Deciding to pick up the phone and make that dreaded first call when you feel the time is right to contact an attorney is a petrifying moment. It’s one of those times in your life where you just have to take the plunge, dial the phone and make the call.
Once you’ve decided on the attorney you want to meet with, a sense of relief may come over you… until the day of the appointment. Panic, fear, confusion, hurt and uncertainty are all natural expectations that an experienced attorney will recognize and deal with when you arrive. But don’t let your apprehension overcome you. You made the call. You scheduled the appointment. It’s time. You know meeting with the attorney is the right thing to do.
More often than not, the attorney is going to meet you when you are at your worst, especially in a new divorce consultation. That’s expected. You wouldn’t be at the law office if things were rosy and life was grand. An experienced family law attorney knows that you are vulnerable, emotionally drained, and sadly, sometimes physically abused. The attorney will help guide you through the initial process, help you cope with your emotional well being, and offer suggestions to help you make yourself “a better you” as the process proceeds, and most important, be the partner your attorney will need to effectively advocate for you throughout the divorce or post-decree proceedings.
In order to make the most out of the initial meeting with your attorney, there are a few simple rules that will help you, the client, and your attorney make the most out of the initial consultation. Remember, just as you are interviewing the attorney, the attorney is interviewing you as well. You are both evaluating each other to determine if the two of you are a “proper fit” for each other. Just as you are gauging the attorney’s knowledge, demeanor, compassion and strategy, the attorney is also evaluating you to determine what type of witness you may be, your candor and truthfulness, and your ability to be an effective partner throughout the proceedings. If you’re not comfortable with what you’re seeing or hearing, don’t hire this attorney. But by the same token, if the attorney is not comfortable with you, the attorney is under no obligation to accept your case or you as a client. It’s the proverbial “two way street;” you both have to want to work together, feel comfortable with each other and be on the same page in order to be successful in your case and to have a successful attorney/client relationship.
When preparing for the initial consultation, there are a few “Do’s and Don’t’s” that will make the initial consultation less stressful for you, and more beneficial to both you and the attorney. Of course, some law offices may have different procedures and practices, so it’s a good idea to ask when you make the initial appointment to see if there are any procedures you should know before you have your first meeting, especially if there will be a charge for the initial consultation. Some of the suggested “Do’s and Don’t’s” that our law office adheres to are:
For the Initial Consultation, DON’T:
• Don’t be offended if there is a charge for the initial consultation. The lawyer’s time is how he or she makes their living and you are receiving a professional service. The time the lawyer spends with you could have been spent on another case for which he or she could be getting paid, so it is not out of the ordinary to expect to pay for the initial consultation. Our firm, like many others, has a discounted rate for the first hour consultation. The information you receive will be well worth the fee, not to mention that it may be a significant stress reliever as you move forward. Don’t forget: “You get what you pay for…”
• Don’t bring a friend or family member with you for moral support. That person cannot participate in the initial conference due to confidentiality requirements and ethical concerns of the attorney. A friend or family member has nothing to contribute to the initial conference. If they have something relevant to provide to your case, the attorney will, undoubtedly, interview them later to make that determination. The attorney wants to talk to you, only, at the initial consultation because you have the pertinent information, not your friend or family member.
• Perhaps even more important than not bringing friends or family members with you to the initial appointment is don’t bring children with you. Because of the sensitive discussions that may occur during your initial consultation, children should not be present. Also, there is no place for children to stay while you are meeting with the attorney other than the waiting room/reception area. Law office staff have jobs to do and providing child care for you is not in their job description, nor should it be their responsibility to entertain your child/children during this very important meeting. This meeting is a job interview, for both you and the attorney. Would you take your children to a job interview? You shouldn’t bring your children to the initial consultation either.
• Don’t be late, or just not show up. Just as you will expect to receive courtesy from the attorney and the law office staff, the same courtesy should be extended to them from you. If you see that you are going to be late, call the law office and let them know. If you need to cancel the appointment for whatever reason, have the courtesy to call the office and cancel. Perhaps someone else can use that appointment time if you can’t make it, or just aren’t ready to take that step.
• Don’t withhold any information or facts, even if it may be embarrassing. An experienced attorney will be able to advise you as to what is relevant or not, and leaving out even the simplest fact or occurrence may have a devastating impact on your case.
• Conversely, don’t embellish or exaggerate facts or occurrences to help bolster your case. By not being completely honest with your attorney, it may affect how you are represented, the strategies taken, or even worse, bring your credibility into question. Truthfulness is always the most important aspect of your case, even if it hurts.
• Although everyone wants to make a good first impression, there is no need to “dress up” for the initial consultation. Wear what you feel comfortable in because you may be having an uncomfortable, emotional and stressful discussion for the next one to two hours. Also, don’t over indulge in fragrances; perfumes or colognes. Many people have allergies to certain fragrances, and although you may like to smell good, overpowering perfumes and colognes can distract from a meaningful and productive initial conference. Don’t forget that you will be meeting in a closed room; either the attorney’s office or a conference room that can quickly become overwhelmed with an overpowering fragrance.
• Last, but certainly not least, don’t rely on what you read on the internet or what your friends tell you. The internet can be a very valuable tool, but can also be full of misinformation and vague, often confusing, interpretations of the law. Just as you wouldn’t rely on a medical website to diagnose a serious medical problem, don’t rely on the internet to tell you what the law is, or how it would be applied in your particular case. Additionally, friends can be well meaning, however, their case is not yours. Remember that just as every individual is different, every case is different. Your particular circumstances, your spouse, and even the personality of opposing counsel will sometimes dictate how your case should be handled strategically. Do not be overly concerned about what “my friend so and so got” or “my friend said.” Your friend, and the internet, cannot take the place of the attorney you are about to meet with, as the attorney will tailor the advice you receive based on your individual facts and circumstances.
Now that you know what not to do before the initial consultation occurs and after it begins, here are a few helpful items to assist you in being a well prepared client as the initial consultation approaches:
For the Initial Consultation, DO:
• Do come prepared with specific detailed information. Social security numbers, birth dates, date of marriage, health insurance costs for both you (individually) and your children, child care costs, expenses for special medical needs for either you and/or your children, college costs for either you and/or your children, two years of tax returns, four pay stubs showing year to date earnings, a list of personal property owned by you and your spouse (or with someone else, if applicable), a complete copy of your pre-nuptial agreement (if applicable), appraisals for real estate or personal property, police reports and/or protective orders (if applicable), vehicle information, and, most important, any court pleadings or prior court orders that may have been entered in your case.
• Do tell the attorney if you are active with text messaging and/or on social media. There is a good chance that the attorney will advise you to seriously curtail your activity with text messaging and on social media, if not cease it completely. If there is anything that you have texted or posted about your spouse, friends, relatives, in-laws, etc., it may be wise to print your texts and posts and provide a copy to the attorney and refrain from texting and posting anything else until your case is concluded. Social media posts, and especially text messages, are now considered admissible evidence in some courts, so let your attorney know, up front, if there are texts and/or posts that may be detrimental to your case.
• If you are comfortable with the attorney, and the attorney accepts your case, and you as a client, do read the Employment Agreement carefully and in its entirety. What is the retainer? What are the court costs? What is the hourly rate? What happens when my retainer is depleted? Will my spouse be responsible to reimburse me for my fees? How much is charged for a phone call? How much is charged for a letter or email? Is there a different hourly rate for appearing in court opposed to office work? Am I charged for photocopies? Am I charged for postage? Is there a different hourly rate for the attorney, paralegal, or other staff members? When am I billed? When is my bill due? These are all legitimate questions that should be answered at the inception of the attorney/client relationship. Knowing the answers to these questions will help avoid an uncomfortable situation for both you and your attorney as your case and relationship progresses.
• The most important thing you can do in preparation for the initial consultation is bring a list of questions. We’ve all heard the old adage “there’s no such thing as a stupid question.” This is definitely true at the initial consultation. Your attorney knows that you’re not an attorney with his or her legal knowledge and experience and that your head is probably spinning with nervousness, worry and concern; both legal and personal. Ask the question… you deserve an answer, you need the answer. Being able to communicate well with your attorney always begins at the initial consultation. Attorneys appreciate clients would want to be well informed. Be that client!
Making the call to schedule your initial consultation is never an easy task. You may have thought about doing it for a long time, or, unfortunately, a sudden need to hire counsel has arisen. Regardless of how long it took you to make the call, you’ve made it, the appointment is scheduled and the hard first step is over. To make the next step less stressful, and more meaningful and productive when you meet with the attorney, follow these simple guidelines and you’ll be well on your way to a successful initial consultation and an even more successful attorney/client relationship.