Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Choosing a family law attorney, Part Two

In Part One, we discussed ways of getting information on attorneys. Part Two will talk about the initial phone contact with the potential lawyer's offices.

Frequently asked questions: 
1. Who answers the phone and how do they answer it? 
A: Many attorneys do not answer their own phones. His or her schedule won't permit it perhaps, or the attorney prefers to have a gate keeper between himself or herself and the general public. Either way, you are a potential paying client, so you should feel welcomed, and not that you're an intrusion on otherwise valuable time. It's possible that you will have to leave a voice mail. If so, make sure you state whether the attorney can call you back, or not.

2. What kinds of questions should I ask? What kinds of questions should I be ready to answer?
A: Be prepared with a list of questions about your specific situation. For example, "I am thinking about filing for divorce, and I have three minor children." Or: "My ex-girlfriend left the state with our child, can I start a custody hearing?" Be specific, as the attorney can only answer what they are aware of. Don't be afraid to ask about costs.

If you have a specific date coming up, make sure you mention that, or it may not be addressed. For example, "I just left a custody hearing this morning, and the judge said to come back for an evidentiary hearing . . . "

Remember, attorneys are smart, not psychic! And it's entirely possible that some of your questions will need more time before they can be answered. This is why there is no "one-size-fits-all" divorces.

On the other hand, try to answer any questions that are asked. My office has a list of questions used for when a potential new client calls, so that I am aware of what next steps need to be taken for that case. We will always ask where you live, how long you've been married, and the ages of the children.

3. Scheduling the initial appointment and other matters.
It's possible that you'll be scheduled for either a phone consultation, or an in-office consultation. I prefer in-office consultations. I feel that it's easier, less rushed than a phone call, and allows the potential client (and attorney) feel more at ease with one another.

Please consider where your attorney is located, your own location, and the courthouse you'll be using. If you plan on making your attorney drive long distances, that's fine, but that might impact your cost overall.

4. The appointment is scheduled, now what?
It's possible the attorney will mail you information to fill out, or have you fill it out in the consultation. This information will help them start your case, and give you some legal answers. Either way, keep your appointment, or call to reschedule it if necessary.

Set aside enough time to drive to the appointment, depending on the time of day.

Bring any necessary documents with you, for example, anything you've received from the court, or that you feel will help the attorney to serve you better.

5. How much should I expect to pay?
A: This is a difficult question to answer. Attorneys have rules of professional ethics to guide them in setting fees. (MRPC 1.5)  That said, a basic retainer could range from $850 to $5000, depending on the complexity of the legal issues involved, the experience of the attorney, and the novelty of the legal issues involved (more complex or unique issues can take longer to be addressed).  And, the retainer may or may not cover your entire cost of the case, depending on how long it takes, and the nature of the parties involved (who will argue more over issues, you or your soon-to-be-ex?) Also, additional experts may be needed, from child psychologists to business valuation experts, depending on your situation.

Coming Next: Part Three: What to Expect in the Initial Consultation.

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