A good relationship with your lawyer will lead to a better result and will save you money.
What should I tell my lawyer at our initial conference?
To start, tell the lawyer why you are consulting the lawyer. Be candid and be brief. If the reason for the consultation is that you want a divorce, simply state, “I’m here because I want a divorce.”
Most people who consult me do not do so because they want to start a divorce immediately, but are contemplating the possibility of divorce, or believe the other spouse may bring divorce proceedings. In such a case you should tell the lawyer that you are seeking advice as to the consequences of a divorce in the event there is a divorce.
As to what you should relate to the lawyer, you should let the lawyer take the lead. Let the lawyer ask questions. Your lawyer should know the facts which the lawyer needs to give you the advice you need.
Should I tell my lawyer the whole truth?
Yes, absolutely. First, keep in mind that the lawyer and the lawyer’s staff have a duty of confidentiality. They cannot reveal what you told them in confidence. Be candid. You do not want your lawyer to be ill prepared, and a surprised lawyer is an ill prepared lawyer. Your lawyer should have no surprises.
If there are bad facts, like a sexual involvement outside of the marriage, it is important to tell your lawyer. When a major business (or for that matter a government) has bad news, and they know that sooner or later the truth will come out, they come out with the bad news first, but put their own spin on it. It is the same in divorce litigation. Your lawyer can put the best spin on negative evidence if your lawyer knows about it early on.
Lying to your lawyer as to matters such as assets and income usually will back fire because the other side, through discovery (investigation), will probably learn the true facts, but your initial lie will have a significant impact on your credibility.
What is a good telephone protocol with my lawyer?
- Most lawyers charge a minimum of one quarter of an hour (some lawyers go below one quarter) for a telcon. First make sure that the telcon with the lawyer is necessary. Most questions clients have can be answered by the lawyer’s secretary and for the telcon with the secretary there is usually no charge. Ask the secretary.
- Don’t call your lawyer each time you have a question. When you have a question or a thought, write it down and perhaps telephone your lawyer once a week.
- Instead of telephoning your lawyer, write to the lawyer. Lawyers generally do not charge for reading letters. There will, of course, be a charge if the lawyer feels that your letter must be answered by the lawyer’s letter.
How important is the lawyer’s legal assistant to me?
Very important. If the legal assistant likes you, the assistant will be your advocate with the lawyer.
My lawyer does not return my telephone calls. What should I do?
I am frequently called on to give a “second opinion,” which actually amounts to an evaluation of another lawyer’s work in the midst of a divorce. The most frequent complaint clients have about their divorce lawyers is the failure to return telephone calls.
Part of the solution may be when you call the lawyer. Most lawyers engaged in divorce law are in court most mornings. You should, therefore, avoid calling the lawyer between 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. If your lawyer regularly does not return your telephone calls, I suggest you write the lawyer a letter, sent by certified or registered mail, return receipt requested, addressing the return of your calls. If this does not cure the problem, you probably have an overall problem of lack of communication with your lawyer and you should retain another lawyer.
There are some things my spouse’s lawyer should know and my lawyer has not told my spouse’s lawyer. Is it OK if I telephone opposing counsel?
No, absolutely not. If opposing counsel has any sense, he/she will not speak to you. It will also undermine your case by calling opposing counsel because it will make opposing counsel believe that your lawyer is not in control of your case. The same rule applies to telephoning or writing judges. Never call or write the judge.
Could it be that my lawyer is actually working for (sold out to) the other side?
This thought frequently pops up in divorce proceedings. You and your lawyer may frequently not be on the same page. A good lawyer does not simply do what the client wants. A good lawyer will advise you to do what is appropriate considering the law and considering the facts. This may make it seem that your lawyer is opposing you.
Can I fire my lawyer?
The law says that you have an absolute right to discharge your lawyer, but there are some considerations.
- Your new lawyer can pick up where the old lawyer left off, however, the new lawyer must be brought up to speed, that is, he must review your file to learn where the case is, and thus there may be additional fees.
- You should have the new lawyer lined up before you discharge the old lawyer so you do not miss a stroke.
- My experience is that in cases involving highly emotional issues, such as child custody, and in cases involving a great deal of money, substantial assets and substantial incomes, each of the parties goes through more than one lawyer. If, however, you go through more than a couple lawyers, it may prejudice your case because the judge may assume the reason for the multiple lawyers is that you are taking unreasonable positions.
Should I review my lawyer’s bills?
Yes. Almost all divorce lawyers bill their clients on a regular (usually monthly) basis. If your lawyer has not billed you for some time, you should ask to be billed on a monthly basis so you do not receive a bill covering a long period of time and being for an amount you cannot afford to immediately pay. The billing should be itemized, that is, it should describe the service and it should state the amount of time for which you are being billed for that service. The lawyer should be willing to explain any billed items to you.