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.

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.