Family law involves people from all walks of life and backgrounds. Whether you are a doctor, a CEO of a large company, or a stay-at-home parent, you may find yourself needing an attorney for a family law issue. Because of this, potential clients possess a wide range of differing expectations and knowledge of the legal system when they meet with a family law attorney for a consult.
Similarly, there is a wide assortment of styles and preferences among family lawyers as to how they conduct a consultation with a potential new client. Each attorney at Hance Law Group shares a similar approach when it comes to initial consultations, though we do have slightly different communication styles.
Scheduling the Consultation
When a potential client calls into our office, one of our paralegals will take some basic background information, schedule an appointment with one of our attorneys, and send the potential client an information form to fill out in advance of their appointment.
A typical 1-hour consult goes very quickly and there’s a lot of information to cover. In order to get the most out of this meeting, the best thing to do is simple: complete the information form before the consultation itself to get through those basic details efficiently.
Additionally, even if you are not ready or wanting to file for a divorce if you see that possibility on the horizon or you are aware your spouse may do so, it is still a good idea to meet with a lawyer so you can be prepared and informed in the event divorce does become a reality.
In most consultations, I start by asking the potential client what their goals or objectives are for the meeting. This may sound unnecessary to some—I mean they are meeting with a family law attorney, right? But I assure you, this step is vital.
The needs of someone who is in an emergency situation requiring an expeditiously filed lawsuit are very different from a potential client seeking preliminary legal information about a divorce. Potential new clients who come prepared to state their goals clearly early in the meeting will get a benefit from a conversation tailored more closely to that particular client’s situation and needs.
Bring Questions and Take Notes
Many potential clients will come with a list of questions to ask the attorney during the meeting. This is a great idea and will make the best use of time with the attorney. A one-hour consultation can result in a lot of information being exchanged between the potential client and the attorney.
Having your questions written down in advance is a great way to ensure you don’t forget to ask the questions you walked in with. Usually, those questions will relate to the bigger picture goals of the potential client, so many of their questions are answered through the conversation that emanates from the client expressing their goals.
Toward the end of our meeting, I make a point to ask the potential clients if they have any other questions that haven’t been answered during our discussion. Additionally, because we try to cover quite a bit of ground in a first meeting, it is perfectly acceptable and recommended to take notes to retain more of what was discussed and to have more clarity about next steps.
Remember this meeting is a jumping-off point and not a last step. A common problem that my clients have voiced to me about their consults with other family law attorneys is that while they get a wealth of information during the meeting, they leave the meeting without a tangible plan of action (or next steps).
As an attorney, I prioritize providing my clients with both education around the law as well as guidance on what to do next. For this reason, we try to end our consultation meetings with practical and tangible options for next steps for the potential client.
If the potential client is clear that they are ready to move forward with filing, then we provide them with the list of things they will need to complete in order for us to do that (formal engagement agreement, providing full legal names of parties, addresses, etc.). If the potential client isn’t ready to move forward with filing suit, then I try to provide them with a task list of things they can do now in preparation for a potential filing in the future (see my blog post “5 Important Tips Before You File For Divorce”).
Making the Decision
Deciding to take the step to meet with a family law attorney can be a daunting task in and of itself. The consultation should be informational and useful to the potential client; however, it is important for the potential client to understand the limitations of a 1-hour meeting.
Family law matters can be extremely complicated and intertwined—it is rare to be able to look at a particular problem or issue within a case and answer it in a vacuum without also understanding the potential effects on other parts of the case. Understand that it is impossible to cover all of those eventualities in an initial consult.
So, yes, ask the questions you have, but focus more on the “fit” with the person you are meeting with. Does that lawyer approach the problem or question in a way that makes you feel comfortable with how he or she will approach issues in the future as they arise? Does the lawyer empathize with your situation? If you walk out of the consultation with a lawyer who you feel comfortable with and whose approach you agree with, you have probably found the right lawyer for your case.