Scheduling an Intake Appointment with a 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. 

In our first post, we discussed what to expect from a consultation with a divorce attorney and how to use the consultation to find the divorce attorney that’s right for you. 

intake appointment

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. 

Intake Appointment

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. 

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. 

Intake Appointment - Directions

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. 

Intake Appointment 

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. 

Learn more about: How to Pay for a Divorce Lawyer

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. 

Hopefully this series, What to Know Before Meeting with Your Divorce Attorney has been helpful. To prepare for your intake appointment, read: What Happens at Intake with a Divorce Attorney and 5 Tips When Meeting with a Divorce Attorney at Intake or pin them to read later! 

Intake Appointment - What to know when scheduling with a divorce attorney

Do Divorce Lawyers give Free Consultations?

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 can 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. 

Legal Advice and a Consultation: What the Consultation is Not

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

“Legal advice” is not always well-defined.  This also is the fault of us lawyers.  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.

Second, a phone consultation typically does not provide enough information.  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 my role with the person receiving the advice.  If it were wrong, and the person 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… s/he 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/her legal knowledge, experience and expertise. 

If you can’t afford an attorney and are looking for legal help, our sister 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.

Understanding the Consultation: What the Consultation Is

A legal consultation 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 two major functions.  First, the lawyer needs to know that your situation is one he or she is qualified to handle.  In the case of my firm, most people find me through the internet.  So, they know I work in divorce and family law.  Therefore, it’s pretty quick for me to tell if I have the expertise for your case.

Second,  it gives you the chance to evaluate the lawyer.  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. 

Consultation

    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.

Hopefully this cleared things up on the free consultation for a divorce lawyer, or any lawyer for that matter.  Please feel free to review more questions or contact my office.