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.

 

Why Caseload Matters In Your Divorce

Got a Good Lawyer

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.

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:

    1: Communication:

  • Before you hire your divorce attorney, what are his/her procedures for communicating with you? Do you know what to expect regarding methods of communication and receiving updates on your case?

     2. Personality:

  • Have you met with your divorce lawyer in person? Do you feel comfortable around your divorce lawyer? Do you feel like you can work with him/her?

     3. Support Help:

  •  Does your divorce lawyer have additional staff on his/her team, such as a legal assistant or paralegal to help him/her with your case, and save you money?

     4. Background Experience and Education:

  • 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…

Why Caseload Matters

“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.

 Support Help

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.

Multiple Law Areas

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…

Time Management Skills

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.