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How to Talk to a Lawyer

Tips to get the most time out of talking to an attorney.

When clients walk into our office or call us on the phone, we greet them with a friendly, “How are you today?” But truthfully, we usually already know the answer. If you have a legal issue that you want to talk to a lawyer about, chances are you are not having the best day.  More than likely, something bad has happened to you and you want advice about how to handle it. You might be upset. You might be stressed. You might even be scared. Talking to someone about the problem may be the last thing you want to do. Making the call or visit to our office can be a difficult step to take. In order to ease your concerns and help you get the most out of the time with your lawyer, we put together a list of tips.

1.      Be patient. When you talk to your lawyer, she hears your story for the first time. You know your story, your lawyer does not. She will most likely have to ask many, many questions to make sure she fully understands your situation. Certain parts of your story that are important to you may not be important to your lawyer. This does not mean she doesn’t care. In reality, she is working to understand the facts that she needs in order to give you the best legal advice.

2.      Be prepared. You will need to describe what has happened and what you are hoping your lawyer can do for you. Be prepared to provide dates, names, and locations that are relevant to the problem you want to solve.  You should also have any important documents with you.

Question: “Do you have a copy of the notice your landlord gave you?”

Bad Answer: “No, I left it at home.”

Good Answer: “Yes, I have it right here.” 

3.      Be honest. A conversation between you and your lawyer is confidential. This means that except in very rare situations, your lawyer cannot tell anyone what the two of you talked about on the phone or in person. Your lawyer needs to know the whole story to be able to give you the most accurate and helpful legal advice, so be honest.

4.      Be specific.  Your lawyer will ask specific questions. Do your best to provide specific answers.

Question: When did you receive the notice?”

Bad Answer: “Oh, maybe about a week ago.”

Good Answer: “April 5th.”

5.      Be concise.  There is a reason behind each question your lawyer asks.  Answer the question with a straightforward response. Your lawyer will ask for more information, if needed. Avoid overusing pronouns (they, her, him). Remember: you know your story, your lawyer does not.

Question: Who was with you when this happened?

Bad Answer: “Well, we had just left school and we were walking to their place. She wasn’t happy because he was taking my side…”

Good Answer: “My friend Katie Nelson and her roommate Dave Price.”

6.      Ask questions. Your lawyer wants to make sure she gives you the best possible legal advice. Good legal advice is useless if you don’t understand it. Do not be afraid to ask questions of your lawyer. Your lawyer asked you a ton of questions, right? Now it is your turn! 

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Iowa Legal Aid provides help to low-income Iowans. 

To apply for help from Iowa Legal Aid:

  • Call 800-532-1275. 
  • Iowans age 60 and over, call 800-992-8161.
  • Apply online at iowalegalaid.org

If Iowa Legal Aid cannot help, look for an attorney on “Find A Lawyer.”  A private attorney there can talk with you for a fee of $25 for 30 minutes of legal advice.

*As you read this information, remember this article is not a substitute for legal advice.

Last Review and Update: Jul 16, 2019
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