your statement/ chronology. At your first conference (as well as during the progression of your matter) good lawyers will obtain further relevant information from you to expand upon your prepared statement/ chronology. If however you are of the view that something important is being overlooked, you should raise this with your lawyer in your correspondence.
Important details to provide in your statement/ chronology include (but are not limited to):
- Who, or which company do you have a dispute with?
- Dates (and times) of important events;
- Summary of what happened;
- Notable people or witnesses present (and their contact details if you have them);
- How you were feeling at the time of the incident;
- Did you suffer an injury?
- Did you see a medical practitioner(s) for treatment of your injury; if so, the details of those medical practitioners and dates attended;
- Were you charged by police with an offence?
- Have you been to see another lawyer about your matter?
The above list is not exhaustive, and will be matter specific to your particular legal problem.
Pictures paint a thousand words – collate documentation and make a copy for your lawyer
It is of great assistance if you can make available to your lawyer (at, our before your first conference with your lawyer) any of the following (where relevant to your legal problem):
- Documents served on you by the other party or a process server;
- Relevant pictures and photographs;
- Contemporaneous notes that you made relating to your legal problem/ diary entries;
- The contract that you and/or the other party has signed;
- Medical and treatment reports and clinical notes relevant to your claim;
- Documents provided to you by police;
- Court attendance notice(s).
Again, the above list is not exhaustive, and will be matter specific to your particular legal problem. Pictures and contemporaneous records do paint a thousand words and are important to your matter and important for your lawyer to review and understand. Start collating these documents early on.
What you provide to your lawyer you should also retain a copy for yourself. This will assist with your future correspondence with your lawyer when you both are referring to a particular issue noted on that specific documentation.
Time is money – make each conference count
Leave plenty of time to get to your conference so that you come early and are not rushed and flustered. You will find that when you are in a good state of mind you will be able to communicate better with your lawyer. Better communication leads to better preparation for your case. Your promptness also means that you will have better quality of time with your lawyer (remember, your lawyer may have a few more conferences after yours and what you want is to maximise the allocated time that your lawyer has made for you).
Be prompt with replying to your lawyer's requests for further instructions and documents
The receiving of timely instructions is vital for the success of your case. When you receive a request for further instructions and documents, acknowledge the request and reply back to your lawyer as soon as possible.
It's never too early to be prepared
Be prepared; be attentive and be active in your communications with your lawyer right from the beginning (even prior to your first conference with your lawyer). This will put you in good stead for the duration of your retainer and set a good tone for the relationship. Your lawyer has a job to assist you with your legal problem. Endeavour to assist your lawyer do the best job for you.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.