Talking to a lawyer

The following information was discussed by Attorney Whitney Hughes on the April 12, 2011 edition of Legal Briefs on KDKA's Pittsburgh Today Live Show.

KDKA-TV and the ACBA have had a long-standing relationship for over 25 years. Through KD & You and the Law, the Allegheny County Bar Association has provided free legal advice to KDKA-TV viewers. Each April members of the bar association have staffed the phones in the KDKA-TV studios and have answered viewers legal questions. There has been a consistent call volume every year, which is why it’s important to make the most out of the short time you have when you do talk to an attorney whether it be through KD & You and the Law or simply calling someone on your own for a consultation.

Here are some helpful tips to make the most out of your time and money when talking to a lawyer.

1. Keep it Simple: who, what, when, where

These are common rules that apply to many situations and dealing with a lawyer is no different.

Who - Identify yourself. This will give an attorney the heads up if there are any potential conflicts and he/she should not be speaking with you.

What - Tell the attorney what you want him/her to do (ie; representing you at a hearing, making out a will, suing someone for damages). This is the actual heart of the matter so make sure you are specific.

When – If you have been served with court papers or have a deadline approaching, let the attorney know. An attorney needs to know right away if time is a factor and work needs to be done immediately.

Where - It may seem silly, but let the attorney know where you are from and where any potential legal action may take place. Some attorneys may not practice in another jurisdiction, and it’s much better to find that out in advance.

2. Don’t elaborate and don’t get overly emotional.

While the situation you are currently in may be very upsetting and you may be either or the verge of yelling or bursting into tears at any moment, it helps no one if the attorney has carved out an hour for you and you spend 45 minutes of it rehashing how someone has wronged, humiliated, disrespected or hurt you, or sobbing. Clear your head and make sure you are able to speak about a matter rationally before talking to the lawyer. Make sure you also clearly state what is happening now and what you want the attorney to do.

3. Ask basic questions about their experience, expectations and costs.

Asking an open ended question like, “So what do you think my chances are?” and “ You can win this right?” may end up getting you answers you don’t understand. Ask simple, short, basic questions such as :

How long have you been practicing?
Have you handled cases like this before?
How do you structure your fees?
Do you carry liability insurance?

4. If the attorney tells you something you don’t understand, stop him/her and ask for clarification right away.

If you don’t understand something, but you just skip over it and assume you’ll figure it out later – don’t. It’s far better to make sure you completely understand something before moving on to the next step, otherwise you and the attorney may have very different views of what is or will be happening.

5. Once you’ve become a client, remember, time is money.

Attorneys do charge for their time. Continuous calling will end up costing you money.

For free legal advice call the attorneys through KD & You and the Law on April 12, 2011.


For a referral to an attorney practicing in a particular field, call the Allegheny County Bar Associatios Lawyer Referral Service at 412-261-5555 or visit their website at