A survivor can ask health care professionals, therapists, police (if the perpetrator has been prosecuted), family members, friends or lawyer referral services (such as the one sponsored by the Law Society of Upper Canada) to recommend a lawyer. The lawyer should be first, an experienced trial lawyer and second, experienced in sexual assault cases. It is perfectly appropriate to ask lawyers how many sexual assault cases they have handled in the past and for references from former clients. Of course, the lawyer will have to get permission before giving out names of former clients.
The survivor should ask the lawyer to describe the process of a civil lawsuit, a description of the main steps in the case, and rough estimates of the time involved. It is also advisable to discuss fees and understand the financial arrangements from the outset. Sexual abuse lawsuits typically take between 18 to 24 months if they settle and three to five years if they go to trial.
Finally, it is extremely important that the client be comfortable with the chosen lawyer, because the relationship between lawyer and client may be a long one and a sexual abuse lawsuit necessarily involves discussing personal and painful issues.
What should I do before meeting with my lawyer?
If possible, before the first meeting with the lawyer, the client should assemble a chronological history outlining personal background, education and work experience, a history of the abuse, a list of treating physicians, a list of potential witnesses, and copies of any relevant documents. This preparation can make the first step much more comfortable for the client and will help the lawyer assess the case.