By Joshua E. Stern
Most clients like to meet with their prospective attorney before they hire him or her. This initial meeting gives the client a chance to learn more about the attorney’s practice, as well as get a feel for that particular attorney’s style. This meeting is especially important in family law, where the client’s personal life will be the subject of the legal action. If a family law attorney and client do not communicate well, trouble is sure to follow.
Many clients have never met with an attorney before, much less stepped into a courtroom. Accordingly, they may be unsure of what to look for during their first meeting with their prospective lawyer. I’ve assembled some notes and thoughts on the subject to assist those considering hiring an attorney.
What Should I Bring When I Meet My Family Law Attorney?
If you’ve been served with any court papers, bring them. If your case is ongoing, bring as much of your court file as possible. If you have received any letters or emails that have caused you to seek legal counsel, bring the letters or emails. The same applies to outstanding orders and judgments. You can assist your attorney in understanding your legal needs if you are able to bring him or her up to speed on your ongoing legal issue.
If you are seeking to initiate a case and no paperwork or letters have been exchanged, feel free to bring a notepad, but that is about all you’ll need. Your family law attorney will be able to collect most of the information he or she needs to identify and address your legal issue by asking you questions and discussing your answers.
What Should I Look For In My Meeting?
Attorneys are not inexpensive and you should feel comfortable knowing that whomever you hire is able to handle your case. Ask him or her any and all questions you have. No question is too strange, esoteric, or simple. Listen to what the attorney says, both for information and to gauge his or her comfort level. Does he or she sound knowledgeable? Does he or she sound confident talking about the issue? Do you feel comfortable working closely with this person? If the answer to those questions isn’t a resounding “yes,” you might not want to hire that person.
Ask the attorney how he or she bills. What is his or her hourly rate? Will he or she charge a different rate for court appearances than for office work? What factors will increase or decrease your legal fees? How much will the attorney require for a retainer? If the attorney offers you a flat fee, ask what you can expect for that flat fee and if there are any circumstances under which the flat fee will be modified.
What Should I Be Wary Of?
Be wary of any attorney who does not seem forthcoming or who sidesteps your questions. Don’t hire any attorney who “litigates first” or who is likely to needlessly create conflict in your case. Last, be wary of promises, guarantees, or things of the like. The uncomfortable truth is that the legal process can be rocky and unpredictable. While there are likelihoods in any scenario, there are no guaranteed outcomes. If your attorney can’t give you an honest assessment, don’t hire him or her.
How Much Will My Case Cost?
There is no way to know how much your case will cost, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask. Almost everyone maintains a monthly budget and it is more than reasonable to try to incorporate your legal fees into your budget.
Your would-be attorney might be able to give you a ballpark estimate, but unless he or she is offering his or her services for a flat fee, that estimate is subject to dramatic revisions. If your amicable divorce breaks down during negotiations, your expected costs will increase, almost regardless of your attorney’s actions. If your custody battle takes a turn for the cooperative, an otherwise-expensive case might be resolved for a fraction of the total estimate.
If you don’t trust your attorney, your case will suffer. If you don’t feel comfortable working closely with your attorney and sharing personal information with him or her, your case may suffer, but you will certainly be unhappier than you otherwise would be. Be open, honest, and receptive, expect the same from your attorney, and you will do great.