By Elsie Oyoo
Aclient and their lawyer exchanged emails to arrange a meeting. Both thought that everything had been adequately planned. However, the client did not arrive at the lawyer’s offices on the date of the intended meeting. Neither did the lawyer turn up at the client’s offices. You can avoid such mishaps by preparing for your client-lawyer meeting, concentrating on the following key areas.
1. Establish whether the lawyer can act for you
When you hire a lawyer, their ability to represent you should not be compromised by the fact that they are in a conflict of interest situation. A conflict would occur, for instance, if the lawyer acts for another client in a related matter with opposing interests to yours. Whenever the lawyer discovers a conflict, he cannot continue to act for you. The lawyer conducts the conflict check once you provide them with basic information such as your personal and company details, and the name of the person you intend to litigate against or transact with.
2. Determine where to meet
The lawyer will usually invite you to their office boardroom for your first client-lawyer meeting. However, if you think that it is better to hold the meeting in your own boardroom because the majority of the attendants would find it easier to get there, or for other reasons, broach the subject with the lawyer in advance. Hotel lobbies, restaurants and golf courses may work as well but they may not adequately safeguard your confidentiality and can be distracting.
3. Confirm the cost
Please confirm whether your lawyer charges for the initial client lawyer meeting. A confirmation on email about fees always carries more weight than a verbal one.
4. Take copies of the relevant documentation
Gather all the documentation you have relevant to the matter. If you want to restructure your company, for instance, take with you copies of the certificate of incorporation, and the governing documents. If it is impossible to carry all that information with you, a clear action plan for forwarding the necessary information to the lawyer will do. Carrying copies of the documents early on helps to avoid any delays if you instruct the lawyer to proceed. Even if you do not retain the services of the lawyer, the documents will help the lawyer to give you an accurate fee quote.
5. Determine the best team to attend the meeting
The things you discuss with lawyers are probably highly sensitive and known to only you and a few people in your company. Too, depending on the nature of the matter, more people may be involved at later stages. For the initial meeting, you may go with one or two other persons. Preferably, you should be able to delegate authority to these people to deal with the lawyer directly later on. The obvious choice would be your in-house legal counsel. In their absence, you should pick someone with knowledge of the matter such as the human resources manager for employment matters.
6. Be on time
Always factor in at least 45 minutes extra for traffic snarl-ups. Highly successful lawyers have full diaries and some might request you to reschedule if you arrive more than 20 minutes late. Inasmuch as you are important to them, they have other equally important clients and briefs to attend to. Be on time.
7. State things as they are
Lawyers give advice based on the facts and the law. If they do not have the full picture of either of these, the legal advice will probably be incorrect. It’s the lawyer’s job to know the law but it’s yours to supply all the facts within your knowledge. Take comfort in the fact that the lawyer is obliged to keep any information you divulge strictly confidential unless you consent to its disclosure or the law requires it.
8. Prepare a list of questions
This is your chance to get as much legal advice as you need to make an informed decision. Once the meeting closes, it may be awkward to pick up the phone to ask for clarifications you could have obtained while in the meeting. The best way to ensure you cover all bases is to come up with a list of all the possible questions you need answered.
9. Be attentive and Take notes
The client-lawyer meeting has specific outcomes. You would lose those outcomes if your attention were compromised. Taking notes aids in following the conversation and in monitoring the ground covered already. The notes need not be elaborate since good lawyers prepare and send to you a summary of discussions soon after the meeting.
10. Know the outcomes to expect from the meeting
Given the importance of the initial client-lawyer meeting, you should have a way to gauge whether it has fulfilled its purpose. At the end of the meeting, for example, the lawyer should have understood the legal issue and your desired objective, explained their role in the matter, given initial advice including on whether the benefits will justify the risk and expense, indicated general time frames within which the matter will be completed, and clarified how best they should communicate with you.
Writer is Deputy Company Secretary and head of Legal Affairs at The Jomo Kenyatta Foundation