Whenever legal issues arise, it’s important to meet with an attorney. Even if your case seems straightforward, an initial consultation can clarify points you may not have considered and provide guidance in avoiding actions that might have negative impacts. If you ultimately choose to represent yourself, consulting with an attorney will help you do so more effectively.
Cost of the Consultation
Some attorneys charge for an initial consultation; others may be willing to answer questions over the telephone or in person without charge. In my opinion, in order to ensure sound legal advice, an attorney should speak with you at length about the details of your case so that the legal advice can be tailored to your specific circumstances. If a lawyer doesn’t understand the case in detail, it’s easy to steer clients in the wrong direction. In my experience, a thorough consultation typically requires anywhere from one to two hours. Given the amount of time involved, and because I’m committed to always giving my honest opinion regardless of whether the client wants to hear it or not (and regardless of whether it makes him or her less likely to retain me), I charge for my time. To keep it affordable, the fee is deeply discounted from my hourly rate. I do my best to set it low enough so that pretty much anyone can afford the meeting, but also high enough that I don’t have to rush things along or otherwise ration my time.
If you have children, the initial consultation is, in my opinion, essential because the divorce will affect their interests. The more property and debts at issue, and the larger the potential for spousal maintenance, the more important the consultation becomes too.
Content of the Consultation
An initial consultation should provide you with a “road map” of where you are, where you’re going, what you’re legal rights and obligations are, and what your options are for proceeding forward.
During the initial consultation, an attorney should discuss applicable issues of law and how they apply to the specific facts of your case. By the end of the consultation, you should understand the issues you’re facing, the risks of each approach (such as, for instance, representing yourself, Mediation, Collaborative Divorce and conventional litigation), and the cost of retaining counsel. Whether or not you ultimately retain an attorney, I believe you should make no major decision without first obtaining the advice of counsel. I say this not because I’m looking out for the interests of attorneys but, rather, because I care about people. Your case probably involves issues that will impact you and your children for many years to come. Therefore, it’s essential that you understand the challenges you face before attempting to resolve them.
Making The Right Choice
Be sure you are comfortable with any attorney you retain. There is nothing wrong with insisting upon a second or even third opinion, just as you might if a doctor advised you of the need for surgery. It is less expensive to begin with a lawyer with whom you feel comfortable than to realize in the middle of your case that your attorney is not right for you. In addition, facing divorce with an attorney whom you trust and respect is far easier than facing it alone or with someone you don’t trust.
Since the attorney-client relationship depends so much on personality, and because divorce can present issues requiring a vast range of skills, no attorney will be right for every client or every case. Though there are many excellent attorneys in Bellingham, they will not all be right for you. If you and I consult, you will not offend me in the event you decide to “shop around.” I want clients to be with the attorney who is the best choice for them. Only you can know whether you trust someone and feel comfortable talking about things that may be hard to discuss.
Retaining An Attorney
As in the case of any contract, be sure you read and understand the Advance-Fee Agreement before signing. Do not be afraid to ask questions. If you have another attorney whom you trust, consider asking him or her to review the proposed agreement.