Tim’s Ten Tips on How to Prepare for Your First Call to a Chicago Attorney

by Timothy Deffet

Experienced attorneys understand that when a person actually picks up the phone to call a lawyer for the first time, it is in a state of great anxiety. The last thing most people want to do is call a total stranger and bare their soul on some of their life’s deepest problems at the moment. However, attorneys are used to dealing with these situations and they will guide you through the process and help narrow down what legal issue(s) for which you may need assistance.  In addition, attorneys are bound by law to keep what you tell them confidential even if you do not enter into an attorney-client relationship. This post is written as a guide to show you what to expect when you call an attorney, what questions to ask and what information and documents you should have ready when you call.

  1. Before you make the call, try to narrow down why you will be making the call. Are you calling because you got into a car accident or had a work injury? Or did you get fired and feel someone discriminated against you? These can be very different issues and not all attorneys handle the same issues. However, most attorneys will try to get you to the right attorney if they don’t handle the issue you have.
  2. Get organized. Sit down with a legal pad and write down the basics of what happened. If you had a car accident, make sure you have the date of the accident, the time, the location, where you were coming from and where you were going when the accident occurred, as well as contact information for the defendant and any witnesses. For more on what to do after a car accident, please take a look at my previous post Tim’s Ten Tips On Car Accidents in Chicago
  3. When you call, be sure to speak clearly and state your name. I know this seems like basic phone etiquette but I receive many calls where people immediately start talking and don’t even identify themselves. In order to establish a repoire with a potential attorney, a name is a given. Take a deep breath-an attorney worth his salt will take the necessary time to get to the bottom of your legal issues. We know you will be nervous but that is expected.
  4. If you have been injured in a work accident, gather all your “off work” slips, medical records, bills and wage records and take a manila folder and stick them in there. If you injured yourself on a machine, take pictures of the machine, any model number, and pictures of your injuries as soon as possible. Defective machines or equipment have a funny way of disappearing or being modified after an accident. Have this available for the attorney. Documentation is very important. For more information on work injuries take a look at my prior post, What to Do When You Have a Work Accident in Illinois.
  5. Wage information is extremely important in an Illinois workers’ compensation case. Your wage is based on one year prior to the accident. Gather pay stubs and have accurate information about your salary, or your hourly wage, including the amount of overtime you work each week. Your wages are the most important part of the case-the higher the wages the better. I know because I have fought for higher wages to be included in the award compensation of injured workers. I was the plaintiff attorney for Lopez v. AGI Media where the Commission decided the case on appeal and ruled my client was entitled to TTD even after she had been terminated. The Commission held that overtime, if required by the employer, should be included in the wage of the plaintiff at a straight time wage rate.
  6. When you call the attorney he or she will usually tell you what payment arrangements they have for a particular type of case. If they don’t, then ask after you tell them what kind of legal issue you are experiencing. If you are injured in or out of work, through a trucking accident, biking accident, slip and fall, or car accident, these cases are virtually all performed by an attorney through what is called a contingency fee agreement. This means that the lawyer will agree to work on your case for a percentage of what he recovers. In Illinois, a personal injury attorney usually charges somewhere between a one-third and forty percent contingency fee, depending on the case facts and the attorney. An Illinois workers’ compensation case is limited by statute to a twenty percent fee, with some limited exceptions. In both situations, the attorney will not collect a fee unless he gets some compensation for you. He or she will usually forward costs to pursue the case which will be reimbursed through verdict or settlement. Again, if they do not collect any monies for you, typically they will eat the costs.
  7. If you are calling about a work or car accident, be sure to tell the attorney about prior injuries you may have had, especially if they are similar to the injuries you have had in this accident. This is important for at least two reasons. One, you may have claims that you were not aware of when you were injured in the past, and they have statute of limitations in effect. Second, if past injuries you had are similar to the current injuries, they will have to be explored in detail during the pendency of the case. This is to make sure your current injuries are related to your new accident and thus compensable. An aggravation of a prior injury is compensable under the law.
  8. Make sure when you call you are in a quiet place and can give your undivided attention. Otherwise, the attorney cannot focus in on your issues because you are distracted.
  9. After you spend ten minutes or so explaining your problem, it is a good idea to let the attorney take over and ask questions. He or she will typically be able to tell based on his experience where this is going. The quicker you let him get the vital questions answered, the quicker he can analyze what is going on and decide if there is a viable legal issue under the law. At the end of this period, I will typically tell the person what I think and ask if they have further questions. We then can enter into a formal agreement by exchanging and signing an attorney-client agreement.
  10. Pay close attention to the person to whom you are speaking. This person will be your attorney, in some cases, for years. There may be a “breaking-in” period where you will get to know them. However, if you really feel uncomfortable with them, I would not choose them to represent you.
Posted in:

Contact Us

Free Consultation

(773) 627-4719



  • Over $200,000 for client injured in car accident with semi
  • $160,000 for client who broke elbow as a result of slip and fall on ice on municipal property
  • $145,000 for client who tripped and fell over defective sidewalk in convenience store parking lot
  • Read More Results