You’re worried, scared, nervous, anxious and generally speaking, not sure what to expect. You’ve never met with a lawyer before, much less a divorce lawyer.
So our first piece of advice is to try to relax. Take some deep breaths.
This is going to be ok.
How to Prepare for Your Initial Consultation
First things first. Not everyone that comes in for a consultation (or a Divorce Assessment, as we like to call them) needs to hire a lawyer for full-service representation. Lawyers can do lots of different things for you, from coaching you on what to do (so you can do things yourself), to drafting simple documents for you, to helping you develop a strategic plan, as well as much more.
Before you come in for your initial consultation, it is important that you are prepared. We don’t ask our client’s to gather all of their financial documents and bring them to the initial assessment, but a general overview of what you have, what you owe, and current incomes and expenses is always helpful. If a lawsuit has been filed, you should bring a copy of all the paperwork for that lawsuit that you have received. If you have received a draft agreement from another lawyer, you should bring a copy of that paperwork as well.
In addition, hopefully you have started to make a list of what you want in the divorce. Do you want to keep the house? What kind of schedule would you like to see with the kids? Will you need support (or are you willing to offer support)? These are issues that your lawyer will want to know about.
Meeting Your Divorce Lawyer for the First Time
Hopefully, you have done at least a little bit of research on the lawyer you are looking to hire. Most lawyers (in the Triangle Region of North Carolina at least) will charge for an initial consultation, and these fees will vary from $200-500 or more. Some lawyers bill hourly, some charge a flat rate for the meeting. At The Hart Law Firm, we currently charge $250 for the first hour, which is typically enough time to answer all of your questions and for us to decide whether we will be a good fit to work together.
You should come into this initial meeting with a list of questions to ask your lawyer. You are looking to determine whether the lawyer cares about you and what you are going through. Do they have the right level of experience for what you are looking for, and do they have a demeanor that fits with your personality?
Some questions you may want to ask may be:
- What is your legal background?
- How long have you been practicing family law?
- How many family law cases do you handle every year?
- What percentage of your practice is devoted to family law?
- Will you be the attorney working on the case?
- What is my divorce going to cost?
In addition, you should share your goals with your lawyer and ask them if they are realistic or not. A good lawyer will help you assess your goals and identify other issues that you may not have thought of. If they don’t think your goals are realistic, ask them why.
Deciding to Hire a Divorce Lawyer
If you feel that you have a rapport with the lawyer, you should ask about their fees and how you would go about retaining the firm. The lawyer should have a written fee agreement that outlines all of the fees involved in their case. If they don’t, then you should find another lawyer. Ask the lawyer about the initial fees, as well as what the average fee would be for a case like yours, because the difference may be startling.
You will also want to ask if the lawyer bills hourly or on a flat fee basis. For flat fees, the lawyer is typically billing for a specific, discrete task (such as a court appearance, or filing an absolute divorce). Hourly fee lawyers will track their time to prepare documents, attend court, phone calls, meetings, etc.
Setting Expectations about Communication
At The Hart Law Firm, client communication is vitally important. We use a number of technological tools to keep the client informed on what is happening with their case at every stage of the process. We also have online scheduling tools you can use to schedule time to speak or meet with a lawyer at times that work for you. In addition, we recently hired an experienced paralegal who is available to talk about your case during normal business hours, and all clients are given her direct phone number.
One word of caution – as lawyers, we are more than happy to talk to you about your case. However, if you are looking for emotional support, we highly recommend you hire one of the therapists we recommend. They are less expensive and highly skilled at what they do!
Developing a Legal Strategy for Your Case
One thing that sets The Hart Law Firm apart from other lawyers is that we proactively and systematically develop a customized legal strategy for each client we work with. Divorce is not a cookie-cutter area of the law – each case and each client is vastly different. What works for one client will not work for another. One client may require us to appear in court while another requires an out-of-court settlement to achieve their goals.
At the initial assessment, we will begin to brainstorm legal strategy ideas that we will start to put into action during the second meeting we have with our clients, aptly termed the “strategy meeting”!