In my 22 year career as an attorney, I’ve met with countless clients who explained their legal problem in animated terms, railed about the injustice of their situation, and then expected a clear and immediate resolution to their problem without ever considering the single most important legal issue that applied to their case. So here’s the best $500 legal advice I could ever provide to a client – at no cost to you:Focus on the legal standard that will be applied to your situation.Think about it. The law is a system of standards. Unless you understand the legal standard that will be applied to a specific factual situation, it is very difficult to determine how your case will be resolved. Without focusing on the legal standard, it is almost impossible to formulate a sound strategy for achieving the client’s desired outcome.Here are several examples of legal standards. A city code enforcement ordinance specifies minimum maintenance requirements (legal standards) that could trigger a violation notice and ultimately a monetary fine. A contract defines the terms and obligations (legal standards) that will govern the relationship between the parties to the contract. A mortgage contains payment provisions (legal standards) that must be met in order for the homeowner to avoid foreclosure.During an initial consultation, an attorney must separate the relevant from the irrelevant. To do so, the attorney should address – and the client should anticipate – five specific questions:1. What is the factual situation?2. What is the appropriate legal standard?3. What resolution is the client seeking?4. How can the client’s desired resolution be reached?5. What will be the anticipated cost of the legal services to achieve the desired resolution? (Note: All clients want to control the cost of legal fees, so this is always an important question).During your consultation, the attorney should pay special attention to the second question (appropriate legal standard) and provide advice designed to explain how the law applies to your factual situation. In order to formulate an effective strategy for resolving a legal problem, the attorney needs to help the client narrow the issues, place emphasis on the relevant facts, apply the appropriate legal standard(s), consider the range of available options, and discuss how the desired outcome can be achieved.Let me make one final observation and recommendation. The pragmatic client consults an attorney to learn the appropriate legal standard before a problem ever arises. The attorney is then able to brief the client on the standard and the action necessary to comply with the law while avoiding potential pitfalls. I highly recommend that you consult an attorney to learn the appropriate legal standard before a legal problem ever appears on the horizon. That simple advice could save you far more than $500 in the long run.