The 4 Ps of Getting the Most from the Initial Consult with Your Divorce Lawyer
Your first appointment with a potential lawyer can be an anxious time – even if you’re the one seeking the divorce.
Choosing who will represent you and provide you with legal advice during one of the most difficult times in your life is an important decision. Trying to make that decision after spending only an hour or so with a candidate may seem impossible. How do you ensure that you not only get a sense for whether or not you can work well with the lawyer, but also get the answers you are looking for in that first meeting?
Just follow the four Ps – prepare, prioritize, personality, and payment – to get the information you want and need for you, your family, and your future:
Take 30 minutes in advance of the consultation to prepare the following:
- Your list of goals
- Your list of specific questions
- A single page with basic factual information (date of marriage, dates of birth, addresses for your home, or any other real property) and a list of assets, liabilities, and incomes for you, your spouse, or jointly, to the best of your knowledge.
As you prepare the above, identify what is important to you, organize your thoughts, and summarize critical facts about your personal circumstances. By having this information ahead of time, you can convey it to the lawyer in a concise and efficient way, leaving more time to answer your questions, get to the substance of your matter, and determine if the lawyer is the right fit for you.
Once you “prepare” the above three items, organize your list of goals and questions in priority order from most important to least important. Doing so means that the questions and goals that are most important to you are the ones answered and discussed first, even if there are time constraints.
Equally or perhaps more important than finding a qualified attorney with relevant knowledge and experience is finding one that suits your ethos, communication style, and temperament. Your relationship with your lawyer should not be the source of additional stress, even though you may not agree with each other from time to time. Personality and fit matter.
Because you “prepared” and “prioritized,” you will be able to focus part of your attention on the way you and the lawyer communicate and interact during the consult:
- Is the lawyer answering your questions?
- Does the lawyer communicate in a way that makes sense to you and that you understand?
- Is their personality such that you can see yourself working with them long term?
Select a lawyer you understand, with whom you communicate well, and whose personality enhances the dynamic rather than detracts from it. Odds are you will be able to receive and accept advice and difficult news better from such a person.
Cost is always a main concern in divorce. There are typically too many variables and uncertainties for a lawyer to put a specific price tag on a divorce case, but you should still find out the details regarding the types of fees you will incur and the lawyer’s expectations for the amount and timing of payment of the fees.
- What forms of payment does the lawyer accept?
- Does the lawyer require an advance payment of fees at the beginning of a case or a retainer? If so, how much will it be? Will you need to replenish the retainer at any point? Will the lawyer require a trial retainer immediately before any trial?
- What are the hourly rates for the lawyers and paralegals that may work on your case?
- What is the policy for billing when two lawyers work on the case – will you be “double-billed”?
- Will there be opportunities for work in your case to be delegated to associates and paralegals who bill at a lower hourly rate?
- What are the expenses the lawyer anticipates you might have to incur outside the lawyer’s time?
- Will you have a claim against the opposing party for reimbursement of some or all of your fees?
Ultimately, you must be realistic (with both yourself and your attorney) about your resources and the manner in which you believe you can best budget for and fund your case.
Heather Collier is a divorce attorney who handles cases involving domestic relations and family law, including guardianship, adoptions, divorce, and custody. For more information, contact Heather at 301-907-2804 or firstname.lastname@example.org.