May 17, 2007

Meeting your attorney for the first time

You’ve wondered if you should talk to a lawyer about getting a divorce, weighing if you’re ready to take the next step. You go back and forth, thinking maybe things will get better – but then they don’t improve. Maybe friends and family are pressuring you to call a lawyer. Once you’re finally ready, and you set up an appointment to talk with an attorney. What should you expect?

(If you feel a little nervous, you’re not alone. This may be the first time you’re meeting with an attorney, and you’re not doing it under the best of circumstances. We understand.)

Each attorney has a unique way of conducting a first meeting, but generally, the attorney is interested in getting the history of your relationship and what has happened during the marriage. Many will email you or mail you documents they’d like for you to fill out ahead of time, so they can scan the important information quickly – when you were married, your kids, their ages, your income and that of your spouse, the property you own, and so on. It’s a great idea to get this back to the attorney before your meeting, if possible, because it’ll make your time together that much more productive.

Before your meeting, you may want to make a list of the questions you’d like answered during this interview — and don’t be afraid to check the list while you’re in there.

During the meeting, listen to your gut — don’t be afraid to not hire the attorney on the spot if something feels “off.” The first interview doesn’t obligate you to hire a particular attorney, and if you have a feeling that something isn’t right, it probably isn’t. The attorney you hire for your divorce is going to help determine the outcome of the division of property, the potential for spousal support and child support, and child custody and parenting time, if you have minor children. It’s a big decision, and not one to make on the spur of the moment. (It may also be telling to see how the attorney reacts when you say you’re not ready to make a decision.)

These are some factors you might want to think about before you make a decision:

  • Does the attorney talk more or listen more in this meeting?
  • Attorneys have different approaches: do you want a bulldog who’ll fight every step of the way or someone who will work with the other side to reach an agreement? Ask about approaches and make sure the attorney matches what you want.
  • Is the attorney upfront with you about fees and costs? How does the attorney bill?
  • Do you feel you can be completely open with the attorney? It’s absolutely critical you trust your attorney and that your attorney trusts you. An attorney can’t do the best job representing you without knowing all of the facts, and you won’t be happy with the representation if you don’t feel comfortable enough to provide all the facts.
  • Ask how the attorney will keep in contact with you. If you’d prefer email to regular mail, ask if that’s a possibility.

Something you should also think about is the cost of an initial meeting. This depends on the attorney. Some attorneys bill their hourly rate and if the meeting goes for two hours, you’ll pay for two hours of the attorney’s time. Some attorneys set a fixed price for an initial interview. Don’t be afraid to ask about how the meeting pricing works ahead of time.

(In case you’re wondering, Stephens Family Law offers a free telephone consultation and initial meetings are a flat $100 fee.)