5 Tips When Meeting With a Divorce Attorney

meeting with a divorce attorney

Divorce Attorney and Staff

What to Know: Meeting with a Divorce Attorney 

After you’ve made phone calls to law offices, the next step is typically  meeting with a divorce attorney.  This can either be for a consultation or to retain him or her.  Here are five tips to help you maximize the process.

TIP # 1: 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.  Others are more passive.  

For example, although alternative dispute resolution, like mediation, 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:

  • He or she takes notes when you’re talking about your goals.
  • He or she 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
Tip # 2: Be ready 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 a relative stranger. 

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.

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: Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Clarification
meeting with a divorce attorney
When meeting with a divorce attorney, ask lots of questions

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: Make Sure You Understand the Next Steps

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: Take a Proactive Stance with Your Divorce

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.

For other divorce or family law questions, please consult the list to the left or the FAQ page.  If you’re interested in retaining an attorney to help you, please feel free to contact my office for a consultation using the contact information on the left or the contact form on the Majeski Law home page.  For Court rules, please click here.

What Happens At Intake With A Divorce Attorney

Most people are a little uncomfortable during an intake with a divorce attorney. However, a lot of that can be avoided when you know what to expect.  Keep in mind, 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.  

Intake with a Divorce Attorney
Preparation for Intake

Agenda at 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 or her contract is extremely vague and short, or he or she is unwilling to sign a contract with you, this is a BIG red flag and consider looking for a different divorce attorney. 

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.

He or she 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.

intake with a divorce attorney
Always know what you’re signing
4. Discussing Divorce & giving 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.  

For other divorce or family law questions, please consult the list to the left or the FAQ page.  If you’re interested in retaining an attorney to help you, please feel free to contact my office for a consultation using the contact information on the left or the contact form on the Majeski Law home page.  For Court rules, please click here.

Preparing for an Intake Appointment with a Divorce Attorney

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.

appointment with a divorce attorney
Sometimes your divorce attorney will want documents at intake.

 Intake Appointment with a Divorce Attorney: What to Bring

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

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 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.

appointment with a divorce attorney
Pay Stubs are often a key financial document

Although we don’t require original financial documents right away, some law offices like to collect these documents immediately. 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.

Also, although most divorce attorneys will ask for such financial documents, if you don’t have access to any of these financials, your divorce attorney can help you get access. In Minnesota, both parties are required to disclose any and all information to one another.

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.

appointment with a divorce attorney
Credit cards are typically accepted for retainers

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 Id 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
appointment with a divorce attorney with family member
You can bring someone with you, but often it’s not a good idea.

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.

For other divorce or family law questions, please consult the list to the left or the FAQ page.  If you’re interested in retaining an attorney to help you, please feel free to contact my office for a consultation using the contact information on the left or the contact form on the Majeski Law home page.  For Court rules, please click here.

Scheduling an Intake Appointment with a Divorce Attorney

intake appointment

When you’re looking to hire a specific divorce or family law attorney, you need to schedule an intake appointment with him or 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. 

What should you 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 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, retaining 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. 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  who’ll be working with you throughout your divorce. 

Intake Appointment
Scheduling an intake appointment can be done online for many lawyers.

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. 

7. Determine what you should be bringing to the intake appointment with the divorce attorney. Use this list of what to bring with you when you meet your divorce attorney to give you an idea and as a starting point. In addition, if you’re planning on bringing someone to the intake appointment with you, it’s a good idea to discuss this now. 

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. 

For other divorce or family law questions, please consult the list to the left or the FAQ page.  If you’re interested in retaining an attorney to help you, please feel free to contact my office for a consultation using the contact information on the left or the contact form on the Majeski Law home page.  For Court rules, please click here.

Do Divorce Lawyers give Free Consultations?

A free consultation with a lawyer can be a great idea.  Most divorce attorneys or family law firms advertise for a free or low-cost consultation.  However, we do a bad job of explaining them.  In addition, consultations vary depending on the law office. 

The ambiguity surrounding a legal consultation is a disservice to you.  It creates confusion and frustration during the consultation, which often translates into a missed opportunity for you to get to know a divorce lawyer better. 

Free Consultation with a Lawyer: What it is Not

Needing legal guidance and counsel in your divorce are reasons to hire an attorney.  At the free consultation with a lawyer, the divorce attorney typically will not provide significant legal advice or guidance regarding how to proceed with your divorce or what steps you’ll want to take next.

“Legal advice” is not always well-defined.  I consider legal advice to be any of the following:

  • I have “X” family situation, what do I do?
  • I have “X” family situation, what happens in the legal system?
  • How do I do “X” legal procedure?

Lawyers don’t give free legal advice for three reasons. 

First, lawyers are pay for service professionals.  Providing legal advice is a service.  Everyone is familiar with getting paid for your work.

Second, a phone consultation typically does not provide enough information to the lawyer.  A lawyer can’t give fully informed advice based on a phone call.

Third, legal advice creates ethical problems.  This relates to the second point, providing advice without fully understanding the situation.  Also, it may create ambiguity about the lawyer’s role with the person receiving the advice.  If it were wrong and the potential client relied on that information, the lawyer could be liable.

Therefore, if you’re looking to the free consultation for free legal advice, it can be irritating to you and a waste of your time.

To compare, think about the medical profession. When you go to the doctor, you report your symptoms.  Based on his or her knowledge, expertise, training, etc. he or she determines what’s wrong and provides a remedy.

You see a doctor because you lack the knowledge and experience required to diagnosis yourself.  Therefore,  you pay the doctor for these services. Similarly, when you obtain a lawyer, you’re paying for his or her legal knowledge, experience and expertise. 

However, sometimes paying for a divorce or family lawyer just isn’t possible.  In that event, if you can’t afford an attorney and are looking for legal help, the website, MN Family Law Attorney, has several resources.   This includes: links to county family courts in the Twin Cities area; Minnesota Court FormsMinnesota Family Court RulesMinnesota State Law Library; and Free Legal Help and clinics in Minnesota. You may also find doing an internet search for pro bono divorce attorneys in your area helpful.

Free Consultation with a Lawyer: What it is

A free consultation with a lawyer is like a job interview. At the consultation you’re asking questions of multiple applicants (in this case, several different attorneys and/or law firms) to determine the best person for the position of being your divorce attorney.  

It serves several functions.  First, the lawyer needs to know that your situation is one he or she is qualified to handle.  In the case of Majeski Law, most people find the firm through the internet.  So, callers know I work in divorce and family law.  Therefore, it’s usually pretty easy for me to tell if I have the expertise for your case.

Second, it allows the lawyer to determine the case is within his or her jurisdiction.  For example, Majeski Law is a Minnesota firm only.  Working near the Wisconsin border, we sometimes receive calls from Wisconsin family law.

Third,  it gives you the chance to evaluate the lawyer and his or her firm.  You can determine if he or she is a good fit for you.  Questions ideally focus on the lawyer’s practice, general procedural questions, and cost questions. This consultation typically doesn’t need to be more than 15-30 minutes for divorce and family situations.

Either the divorce attorney or a good legal assistant/paralegal can conduct the consultation with you and answer questions you may have before making your decision. Therefore, although you won’t receive any free legal advice or counsel, a consultation still has great value to you and you should seek consultation before retaining a divorce attorney.

Benefits of a Consultation

1. You ensure that the divorce attorney you’re looking at hiring practices in family law and has experience with divorce cases similar to your own.

 Although hopefully the firm’s marketing takes care of this issue by making it clear what types of cases and areas of law the attorney practices on the firm’s website, it’s always good to double check.

Especially with large law firms, you’ll want to make sure that the divorce attorney who is representing you in your divorce case not only will be the same attorney throughout your divorce, but also that he or she practices in divorce and family law, and has significant experience with divorce and family law cases. 

2. You ensure that the divorce attorney you’re looking at hiring can dedicate the time and effort your divorce case deserves and that s/he isn’t overloaded with a number of other matters at the moment. 

Free Consultation with a Lawyer
During your free consultation with a lawyer, disorganization can be a bad sign.

    It’s reasonable to ask during the consultation about the attorney’s              caseload in order to confirm that s/he is equipped and capable       serving  you as a client. 

Learn more about: Why your attorney’s caseload matters when it comes to your divorce.

3. You ensure that the divorce attorney you’re looking at hiring doesn’t have any conflict of interests or any other ethical reasons for why s/he would not be a good fit for you and your divorce.

 This is why a divorce attorney requests basic information about you   and your divorce case.  This includes your full name, address and   spouse’s full name. It’s the divorce attorney’s responsibility to inform   you immediately if s/he is not able to talk with and/or represent you due to a conflict of interest.  

4. You ensure that any questions you have about the divorce attorney and/or the firm are answered ahead of time, free of charge (or for some firms, at a reduced rate) before committing to a divorce attorney.

5. You ensure that you understand the divorce attorney’s and/or the firm’s legal practices, such as, the engagement and fee agreements.

6. By consulting with a divorce attorney beforehand, you increase your chances of finding a divorce attorney that fits best for you. As a result, you’re more likely to be satisfied with his/her services in the end. 

7. A consultation allows you to shop around so that you can find the best divorce attorney for you and your divorce. In no way are you bound to one divorce attorney simply because you participated in a consultation. Instead, a attorney-client relationship only forms after the both of you have signed some sort of engagement letter

For other divorce or family law questions, please consult the list to the left or the FAQ page.  If you’re interested in retaining an attorney to help you, please feel free to contact my office for a consultation using the contact information on the left or the contact form on the Majeski Law home page.  For Court rules, please click here.