Tops tips for briefing a lawyer

Not-for-profits often approach the prospect of getting legal advice with trepidation, fearing uncertain costs, slow delivery time and dubious usefulness. Not surprisingly, it's often considered only as a "last resort".

Like any investment decision, choosing a lawyer is not a case of "one size fits all". It requires careful consideration to ensure that what the lawyer can provide matches the needs of your organisation.

Some careful preparation can also help you to keep down your costs and stop you wasting your time (and theirs).

What to consider before you brief a lawyer

  • What is the main reason that your organisation needs specialist legal advice - to support the board, to support management, or for some other reason?
  • Will your organisation need an ongoing relationship with a lawyer or does it just need short-term help to put out fires?
  • What outcome do you expect to receive from engaging with a lawyer?
  • Will engaging a legal specialist minimise risk for the organisation?

What to consider when choosing a lawyer

  • Does the lawyer have experience in the not-for-profit sector?
  • Is the lawyer familiar with your organisation?
  • Does the lawyer have experience in dealing with your type of legal matter or can they provide you with a suitable referral?
  • Does the lawyer and his/her firm have values consistent with those of your organisation?
  • Is the lawyer recommended within the industry?

How to get the most out of your first consultation

Hit the ground running! Help the lawyer give you accurate, efficient and relevant advice at your first consultation by doing some preparation:

  • Gather and collate all relevant documents and facts
  • Write down a brief timeline of events
  • List the issues you are concerned about
  • Think about what your desired goals are as this will help the lawyer to understand the direction you wish to take
  • Consider sending the above information to the lawyer prior to your consultation

Questions to ask your lawyer

The following are useful questions to ask during your first consultation with a lawyer:

  • What steps are involved in solving the problem/realising the opportunity/achieving the outcomes you expect?
  • How much time is each step likely to take?
  • Does the lawyer think that your goals are achievable?
  • Can the lawyer provide you with a range of options (legal and non-legal) to solve your problem/realise your opportunity/achieve your outcomes?
  • What are the expected costs and risks?
  • How does the lawyer charge for services?
  • Is the lawyer only going to give you an estimate or can he/she give you a fixed price?

During and after your consultation

It's likely that you will receive a lot of information at your first consultation so it's also a good idea to take notes and/or take someone else with you.

Finally, draw up a list of what you and your lawyer need to do after the consultation. This will help you stay focussed and make the most out of your relationship with the lawyer.

This help sheet has been prepared by Moores, not-for-profit legal advisers.

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