Are you being deposed in your divorce, custody or family law case? The deposition process (especially when you’re the one getting deposed) can be very intimidating. And understandably so. After all, most of us are uncomfortable during a job interview. So, if sitting in a room as a trained and experienced professional “sizes you up” and questions you with the intent of spotting inconsistencies in your statements isn’t your cup of tea… it just means you’re normal.
However, you don’t have to let your nerves get the best of you. Check out our deposition guide so you know what to expect, meet with your divorce or family law attorney, and don’t forget these seven tips when you’re getting deposed.
What to Do When Being Deposed in Your Divorce
1. Be honest.
Although you won’t be in a court room, you’re still under oath, like you are in court, during a deposition. Thus, if you lie, falsify information, make false statements, etc… while you’re being deposed, it’s a serious offense and considered perjury. In addition, any inconsistencies can and likely will be used against you later or if there is a trial.
2. Answer only what the deposing lawyer asks you.
It’s not uncommon for people to talk a lot when they get nervous. However, when you’re being deposed, resist the urge to story tell. If you’re a person who is used to giving lots of details, keep it simple by focusing your response solely on answering the question at hand.
3. “I don’t know” and “I don’t understand” are perfectly acceptable answers if they are true.
If you don’t know or can’t recall the answer, or don’t understand the question – say so. After all, it’s the deposing lawyer’s job to ask questions that you (the individual being deposed) is able to answer and clarify questions you don’t understand. Sometimes, during a deposition, people feel so pressured to give an answer and/or they think it’s bad if they don’t know or have an answer – that they make an assumption, guess or speculate. However, it’s much harder to change an answer given during a deposition later in court, than it is, to expand on your answer after uncovering more information at a later date. And thus why, making assumptions, speculating, and/or guessing during a deposition can be a costly mistake and isn’t in your best interests.
4. Stick to your guns if it’s the truth.
Don’t allow the deposing lawyer to twist your answers or get you to answer something that you don’t believe is right. For instance, an inexperienced deposing attorney may ask you a question that assumes untruthful facts, in hopes that by responding to the question, you’re agreeing to those untruthful facts. Instead, don’t be swayed to change your answer or agree to statements that you don’t believe are true.
5. Be patient.
Listen carefully and completely to each question from the deposing lawyer before answering. Sometimes silence can feel so uncomfortable that we rush to an answer or fill the air with “Umms…” until we’ve processed a question. However, it’s perfectly okay to pause (and thus, for there to be moments of silence) in order to collect yourself, process the question and provide a thoughtful response. In fact, you may find it advantageous to pause (briefly) after each question. If you pause briefly before responding to each question (even when the question is incredibly easy – such as, “What’s your date of birth?”) then when a more complex question comes along and you need more time- you’ll have it and feel less rushed. In addition, besides giving you the opportunity to provide a thoughtful response, being patient and taking your time ensures that you wait to hear the whole question before answering and also gives your attorney the opportunity to object to any inappropriate or unnecessary questions. Lastly, being patient during the deposition will help you remain calm, which is the next tip.
6. Remain calm.
During a divorce or family law deposition, be aware of emotionally-provoking questions. A brief pause to take a few deep breaths is better than an aggressive outburst that you can’t take back. Besides making you look bad, interrupting and/or talking over the deposing attorney makes it difficult for the court reporter to type and have an accurate record of the deposition. In addition, do you really want the deposing attorney (in most divorce and family law cases – the opposing attorney) to discover what pushes your buttons and later be able to use it against you in a trial?
7. Be Professional.
Some people get so nervous about presenting themselves in a desirable light that they become overly friendly during the deposition. Others, don’t take the deposition seriously enough and tell jokes. Instead, you want to act in a professional manner. Show courtesy to those involved and be polite in your interactions. Avoid swear words and sarcastic responses during the deposition. Just like you don’t have to like a co-worker, but you need to respect him/her – the same applies to the other party, the deposing attorney, the court reporter, etc… during a deposition.
Now that you’ve gotten a chance to check out our previous posts, here are 5 tips to make the most out of your intake appointment with your divorce attorney.
TIP # 1: When meeting with a Divorce Attorney, make sure the Divorce Attorney Listens to and Matches Your Goals.
Not all divorce attorneys are the same.
Some divorce attorneys are more aggressive and confrontational than other divorce attorneys.
For example, although alternative dispute resolution (methods, such as mediation, for negotiating with your spouse) is required in most cases in Minnesota, some divorce attorneys push more strongly for a trial. Going to trial is where the majority of legal fees and costs reside during a divorce. –> If you’re looking to avoid going to trial in your divorce, then going with an attorney with a high percentage of divorce cases that go to trial, may not be the best fit.
Some divorce attorneys are more comfortable with a client completing case tasks that don’t require attorney oversight than other divorce attorneys.
For example, some divorce attorneys allow a client to arrange a property evaluation, such as a house appraisal with a third party, while other divorce attorneys view this as part of his/her billable services. –> If you want your divorce attorney to handle everything, than you’ll be dissatisfied with a divorce attorney who gives you a list of tasks to complete independently. Whereas, if you’re goal is to save money, you’d be happy that you didn’t get charged for things you could do yourself.
The point is, in order to guarantee a good fit, you need to identify ahead of time what your goals are and evaluate what kind of divorce attorney you want representing you.
Thus, it’s important to make sure that you get a divorce attorney that matches what you’re looking for and is able to meet your needs. So if you haven’t already, use the intake appointment to get to know your divorce attorney better.
Signs that You’ve Found a Divorce Attorney that Listens to and Matches Your Goals:
– Your divorce attorney takes notes when you’re talking about your goals.
– Your divorce attorney makes direct eye contact with you when you’re speaking and provides his/her undivided attention to you and your case.
– You and your divorce attorney, together, create a plan on how to proceed with your divorce that incorporates your goals and meets your needs.
*NOTE: If your divorce attorney hasn’t asked about your goals by the intake appointment, that’s a BIG red flag and it’d be advantageous to evaluate your decision to hire him/her.
Tip # 2: When meeting with a Divorce Attorney, Be Prepared to Offer Personal Information.
As discussed briefly in our previous post, your divorce attorney will want to collect information about a wide variety of topics that may pertain to your divorce at the intake appointment. Aside from core issues, like your property, debts, incomes, and children, often times more uncomfortable and private issues arise, like domestic abuse, drug & alcohol use, mental health issues, etc… It’s easy to feel like your being judged and that your life is under a microscope when you’re being asked such questions by an outsider.
However, you may find it helpful to know that the client-patient relationship you have with your doctor is very similar to the relationship you share with your divorce attorney.
To illustrate, just like what you tell your doctor is private and confidential, the same goes for what you share with your divorce attorney. In addition, similar to your doctor, your divorce attorney is ethically bound to do what’s in your best interests. And lastly, just like the recommendations a doctor makes and the medical plan that s/he creates for you is based on the information you share with him/her, an attorney’s counsel and legal advice is also directly related to the information you provide him/her.
So although it’s difficult opening up to a stranger, omitting certain facts is detrimental to your case because it limits your divorce attorney’s abilities. Therefore, it’s best to be completely honest and trust that the divorce attorney is only asking you such questions so s/he has a thorough understanding of your situation. After all, your divorce attorney can’t provide the best possible counsel and legal guidance if s/he doesn’t have all the facts.
TIP # 3: When meeting with a Divorce Attorney, Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Clarification.
Some people shy away from asking questions. Don’t. Although hopefully your divorce attorney does a good job of explaining things to you, if you don’t understand something s/he said, ask for clarification. There’s no need for embarrassment. The divorce attorney does this for a living. You don’t.
Therefore, neither your divorce attorney nor yourself, for that matter, should expect you to be well-versed in family law and divorce procedures. Instead, your divorce attorney should be willing to talk with you until you not only understand, but feel comfortable and confident in the decisions being made in your divorce.
TIP # 4: When meeting with a Divorce Attorney, Make Sure You Understand What the Next Steps Are.
As mentioned in our previous post, at the end of the intake appointment with your divorce attorney, s/he should clearly explain what the next steps are in your divorce case. It’s essential that you know what the divorce attorney needs from you and what s/he will be doing to proceed with your divorce.
In fact, it’s important that you not only understand what the next steps are after the intake appointment, but throughout your divorce case. There will be times in your divorce, when your divorce attorney won’t be able to proceed until s/he hears back from you or gets something signed by you, etc…so it’s important that you’re always on the same page. When there’s a disconnect in communication and responsiveness between the two of you, it prolongs the divorce process.
TIP # 5: When meeting with a Divorce Attorney, Take a Proactive Stance with Your Divorce (Starting at the Intake Appointment).
There should never be a time when you feel like your divorce attorney has lost focus of your goals. If you find yourself in this situation, regardless of whether it’s after the intake appointment or later on, let your divorce attorney know immediately. The more you discuss your goals and expectations with your divorce attorney, the more likely you’ll be satisfied with the end result.
You can satisfy tip #4 and #5 by requesting that at the end of each conversation or meeting with your divorce attorney, that s/he summarizes the key points and the next steps in your case for both him/her and yourself. This way you can be confident that you’re divorce attorney is working towards your goals and you ensure that you always know what’s happening with your divorce case.
Thanks for checking out our series, What To Know Before Meeting With A Divorce Attorney. Hopefully, you’ve gotten a better idea of what to expect when meeting with a divorce attorney, you feel more prepared for the intake appointment, and you’re able to find the divorce attorney that’s right for you!
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Besides knowing what to expect, what else would make meeting with a divorce attorney easier? Chime in below ~
Most people are a little uncomfortable during an intake with a divorce attorney. However, a lot of the initial discomfort can be avoided when you know what to expect and have a good idea of what happens at intake with a divorce attorney.
Welcome to our fourth blog post in the series, What to Know Before Meeting with a Divorce Attorney.
Which brings us to today, What Happens At An Intake Appointment With A Divorce Attorney? So let’s talk about the actual intake appointment itself. Again, not all divorce and family law firms are the same, but we’ll give you a general idea of what happens so you can feel prepared.
Basic Agenda for an Intake with a Divorce Attorney
Ideally, you can expect these five things to occur during an intake with a divorce attorney:
1. Establishing a Relationship:
Perhaps the most significant aspect of the intake appointment, is that it’s your first opportunity to establish your relationship with your divorce attorney. It’s essential that you feel comfortable talking to your divorce attorney and that you can confide in him/her. We’ll go into more detail next week about the client-attorney relationship.
In addition, if possible, take a moment to introduce yourself to any other additional staff you’ll be working with, such as a paralegal, before leaving the intake appointment. Although paralegals can’t provide any legal advice or guidance, you save money by working directly with the paralegal on case matters such as scheduled court appearances, correspondences, and filings.
2. Completing the Engagement Letter & Fee Agreement (Contract):
The divorce attorney you meet with might refer to this as the client retention contract, the engagement letter, the representation and fee agreement, etc… Regardless of what the contract is called, it’s important that you’re able to review it with your divorce attorney, ask any questions you may have, and receive a personal copy for your records.
The contract sets forth the parameters of the client-attorney relationship, legal fees and service payments, client and attorney responsibilities, and other additional information regarding representation and firm policies. Although the contract can be intimidating at first due to it’s length, it’s reassuring to have everything in writing and clear expectations from the start. If the divorce attorney doesn’t have a contract, his/her contract is extremely vague and short, or s/he is unwilling to sign a contract with you, this is a BIG red flag and consider looking for a different divorce attorney.
*REMEMBER: It’s important that you understand the contract before signing it. If there is anything you don’t understand, don’t hesitate to ask the divorce attorney. S/he should be more than willing to explain and answer any and all questions. In addition, if a concern or question regarding representation and/or legal services isn’t addressed in the contract, bring it up and consider adding it to the contract before signing.
3. Depositing the Retainer:
Work on your case will start and you’ll officially have representation when you and your divorce attorney have both signed and dated the contract, and you’ve provided the retainer. Since we’ve discussed the retainer throughout this series (see links in the first paragraphs of this article for past posts), we won’t go into more detail here.
4. Discussing Your Divorce & Providing Legal Guidance:
Most divorce attorneys will collect information about you, your family and your spouse at the intake appointment. It’s not uncommon for the divorce attorney to ask you a wide-range of questions during the intake appointment. Although it can feel invasive, it gives the divorce attorney an overview and helps him/her spot possible issues that may arise in your case. We’ll talk more about this in our post next week.
At this time, you can also bring up any other issues not yet discussed and seek legal advice on any pressing concerns or family matters. In addition, if you’ve been served with divorce papers or have any other previous court orders, your divorce attorney will review such documents with you at this time. If you’re unable to bring these documents to the intake appointment for whatever reason, it’s essential that you and your divorce attorney still discuss such matters and that a plan is set in motion to get these documents as soon as possible.
5. Developing a Plan & Next Steps in Case:
At the end of the intake with a divorce attorney, the client and divorce attorney should develop a plan for moving forward the case, based on the client’s specific situation, goals and preferences. Before leaving the intake appointment, the divorce attorney should clearly explain what s/he will be doing and what s/he will be needing from you.
Preparing for an intake appointment with a divorce attorney is difficult when you’ve never met with an attorney before, you don’t know what to expect, and/or you don’t know what happens at an intake appointment with a divorce attorney. Therefore, welcome to the third post in our blog series, What to Know Before Meeting with a Divorce Attorney.
In our first post, we discussed what to expect during a consultation and how to use the consultation to find the best divorce attorney for you.
Next, in our second post, we talked about scheduling an intake appointment with a divorce attorney and what to ask when scheduling an intake appointment.This article includes a handy checklist to use when you’re on the phone so make sure you check it out.
Now, in today’s post, we’ll help you prepare for your intake appointment with a divorce attorney by explaining what to bring with you when you meet with him/her.
What To Bring to an Intake Appointment with a Divorce Attorney
1. Current Court Documents:
This refers to any and all court documents you’ve received before your intake appointment with a divorce attorney. For example, if you’ve been served by your spouse or s/he has filed for a divorce in Minnesota, you should have received two documents known as, the Petition and Summons.
It’s essential that you bring these documents (such as, the Petition and Summons) to avoid missing the deadline to contest your divorce and thus, forfeit your right to express your opinion regarding significant aspects of your divorce (such as, property division, child custody and child support).
To illustrate, in Minnesota you only have 30 days to respond after you’ve been served and your reply must be properly formatted into a legal document called, the Answer, which typically also includes one’s Counter-Petition.
For more information about the initial steps in a divorce in Minnesota and the legal documents mentioned above (such as, the Petition, Summons, Counter-Petition, Answer, etc…) read: How Do You Get a Divorce in Minnesota.
2. Previous Court Documents:
It’s also helpful for you to bring any other court documents from previous divorce and/or family law cases that you were involved in (if any) before this divorce.
For example, if applicable, you’ll want to bring the following documents listed below:
Court documents from any/all previous divorces, such as the Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, Order for Judgement and Judgement and Decree. The judgement and decree is the final court document that is signed by the judge, establishes the divorce between the couple, and spells out the duties and responsibilities of each party regarding such matters as, property and asset division, child custody and child support.
Other family law related court documents, such as Orders For Protection, Recognition of Parentage (ROP’s), Child Support and/or Child Custody Modification Arrangements, etc.
3. Financial Documents and Other Important Documents:
If you have any original financial documents such as, you and/or your spouse’s paystubs, 401k statements, pension plans, tax returns, etc… it’s in your best interest to start collecting these immediately so that you can give them to your divorce attorney.
Although we don’t require original financial documents right away, some law offices like to collect these documents immediately. As mentioned in our previous post, it’s best if you find out exactly what documents your divorce attorney will require from you at the intake appointment by asking during the consultation or when you’re scheduling the intake appointment.
* NOTE: Please be assured that although most divorce attorneys will ask for such financial documents, if you don’t have access to some/any of these financial documents, your divorce attorney can help you get access. In Minnesota, both parties are required to disclose any and all information to one another, but here’s what you should do if you believe your spouse is hiding assets from you.
4. Retainer Payment:
Most divorce and family law firms require some form of an initial retainer before working on your case. You can think of the retainer as an initial, good-faith deposit that demonstrates you’re ability to hire a divorce attorney and that you’ll use to pay for his/her legal services. It’s expected that you’ll bring the retainer to the intake appointment when you meet with your divorce attorney. As mentioned in our previous post, you should use the consultation to request information about retainer amounts, payment methods, and fee agreements.
One last thing about the retainer payment, if someone other than yourself will be paying on your behalf, it’s best that you inform your divorce attorney of this ahead of time (such as, during the consultation or when you’re scheduling the intake appointment). Some divorce and family law firms will only take checks from a third party. Some divorce and family law firms require the third party to appear in person to confirm identity and to obtain permission; while other divorce and family law firms will take a third party’s credit card number over the phone. The point is, if a third party will be paying the retainer, you’ll want to know if there are any additional procedures that are required ahead of time to ensure you’re prepared for the intake appointment.
5. Driver’s License and/or State Identification Card:
Your driver’s license and/or state identification card will be used by the divorce attorney to confirm your identity at the intake appointment. Identity confirmation is a very important practice because it ensures your safety and confidentiality by preventing someone from obtaining private information about you and your case by pretending to be you. In addition, if you’re paying the initial retainer with your credit card, your driver’s license or state identification card will prove that you own the account. Lastly, if you’re working with a small law firm or solo practitioner for your divorce, you most likely won’t need to show your I.D. card again to the divorce attorney after the initial intake appointment.
6. A Guest, such as a Friend or Family Member:
We’ve added a guest to the list of things to bring to an intake appointment with a divorce attorney not because you necessarily should or shouldn’t bring someone with you, but because it’s something that you should decide before the intake appointment with the divorce attorney. In addition, it’s something that you should discuss with the divorce attorney either during the consultation or when you’re scheduling an intake appointment. Before you decide, know the pros and cons of bringing someone with you to an intake appointment with a divorce attorney.
Hopefully you’ve gotten a better idea of what to talk about with a divorce attorney during a consultation and when scheduling an intake appointment, and what you’ll want to bring with you to the intake appointment through this blog series, What to Know Before Meeting with Your Divorce Attorney.
When you’re looking to hire a specific divorce or family law attorney, you need to schedule an intake appointment with him/her. Because it’s typically the first time you meet the attorney, most people are a little apprehensive about the intake appointment. After all, it’s normal to feel awkward initially when we’re in an unfamiliar situation and we can’t rely on previous experience. However, our blog series called, What to Know Before Meeting with Your Divorce Attorney is all about uncovering the unknowns so you can be more at ease and comfortable with the entire process.
Today’s blog post is dedicated to what you should do next after you’ve selected a divorce attorney – schedule the intake appointment. To make this process as easy as possible for you, we’ve included a checklist you can use with the 8 things to ask when you’re scheduling an intake appointment with a divorce attorney. You can find the checklist at the end of this article.
Schedule an Intake Appointment with a Divorce Attorney
Once you’ve decided to retain an attorney for your divorce, set up an intake appointment with the divorce attorney as soon as possible. This may seem obvious. In fact, you may be wondering why we even brought this up. However, it’s one of those things that’s easier said than done.
For a lot of people, calling to schedule an intake appointment to retain a divorce attorney means the start to the end of a marriage. Even if you haven’t been happy for a long time or have been talking about getting a divorce, it’s the completing of this step that often makes it “more real” for people and with that realization can come a flood of unwanted emotions and unanswered questions. At this point, it’s very easy to become paralyzed with fear and worry.
However, if you’re past the contemplation stage and you’re absolutely sure that you want a divorce, allowing yourself the chance to meet your divorce attorney can help with some of those unanswered questions and fears and provide some support.
Schedule an In-Person Intake Appointment with a Divorce Attorney
Personally, we recommend meeting with a divorce attorney in person at his/her office for the intake appointment. This allows you the chance to meet face-to-face and get to know the divorce attorney who’ll be representing you and anyone else (such as, a legal assistant or paralegal) who’ll be working with you throughout your divorce.
The only time we don’t meet in person is when the firm has been retained by an individual who lives far away, has mobility concerns or time constraints, and therefore, prefers to have the intake meeting over the phone or by using video software like Skype or FaceTime.
What to Ask When Scheduling an Intake Appointment with an Attorney
1. If you’d prefer not to meet at the office or if it’s difficult for you to meet in person with the divorce attorney, determine if the firm has the resources and ability to accommodate your needs/preferences before you schedule an intake appointment. For example, you can ask if the divorce attorney is willing to meet you at a different location that’s more convenient for you.
* If this is the case, just make sure that the location you select still ensures your privacy and confidentiality. Or if you’ve decided to phone or video conference make sure to exchange information, such as Skype user names, and arrange who will initiate the phone/video conference when you set up the intake appointment.
2. When you schedule the intake appointment, ask how long it will take so you’re not stretching yourself too thin.
* Trying to rush through the intake appointment because you only allocated 30 minutes (when you could really use an hour) adds stress. It’s hard to focus if you’re worried about making it to your next commitment on time. Therefore, schedule the intake appointment for a day when you’re less busy. If that’s not possible, you can always ask if the lawyer would be willing to spread the intake appointment out into 3 smaller meetings. Or try to get some help with your commitments to lighten your schedule. For example, arranging a carpool with another parent for your kid’s soccer practice that night so that you have enough time for the appointment.
–> In addition, map out your route ahead of time and make sure you take into account parking and traffic on the day and time of your intake appointment. Always give yourself longer than you think it will take to get to your intake appointment. That way, you’re not running into your intake appointment already frazzled because you’re late.
3. Provide a safe and secure (meaning, it should be private, confidential and password-protected) phone number with voicemail and/or email address, in case the divorce attorney needs to reach you before your intake appointment or if you’d like to receive an intake appointment reminder from the firm.
* If you haven’t been asked already, let the firm know the best way to reach you and your preferred method of contact. If you don’t have access to a secure phone line or you have reason to believe that your email has been compromised, inform the firm immediately so that steps can be taken to protect your confidentiality and privacy.
4. Confirm the address of the law firm and don’t be afraid to ask for directions and nearby landmarks.
5. Ask about parking options for the intake appointment.
* You’ll want to confirm ahead of time if you need to find a nearby parking ramp, have cash/change for a meter, or if the firm provides free parking through it’s own parking lot.
6. If you didn’t do it at the phone consultation or forgot, confirm the retainer amount and discuss the method of payment.
* If you’re planning on having someone else pay the retainer on your behalf, it’s a good time to bring this up when your scheduling your intake appointment.
8. Before getting off the phone, ask if there is anything else you should know at this point. This gives your divorce attorney the opportunity to add anything else s/he may want you to know or discuss ahead of time.
This is the 4th post, Why Caseload Matters In Your Divorce, in the series called, “Got a Good Lawyer?”
The series is dedicated to helping you find the best attorney for you and your divorce. It’ll help you in the decision making process by pointing out some things to consider when you’re deciding who to hire as your divorce lawyer. In particular, I’ve identified 10 criteria to use when you’re evaluating which divorce lawyer is right for you.
So far in the series, I’ve discussed 4 criteria to consider: Communication, Personality, Support help, and Background experience and education. This week’s post is about criteria 5: The Divorce Attorney’s Current Clients and Caseload.
ReCap of the “Got a Good Lawyer?” Series So Far:
For those of you just joining us, here’s a glimpse of what’s been covered so far in the series. For your convenience, I have linked all 4 criteria mentioned below to their previous posts. Simply click the criteria and you’ll be taken directly to the related post to read.
What to Consider Before Hiring Your Divorce Attorney:
Does your divorce lawyer practice in the area of family law and have experience with divorce cases similar to your own? What majority of your attorney’s cases are divorce cases?
Now to this week’s topic: Criteria 5,
The Divorce Attorney’s Current Clients and Caseload
The divorce attorney’s current clients and caseload will impact his/her ability to competently serve you.
For example, let’s say that you find a divorce attorney that has a reputation for caring about his/her clients, or you find a divorce attorney that is known for his/her dedication and hard work on cases…
Great! That’s what you want!
However, even with these great qualities, no divorce attorney is immune to the limitations of time. After all, there’s only so much that can get done in a day.
Therefore, the simple fact remains…
If your divorce attorney takes more clients and cases than s/he can handle, it impacts you, as the client, because your attorney won’t be able to deliver the best service possible.
Therefore, to ensure that you and your divorce case get the quality representation and attention that you deserve, don’t overlook the fact that the divorce attorney that you’re considering may already have a full plate. Like this guy…
“How Do I Know If An Attorney Has Time for Me and My Divorce?”
I recommend that you ask the divorce attorney that you’re considering on hiring,
“Do you currently have the time and resources available to competently handle my case?”
I realize that this may seem silly, because some attorneys may say yes because they don’t know their limits, or worst case scenario, say yes because they want your business. However, even in the worst case scenario, I’d still ask and here’s why…
By asking this question, you signal to your divorce lawyer that this is a concern for you. By communicating this concern from the get-go, you ensure that your divorce attorney is made aware of your concern right away. By making your lawyer cognizant of the issue from the start, s/he is able to take the necessary steps throughout your case to ensure that it doesn’t happen. Therefore, by voicing your concern, you increase your chances of receiving quality representation and services. After all, it’s in any lawyer’s best interest to keep his/her clients happy since lawyers depend on referrals from past clients for future business!
One more helpful tip,
Consider As Many Criteria as Possible when You’re Deciding Who to Hire
It’s to your advantage to take into consideration as many of the 10 criteria as possible when you’re judging which divorce lawyer to hire. The more criteria you use when evaluating and deciding which divorce attorney is right for you and your divorce, the more satisfied you’ll be with the attorney you pick in the end.
To illustrate, if your divorce attorney has a legal assistant or paralegal (criteria 3: support help), then the firm can take more clients, than a solo practitioner, because more staff means more people to help with your case and share the work.
Therefore, this example shows how taking into consideration both criteria 5 (the attorney’s current clients and caseload) and criteria 3 (support help) help you make a better decision about if you’re divorce attorney will have time for you and your divorce case, than if you only focused on criteria 5 or criteria 3.
In addition, if your divorce attorney practices exclusively in family law and is experienced with divorce cases (criteria 4: background experience and education), s/he can have more clients at a time, than an attorney who practices in several areas of law, because presumably the general practice attorney is going to be serving a wider range of clients and therefore having to set aside more time to learn and research laws in multiple areas (such as, criminal law, or bankruptcy law) due to having unrelated cases.
Therefore, this example shows how taking into consideration criteria 5 (the attorney’s current clients and caseload) and criteria 4 (background experience and education) help you make a you make a better decision about if you’re divorce attorney will have time for you and your divorce case, than if you solely focused on criteria 5 or criteria 4.
Ultimately, the reason you care about the 10 criteria that I’m sharing with you in the series, is because they will help you find the right divorce attorney for you and your divorce by helping you answer important questions, such as how we used criteria 3, 4, and 5 in today’s post to help you answer the question, “How do I know if my divorce attorney has time for me and my divorce case?”
And as I just demonstrated, it’s detrimental to base your decision only on a single criteria because you just saw how criteria 3 and criteria 4, can impact criteria 5. So when you make your final decision of who to hire as your divorce attorney, just make sure to consider as many criteria as possible.
Thanks for reading. In the next post in the series, “Got a Good Lawyer?” we’ll discuss criteria 6.
Love to Hear From You…
Other factors such as, the firm’s organization and the attorney’s time management skills, impact how many clients and cases an attorney can competently represent at one time.
What else do you think impacts an attorney’s ability to competently represent several clients at a time?
Take a moment to add to the discussion by commenting in the section below.
Support Help and Professional Background and Experience
This is the third post in the series, “Got a Good Lawyer?” This week I’ll discuss Criteria 3 (Support Help) and Criteria 4 (Professional Background and Experience) to consider when selecting your divorce lawyer. Also, I’ll share some research on the importance of your divorce lawyer’s looks. I’m looking forward to hearing your opinion on the matter. Scroll down to the section titled “Criteria 3 and 4 to Consider when Hiring a Divorce Lawyer” to go straight to this week’s post.
For Those just Joining the Series,
Welcome, and thank you for checking out the blog!
I’ve provided a brief recap below explaining what the series is about and its purpose. However, I recommend checking out posts 1 and 2 to get completely up to speed.
For your convenience, I’ve hyperlinked the post titles below so you can just click to be taken directly to the article.
This is the first article in the series, “Got a Good Lawyer?” In the article, I mentioned that in order to get the best representation in Minnesota, you want to find the lawyer that is the best fit for you and your divorce. This probably doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone. However, I thought it would be helpful if you had some criteria to base your decision on. Therefore, the series focuses on 10 criteria to use when judging which divorce lawyer is right for you.
Last week, in Post 2, I introduced criteria 1: Communication and criteria 2: Personality. I stressed the importance of knowing your divorce lawyer’s communication procedures before hiring him/her to represent you in your divorce. That way you know ahead of time what to expect when it comes to communicating with your divorce lawyer.
In regards to personality, I shared research that demonstrates the value of meeting briefly with your divorce lawyer in person, to get an idea of what his/her personality is like before hiring him/her for your divorce.
Criteria 3 and 4 to Consider when Hiring a Divorce Lawyer…
Criteria 3: SUPPORT HELP
It’s important to know what type of help the divorce lawyer that you’re considering has available to him/her. For example, does your divorce lawyer have a legal assistant, paralegal, administrative assistant, etc…?Let’s take a look at some research.
Our Ability to Process Information
Neurophysiological studies show that although the human brain receives 11 million pieces of information per second from our environment, we can only process 40 bits per second. In addition, due to today’s fast-paced and technology-driven society, information overload has become rampant. Lastly, additional research shows that the more cognitive resources required to filter through information, the less we have to use when it comes time to complete the task at hand.
Case in point, see picture of computer screen posted below. Yikes!
Therefore, hiring a divorce lawyer that has at least 1 additional staff member, helps manage the work that needs to be done on your case, keeps your case more organized, ensures important details don’t get overlooked, and allows your divorce lawyer to dedicate his/her attention and focus on the most important aspects of your divorce case.
Also, hiring a divorce lawyer that has at least 1 additional staff member can save you money. For instance, if your divorce lawyer is a solo practitioner, you might be paying high attorney fees for tasks required on your divorce case (such as, filing with the court) that could otherwise be done by a legal assistant at half the price!
Criteria 4: PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND AND EXPERIENCE:
Check for Family Law Background
It’s essential that you consider the lawyer’s professional experience and background for a number of reasons. To illustrate, let’s say you check out a law firm’s web site and the firm advertises that they’ve been practicing for 20 years.
You may be thinking, “Great! They have a ton of experience.”
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. For instance, are they adding up the individual years among each attorney in the practice and therefore, getting a total of 20 years? Hopefully that’s not the case. However, it doesn’t hurt to ask.
So let’s say you do ask, and you find out that each lawyer has 20 years of experience individually.
So your lawyer has 20 years of experience, but in what area?
It does you absolutely no good to hire an attorney for your divorce in Minnesota who has 18 years of experience in criminal law, and only 2 years infamily law, or worst yet, none!
Evaluate Experience with Minnesota Divorce Cases
Therefore, you’ll want to evaluate how much experience the lawyer has in family law in Minnesota, and even more specifically, with divorce cases that are similar to your own. By doing so, you increase your chances of finding a divorce lawyer in Minnesota that is familiar with your individualized needs and specific concerns. In addition, it’s beneficial if the majority of the lawyer’s family law cases have been divorces in Minnesota, because the current laws and legal statues will be fresh in his/her mind. And lastly, it’ll be more likely that your divorce lawyer will know the Minnesota judge that will be overseeing your divorce case.
Review Education and Ability to Practice
In terms of education, you want a divorce lawyer that has graduated from an accredited law school, passed the Bar exam and is currently licensed to practice as an attorney in the state of Minnesota. You should be able to easily find this information on the attorney’s website in his/her about me section. Or, when you go for your initial consultation with your divorce lawyer, check the walls of his/her office and you’ll most likely see his/her diplomas and certifications hung up. You may also find it helpful to know if your divorce lawyer belongs to any associations or currently serves on any committees related to family law. This information can also usually be found on the attorney’s website in his/her about me section, but you can always just ask too.
Now to the Study: Looks More Important than The Books?
Mary Ellen Sullivan wrote an interesting article based on research conducted by Leigh McMillan, Vice President of Marketing for Avvo (an attorney-client networking site). The results of the study were based on the responses from 10,000 consumers. The study looked at factors involved in how individuals choose a lawyer.
The lawyer’s head shot mattered more to people when deciding who to hire as their lawyer than where the lawyer went to school.
To read her full article, check out the link at the end of the article under the “Sources” section.
What Do You Think?
How important is where your divorce lawyer went to school?
Please take a moment to add to the discussion by commenting in the section below.Look forward to reading what you have to say!
Thanks, and see you in 2 weeks for my fourth post in the “Got a Good Lawyer?” series regarding criteria 5!
Manfred Zimmerman, “Neurophysiology of Sensory Systems,” in Fundamentals of Sensory Physiology, 3rd, rev. ed., ed. Robert R. Schmidt (New York: Springer, 1986), 116.
Now do you hire a small law firm for your divorce in Minnesota or go with a big law firm?
There are definitely some advantages to hiring a small law firm, which we’ll look at here.
4 Advantages of Hiring a Small Law Firm for your Divorce
Perhaps the most significant advantage of hiring a small law firm for your Minnesota divorce is cost.
Small law firms have less staff to pay. They also have less organizational overhead, lower advertising costs, and less expensive office space rentals. In any law office, these expenses will inevitably be pushed off onto the client, usually in the form of higher fees.
For example, big law firms in downtown Minneapolis charge a minimum of $400 an hour with paralegal fees of $300 an hour for divorce and family law cases, and be prepared for a significant initial retainer.
Focus on Divorce and Family Law
Small firms often, although not necessarily, are more likely to specialize in the practice area they work in.
Usually you can tell, through the firm’s advertising, website, or after calling, what areas they practice in and deal with on a regular basis.
It’s also easier to figure out how much experience and practice the lawyer that will be representing you has had with divorce when you go with a small firm.
When you work with a small firm, you meet all the staff.
Along these lines, you always know who is working on your case. Unfortunately, just because you meet with the partner of a big law firm, doesn’t mean that s/he will actually be the divorce attorney working on your case.
Do you really want to take the risk of your divorce case getting passed off to a less-experienced associate or bouncing from one attorney to another throughout your case?
Instead, with a small firm, what you see, is what you get! Staff at a small firm get the opportunity to know you and your case on a personal level. That’s exactly what you want from your divorce attorney considering the fact that your divorce case is a personal matter!
Because there are less people to get through and because staff will not be working on a high volume of different kinds of cases that they may not be as familiar with, staff are easier to get a hold of and more quickly available when you need them. This includes being able to directly communicate with the lawyer working on your divorce.
Please keep in mind that these are the common differences between small law firms and big law firms.
There are additional factors you should take into consideration as well when choosing your divorce lawyer.
Next week, we’ll get into the details and show you how to get the BEST representation for your divorce.
When you’re thinking about divorce expenses or looking to hire a divorce attorney, it’s important that you take into consideration Minnesota divorce retainers and understand retainer fee agreements. If you’ve never hired a lawyer before, you may be wondering, “What’s a Retainer?” This article explains what a retainer is, how a retainer works in Minnesota divorce and family law cases, and what you need to know before signing a retainer fee agreement or representation contract with an attorney.
Legal Retainer Definition
A retainer (also sometimes referred to as a, retainer fee) is a good-faith, advance payment made to a lawyer for legal services. The retainer can be a single advance payment or reoccurring, depending on your situation. (We’ll talk more about single vs. reoccurring payments later in the article).
In addition to signing an engagement letter (or representation contract), the retainer establishes a client-attorney relationship between the individual and the lawyer. Without the retainer, an attorney will not work on your divorce or family law case, provide legal advice or representation. Thus, the retainer provides the individual with legal services and ensures that the attorney will be paid for such services.
How Does a Retainer Work?
First, the retainer is typically collected during the intake appointment with the attorney. There are a number of different payment methods available to you. Learn about the different retainer payment options by reading: How to Pay for a Divorce Lawyer. Additionally, in some cases, your spouse can be ordered to pay your attorney fees. To learn more about when you can don’t have to pay attorney fees, read: Attorney Fees.
After intake, the lawyer puts the retainer into a separate trust account for the client. The retainer belongs to the client. No money from the retainer can be collected by the attorney unless it has been earned.
Then, as the lawyer works on the divorce or family law case, s/he charges the client for legal services provided. The client pays for such legal services with the retainer (the money in the trust account). As services are rendered, the lawyer withdraws money from the retainer for payment. Once earned, money from the retainer is deposited into the firm’s account and no longer belongs to the client. Any unearned portion of the retainer is returned back to the client. (We’ll talk more about retainer refunds later in the article).
Minnesota Divorce Retainers
Typically, divorce and family law attorneys in Minnesota require an initial retainer somewhere between $3,000 – $5,000 and charge on an hourly rate basis. Minnesota laws, specifically Minnesota’s Rules of Professional Conduct Regarding Fees, guide what attorneys can charge, when they can charge, how they can charge and their responsibilities to the client-attorney relationship. For example, in Minnesota, it’s illegal for an attorney to charge contingency fees in family law matters. However, Minnesota divorce and family law attorneys can legally seek reimbursement from the client for in-house costs and materials, like: paper; printing; coping; telephone charges; postage; etc…
TIP: In-house costs quickly add up and can exceed people’s expectations. Therefore, it’s important that you ask the attorney how additional case costs and expenses are handled. For example, at Majeski Law, we do not charge the client separately for such in-house expenses listed above.
Single (Initial) Retainer vs. Reoccurring (Replenishing) Retainer Fees
The initial retainer is the amount your divorce or family law attorney believes is reasonably necessary to start working on your case. As your case proceeds, you may need to replenish your initial retainer to continue working with the attorney. Thus, the initial retainer may cover all legal services during your divorce or family law case or you may have reoccurring retainer fees. Whether you’ll have a single retainer fee or reoccurring retainer fees will depend mostly on you, your attorney and the specifics of your case. (We’ll talk more about replenishing the retainer later in this article).
TIP: Don’t be afraid to bring up money concerns with your divorce or family law attorney. In fact, it’s best to address any financial issues right away with your attorney. Generally, the more you, as the client, do yourself, the more money you can save. Therefore, it can be helpful to identify tasks that you can do yourself, and tasks that you will need an attorney to complete for you.
Retainer versus Additional Costs and Total Expense
Typically, the retainer is only used to pay attorney fees. However, you’ll have additional case expenses, such as court filing fees. Court fees are set by the court, collected by the court, and paid to the court. You pay court fees regardless of whether you have an attorney or not as they are mandatory in the state of Minnesota. For example, it costs about $400 to file for divorce in Minnesota.
In addition, during your divorce or family law case, you may acquire additional services from a third party, such as a mediator, custody evaluator or a property appraiser. Like court fees, your attorney has nothing to do with third party fees, and retainer funds are not used to pay such third party fees. Instead, payment for services from a third party should be arranged between the third party and the client, directly.
NOTE: An attorney may be willing to use money from the retainer to pay a court filing or process server fee on your behalf, but those tend to be the only (and rare) exceptions. If retainer money is used to pay a court or process server fee, the firm can provide you with a court and/or process server receipt. In addition, best practice would also be to have such items and services clearly accounted for on the firm’s invoice.
Thus, the retainer does not cover your divorce or family law case expenses. Instead, the retainer is only for attorney fees. We stress this point, because some individuals mistakenly take the initial retainer fee to be the total cost of their divorce or family law case. Although attorney fees (and thus, the retainer) impact the total cost, they’re not the only expenses in a divorce or family law case. Instead, how much your divorce or family law case will cost, will depend upon your specific situation and several different factors. Therefore, it’s best if you can budget accordingly.
The terms of your engagement letter or representation contract with your attorney should include a section regarding the retainer fee agreement. The retainer fee agreement or retainer agreement you make with your lawyer should not only be in writing, but should clearly state the firm’s procedures and policies regarding the following: Retainer amount; Hourly rates; Services provided; Scope of representation; etc…
Retainer and Accounting Practices
In addition, your lawyer should provide you with a regular invoice. A good invoice shows you what services were provided, who completed the work (such as, an attorney or a paralegal), and the amount withdrawn from the retainer. Best practice would be that you receive a monthly invoice, unless no services were provided that month. In that case, depending on the firm, you may or may not receive an invoice that month. The firm’s accounting and invoice practices should also be explained and stated in writing in the retainer agreement.
Retainer Fee, Replenishing the Retainer and Legal Representation
As mentioned earlier, you may need to replenish the retainer. Some divorce and family law attorneys require the retainer to be replenished to the initial amount, while others require a larger or smaller amount. Inability to replenish the retainer usually results in the divorce or family law attorney withdrawing from the case. In that instance, the client would either need to represent him/herself in the divorce or family law matter or seek services from a free legal clinic. Again, the firm’s policy regarding representation and retainer replenishment should be clearly explained and stated in writing in the retainer agreement.
Once your case is completed and closed with the firm, you should receive your last invoice. At this time, you may still have money left in your retainer. As previously mentioned, the retainer money belongs to the client, until it’s earned. Therefore, any unearned portion of the retainer belongs to the client and must be returned.
In addition, you, the client, may fire your divorce or family law attorney at any time. Similarly, whatever balance is left in your retainer after closing out your case, would be returned to you. Therefore, whether you end up receiving money back, depends on the remaining balance of your retainer when your case is closed (regardless of whether your case is finished or because you fired your attorney).
NOTE: Because the retainer money belongs to the client until earned and the client is not receiving the entire retainer fee, it’s not truly a retainer refund. It’s actually more accurate to call it an unearned retainer return. However, because “unearned retainer return” is not commonly used or searched for by the public, “retainer refund” is used, and refers to the remaining (unearned) portion of the retainer that gets returned back to the client. Again, we emphasize that the client only receives the unearned portion of the retainer at the end of the case.
Minnesota Divorce Retainers Summary:
The retainer is money that you designate up front to your lawyer to be used to pay for services provided during your divorce or family law case.
The retainer is put into a trust account and belongs to you. No money is collected from the retainer until it’s earned by the attorney.
As services are rendered, money from the retainer is paid to the firm. Once collected by the firm, that money no longer belongs to the client.
Depending on your case, you may need to replenish the initial retainer. Inability to pay for services, by not replenishing the retainer, dissolves the client-attorney relationship, legal representation and all legal services.
At any time in your case, you can decide to represent yourself or fire your current attorney and hire another attorney. At this time, the remaining balance would be returned back to you. Otherwise, any remaining balance is returned back to you at the end of your divorce or family law case.
It’s very important that you read the retainer fee agreement carefully to make sure that the firm’s policies and procedures are stated in writing and that you have a complete understanding before signing the contract.
If you still have questions about retainers in Minnesota divorces or family law cases, the consultation is a great time to ask for more details and clarification. Otherwise, ask your retainer questions when you’re scheduling the intake appointment. To learn what else you should be asking when you’re scheduling the intake appointment, read: Scheduling an Intake Appointment with a Divorce Attorney for more details and to get your free checklist.
What Ashton and Demi can teach about divorce in Minnesota
My wife informed me that actor Ashton Kutcher, 35, and actress Demi Moore, 51, recently finalized their divorce. The couple married in 2005 and separated in 2011. Ashton filed for divorce at the end of 2012. The couple were married and divorced in California.
First, California, like Minnesota, is a “no-fault” divorce state. In fact, California was the first state to adopt the no-fault divorce idea in 1969.
“No-fault” divorce means that either party may request and get a divorce by simply alleging that the marriage has broken down and cannot be saved.
Neither husband nor wife needs show that the other party was at fault or responsible for the divorce. Practically, this takes spousal misbehavior out of the divorce equation (with the notable exception of domestic abuse).
Second, Demi was asking for alimony or “spousal maintenance”, which involves one spouse paying the other after the divorce.
In Minnesota, in order to establish the need for any spousal maintenance, the requesting party must show that he or she needs the extra income and the other party has the ability to pay the extra income.
In the Demi-Ashton matter, Demi actually had more assets than Ashton, so eventually she dropped this request as part of the divorce settlement.
Third, the finalization of the divorce was approved by a California judge and entered as a judgment into the court record.
This is the same in Minnesota. Here, a judge must ultimately approve of a divorce, either by judicial decision if it’s contested, or by signing off on a settlement agreement between the parties. When the divorce decree is entered, usually within a week or two after the divorce, the divorce is official.
Finally, Ashton is now engaged to Mila Kunis, another actress and former co-star of “That 70’s Show” with Ashton. Reportedly Ashton had wanted to marry Mila earlier but couldn’t because his marriage with Demi was still in effect.
This illustrates the idea that polygamy, or marriage to more than one person at the same time, is not legal. This is true in Minnesota as well. If someone marries, then marries again while the first marriage is still in effect, the second marriage is automatically void as a matter of Minnesota law and can be annulled.
The proper course in this situation would be to correctly get a divorce in Minnesota and then “re-marry” the second spouse.
Regardless of all of these illustrations, hopefully Ashton will have better luck with Mila. However, given the nature of Hollywood marriages, my wife is not optimistic.