The Right Attorney – Finding the right attorney is difficult when you are unaware of how to begin the search. This is usually because potential clients do not know what questions to ask during the initial meeting with an attorney. When it comes to interviewing attorneys, there is not a set number on how many interviews should be conducted before making a decision. Choosing the right attorney is about the comfort level and confidence in that attorney to represent your best interests. Sometimes this decision is made off instinct, other times referrals or research or a combination thereof. An individual seeking an attorney should not spend weeks or months interviewing; at some point the individual should decide on the attorney and trust the information, instinct, and research they gathered. However, before making a final decision, there are questions to ask that might shed some light on which attorney is the best fit. These questions include:
- What approach they plan to take with gathering discovery, preparing a case for mediation or trial, and putting a team together to work on the case?
- How will the attorney and staff be efficient with preserving the marital estate?
- How the attorney plans to preserve relationships between parties when they share children?
These questions are important because they give insight on the attorney’s course of action and a sense of the financial requirements a client will be responsible for if the attorney were to represent them.
What to Expect in the First Meeting?
An individual should expect the attorney to gather information to understand the facts of the case. This might include questions about what brought the potential client to the decision to meet with a divorce attorney and questions pertaining to their current financial situation. The attorney will also explain the process of divorce, what issues the specific situation might face, and how a judge might treat those issues. The attorney is there to educate the individual on the law and to provide an idea on the approximate length and cost of the divorce proceeding. The amount of time and cost of the specific divorce are approximated based on two variables: how the spouses will behave and who the other spouse hires to represent them in the divorce.
At the completion of the meeting, an attorney might discuss an engagement letter. Usually, the client is given a proposed engagement letter before they leave, or it is sent through email immediately after the meeting. This allows the client to sign the engagement letter without feeling pressured and rather, when they are comfortable in doing so. It is important for clients to understand that they are not compelled to sign an engagement letter in the attorney’s presence at this initial meeting unless the client is ready and willing to do so.
The process of divorce is a heavily discussed topic in most initial meetings. Clients want to understand what they should expect. The attorney should take time to explain how an individual must first file the case and how that process works. Other topics discussed during the initial meeting include the discovery and settlement phases of the divorce and what happens if a case goes to trial. The attorney should also take time to explain the law and different aspects of the law that might apply to the case. This includes laws pertaining to child support, child custody, maintenance, and property division.
Before Arriving to the Meeting
Before arriving to the meeting, it is helpful for clients to gather documentation that will allow the attorney to formulate a baseline understanding of the parties’ financial picture. Documents that are helpful to provide in the first meeting include: last three (3) years’ tax returns, financial net worth statements, checking and credit card statements. If a potential client is completely unaware of the finances and has absolutely no access to that information, the lawyer will gather that information through discovery tools, such as document requests, matrimonial interrogatories, financial affidavits, and subpoenas. Having a baseline idea of the finances can assist lawyers in providing to the potential client a relative idea of their spousal support and/or child support.
It is normal to feel uneasy about an initial consultation. It is the first step in the difficult decision to start a divorce. However, the initial consultation is an opportunity to educate the client on what to expect in their specific situation. Clients should walk away with a better understanding of their options and potential outcomes of the divorce.
Thomas T. Field
Divorce and Family Law Partner and Head of Family Law Group