Every family law case begins with an initial consultation. The consultation is an opportunity for you to tell your story, ask questions, learn about the legal process, and develop a game plan or strategy to resolve the issues in your case. During the consultation, the attorney will listen to the facts of your case and give you advice on the best way to approach each issue. Be candid and truthful with the attorney and tell him or her all pertinent facts related to your case, both good and bad.
When you walk out of the consultation, you should be able to answer each of the following:
1. Is the lawyer someone I can relate to and trust?
If you get a bad feeling during the initial consultation, trust your gut. It’s better to get a second opinion than to hire an attorney that is not the right fit for you, a decision that you will regret later. In fact, it’s never a bad idea to consult with two or three lawyers when before making your decision. In comparing one law firm against another, think about how the firm handled the screening and intake process of your case from the first contact to the present.
For example, when you first attempted contact, did you receive prompt service and attention? Or did your call go to voicemail? Was the person that you spoke to knowledgeable about family law matters such as child support modification and child custody? Did they ask probative questions that led you to believe that they were both experienced and professional? Did they take a special interest in you? Or did they try to get you off the phone as quickly as possible? Did they promptly send you an intake form for you to complete? Did they make the scheduling process simple and efficient? After the initial consultation, did they follow up with you in any manner? All of these factors can help you assess the level of attention that you will likely receive at the law firm in question should you hire them to represent you. The best firms have professional, experienced staff members ready to assist you at a moment’s notice.
2. Who will be my primary point of contact at the law firm?
Nearly all successful law firms delegate assignments to the lowest level of competency. In other words, they hire a receptionist to answer telephones, a legal assistant to draft correspondence, a paralegal to prepare pleadings and trial notebooks, and an office manager to handle accounts payable and accounts receivable. With that being said, it is important to know how the firm handles client communication. For example, if you have a question about your case, who should you contact and how quickly will you be able to receive a response. Certain types of questions can be answered by the staff and others may require attorney involvement. Although I encourage all of my clients to seek answers from the staff when feasible, it is important for you to know that you will have access to the attorney when necessary.
This is not always the case. In some law firms, the standard operating procedure is for the attorney to conduct the initial consultation, but from that point forward the all future communication is delegated to a paralegal or legal assistant. This is problematic for a number of reasons. First, if you have no direct contact with the attorney, then he or she is not able to give you real-time advice when events transpire that ought to change your overall case strategy. Second, the attorney will only have a limited understanding of your case when he or she appears to represent you at trial. Instead, the better practice is for the attorney to communicate directly with the client on a periodic basis (say once per week or every other week).
3. What is the best approach for me?
During the initial consultation, the attorney should thoroughly explain your options. For example, can you case potentially be resolved by agreement? Is a Separation Agreement possible? Is your case well suited for Collaborative Family Law? Or will your case need to be litigated? The attorney should advise you of the pros and cons to each appropriate, but ultimately let you decide how to proceed.
4. How much is this going to cost?
Your attorney ought to be able to give you a range regarding how much your case is going to cost from start to finish. However, in most instances, it is impossible to predict exactly how much any one case is going to cost since the cost may depend on factors outside of the attorney’s control. For example, one driving factor in almost all family law cases is the opposing party’s level of cooperation or lack thereof. In other words, if the opposing party is reasonable, then many issues will likely be resolved by agreement. On the other hand, if the opposing party is stubborn and obstinate, you may need to seek direction from the court on multiple issues increasing the costs of the case exponentially. Still, you need to ask the attorney for a range and you deserve an honest answer.
Be wary of the attorney that quotes you a low initial retainer. He or she is going to ask you for more money before the case concludes, and that request may come sooner than you expect. If you don’t think you can afford the attorney’s services, shop elsewhere. The worst thing that you can do is hire an attorney that you cannot afford, and then have that attorney stop work halfway through the case offering you little to no relief.
5. How do you structure your fees?
Ask questions to ensure that you fully understand the fee structure. For example, will your case be a flat fee or will you be billed on an hourly basis? What is the attorney’s hourly rate? Do the support staff charge for their time, and if so, what is their rate? Will you also be billed for postage, mileage, and copy costs? Getting clear, concise answers to all of these questions up front is absolutely essential to building a strong attorney-client relationship.
Contact the Pitt County Divorce Attorneys of Irons & Irons P.A.
When you are facing a divorce or child custody situation, you need to know that you are asking the right questions for your situation to get the best attorney possible. To schedule an initial consultation, please call our experienced collaborative divorce attorney, Gib Irons, at 252-215-3000 or fill out our contact form below. Protecting your Privacy ~ Your privacy is our primary concern. At Irons & Irons P.A., we understand the importance of protecting your privacy and will never share your contact information with a 3rd party.