After you've set up a meeting with an estate planning lawyer, there are a number of things that need to happen in the background. For you, the client, it's largely a non-event, but I think getting a sense for "how the sausage is made" can help you better understand the nuances of why estate planning can be somewhat complex.
The Lawyer's Tasks
After you've had your initial meeting, the estate planning lawyer will need to complete a number of tasks, including, but not limited to the following:
- Completing a conflicts search. "Running conflicts" (as we lawyers say) is the process where we search our Rolodex of past and present clients (including business entities) and other relationships to make sure that there's no "conflict of interest". This can become a tricky subject, but basically, the lawyer wants to make sure that he or she can fully represent your best interests, and if you have issues that conflict with the issues of a past or present client of the estate planning lawyer, then he or she may not be able to represent you without obtaining a waiver from you and that other past or present client. Don't worry too much here--the lawyer will let you know if there's a problem.
- Completing an Engagement Letter. Every lawyer should be sending you an engagement letter, which is simply a contract that specifies your rights with respect to the work that the lawyer will do for you. The letter should also contain specifics of the fees involved. A recent trend is for lawyers to sending these agreements in electronic form which you can then sign by "e-signature".
- Additional questions. The estate planning lawyer may have a worksheet with additional information for you to fill out. If there are relatively little gaps to fill after your initial contact with the lawyer, it may be a short e-mail with a bullet point list of additional details that the lawyer seeks to obtain.
If your situation poses an issue that needs to be researched, the estate planning lawyer may also spend some time reviewing the law to ensure that he or she is providing you sound advice (but more often than not, the lawyer will be well-versed in the laws that affect your situation).