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.
Many 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 this case, let your lawyer know that you are seeking advice as to the consequences of a divorce if there is a divorce.
Regarding what to say to your lawyer, the reasons for the breakup of the marriage are important. Often, there is one spouse who realizes that she or he wants a divorce and has been coming to that conclusion for some time. The other spouse often may not want a divorce or at least is not nearly as prepared for a divorce. While Illinois is a now a pure no-fault state for grounds, a good lawyer will provide you the opportunity to discuss what is on your mind including the reasons for the breakup of your marriage.
What else should I discuss at the initial conference?
Ask about “collaborative divorce.” I have found that collaborative divorce is private, efficient and generally less costly. More and more lawyers handle collaborative divorces. Yet in the counties where I practice including McHenry County, Kane County and Lake County we are still seeing lawyers who are trained in collaborative divorce as the exception rather than the rule. See the Gitlin Law Firms Q&As regarding collaborative divorce.
How long will an initial divorce conference typically take?
Some lawyers will try to shoehorn the time of initial conferences into a one hour, one-size-fits-all scenario. Usually to fully hear the circumstances of the case requires the lawyer to listen for some extended time at the first conference. It is only after receiving this detailed information that the lawyer can begin to work with the client to frame the next steps. I have found the first conference for an initial divorce should generally take an hour and a half to two hours. If the initial conference is compressed into a too short time-frame you often will not be able to have time to discuss anything other than traditional adversarial divorce as an option.
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, 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 is best prepared to address 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 legal assistant and for the telcon with the assistant there is usually no charge. Ask the assistant.
- 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. And in that writing provide information that is necessary and helpful in terms of background.
What is a good protocol for E-mail communication with my lawyer?
First, have a discussion with your lawyer regarding E-mail security. If you are still living with your spouse, be even more careful regarding security of your E-mails and communications with your lawyer. Avoid using any shared computer and consider getting a new E-mail whose address is known only to you and your lawyer. At a minimum, ensure that you have two-factor authentication of your E-mail. But one example is available through Google regarding Gmail.
After you are certain that your communications via E-mail are secure, then the next question is how frequently to E-mail. Too frequent E-mail communication can increase the overall costs of representation. There is certain information that is efficient to provide via E-mail. But other information is more efficiently provided over the telephone and still other information is better provided with a face-to-face meeting.
How important is the lawyer’s legal assistant to me?
Quite. And we would not recommend that you hire a lawyer who does not have a full-time legal assistant. Consider the lawyer, client and legal assistant as a team. The Gitlin Law finds it helpful to copy the legal assistant on all communications. Where it is a matter of scheduling a time for a phone conference or an office conference this should be done directly with the legal assistant.
My lawyer does not return my telephone calls. What should I do?
I am frequently called on to give a “second opinion.” Often this amounts to an evaluation of another lawyer’s work, in the midst of the 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 11:30 a.m. If your lawyer regularly does not return your telephone calls, I suggest you write the lawyer a letter (and perhaps attach it to an E-mail). Often a separate letter will get more attention than an E-mail. Address your concerns. 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 sole exception to this is collaborative representation. In collaborative representation, while you would not directly call the lawyer representing your spouse, communication with lawyers and clients is far more direct and is usually when everyone is sitting down at the collaborative table.
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 costs.
- You should have the new lawyer lined up before you discharge the old lawyer so you do not miss a stroke.
- My experience is substitution of counsel is not unusual. Yet if one has a capable lawyer, the usual advice is not to swap horses mid-stream without first ensuring that there is an impasse with the lawyer client relationship.
- 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.