• By Billie Tarascio •
Whether your divorce is complex or not, it is advisable to consult with an attorney especially since most will offer an initial consultation free of charge. Not everyone needs an attorney!
But, if you have separate property, or other legal issues, then you probably need an attorney. Yet, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You may only need an attorney to review the paperwork, guide you, and/or be a behind the scenes legal coach.
Preparing for your consultation
Try as best as you can to be prepared. Gather information the attorney needs to understand your situation. This includes income, debts, assets, children, living arrangements and where, realistically, you have set your goal. Be sure to provide an existing case number and information about pending hearings. If children are involved, inform the attorney if it’s a IV-D case or if Child Protective Services is involved, or if other people are involved (i.e., grandparents). By providing your ‘big picture’ the attorney will be able to maximize the consultation time, respond with useful information, determine cost and assess your goals.
Meeting your attorney for the first time
Know what to ask [See Questions List] before going in. You want to determine if the attorney you’re meeting is the best fit for your case. The right fit is a combination of experience, education, and value. For example: Ask the attorney what’s your background? / How long are you out of school? / How many cases like mine have you handled as a firm in the past year? Discuss your goals. Ask if they are realistic, or do you have to go back and reassess them. [See Step 1 in How To Create A Divorce Plan] One thing you want to ask is if they will work on the case.
“At Modern Law, I like to do the majority of the consultations. But sometimes, I’m not the right fit for the case. I might be too expensive or someone else in my office is more suited for the case given their niche.”
If the attorney you’re meeting with says your goals aren’t realistic, or if you don’t feel a rapport, don’t stop there. Get a second or third opinion!
Moving forward with your attorney
If you like the attorney, ask about costs. Set expectations. It’s likely that you have never worked with an attorney before now. So, it’s important to understand the billing process. We found when people know what to expect, they are not caught off guard by the bill. Know how often you’ll be billed and what is included in your initial retainer fee. Most attorneys base their fees on time. This includes document preparation, court appearances, phone calls, meeting with you, and office expenses, i.e., copies. Sometimes, attorneys will bill a flat fee. Inquiring as to what the average fees are in cases like yours is important.
Expectations on communication
Clients often want more communication with their attorneys. That is why setting clear expectations is important. Keep in mind that your attorney is probably billing by time. In your consultation, ask the attorney how long will it take to get an appointment or reach them by phone? What if you need to call after hours? Remember, your attorney is not qualified to be your emotional support [as covered in One Step at a Time]. That’s not to say we’re not here for you. We are.
Forming a Strategy
The next discussion will involve strategy. How will you and your legal team solve problems? You’ll want to know how much time will it take; if you will have to litigate, or could settle? If there’s an existing decree, will it be enforced, or modified? Ask the attorney about any foreseeable problems and if your goals can be realistically accomplished.
“If I have a client whose goals are not realistic, as determined by the court, we look at new strategies.”
Finally, you should absolutely insist on everything specific to your situation be written into your attorney-client agreement and make sure it’s followed.
Watch for my next post: When to Know This Isn’t the Right Attorney
Know Your Team
- Senior attorney: depending on the complexity of your case
- Associate Attorney: that will work for less money
- Paralegal: prepares many court forms
- Billing team: tracks hours and costs
- Administrative staff: takes calls, schedules appointments, communication conduit
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