As president of the State Bar of Georgia, I often have occasion to speak at events that extend beyond my own personal injury, wrongful death and commercial trucking law practice. The following is excerpted from my presentation — “Trial Preparation: 30 tips in 30 Minutes” – at the Georgia Law of Torts seminar at Mercer University Law School in Macon on September 23, 2011.
2. Invest in the interview.
An attorney’s commitment to a serious contingent fee case is a major investment of time and resources. Do your due diligence as you would with any major investment. Set aside enough time to get acquainted with the potential client, develop trust, and probe for information about the event, damages, personal history (education, work, medical, claims, criminal history, etc.) While the lawyer’s office is more convenient in many ways, consider meeting at the client’s home; it is an information rich environment. While a screening interview can be done by phone, allow 3 or 4 hours for the initial face to face interview. Ask the prospective client to bring along, insofar as possible, the accident report, photos of vehicles, medical and auto insurance policies, any claim correspondence and medical bills and records.
Then conduct an inductive, empathic interview to gather broad and deep information. If you don’t find the case meritorious or don’t find the prospective client likeable or believable, neither will the jury. Better to cut your losses after a long initial interview than to invest hundreds of hours and tens of thousands of dollars in a losing case.