What happens after I retain a Virginia divorce lawyer?

Posted on Mar 3, 2021 by Katie Carter

You don’t exactly go out and hire an attorney every day. In fact, for many people, it may be a once in a lifetime experience.

Sure, it’s not a trip to Bora Bora or a chance to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef, but it’s a first – and a one time deal – for a lot of people. Which means that, if you’re normal, you have a lot of questions about what to expect and about what, exactly, the experience will look and feel like.

We’ve covered the initial consultation and the retainer agreement in a lot of detail, and, if you’ve found your way here, chances are good that you’ve already begun to research the earlier parts of the process. But what happens AFTER that, after you’ve selected and met with an attorney, and after you’ve made the (really, really BIG) decision to hire her?

An attorney is hired – or “retained”, is the word we use – when the retainer agreement is signed and the retainer fee is paid.

After that, you become a client of the firm, and our relationship is governed by the retainer agreement (which, if you haven’t already, you should read).

In most cases, but especially in contested cases, the first step is to schedule a retaining meeting. A retaining meeting is a second meeting – after the initial consultation – where we go over anything that might have changed and come up with a specific strategy and game plan for moving the case forward.

In a contested divorce, for example, it would be a good time to talk about the contents of your complaint or any answer and counterclaim needed to be filed.

It’s an opportunity to set goals, discuss options, and strategize. While an initial consultation tends to be more general, and to familiarize you with the options available to you in your unique circumstances, a retaining meeting is a deeper dive into the case and a chance to get things moving.

In some cases, we skip the retaining meeting. That typically happens in an uncontested case, where enough details were already given to allow the attorney to go ahead and get started right away. We do often try to use our time effectively in the initial consultation to gather as much of that information as possible, to minimize what needs to be done after the retainer has been processed, which can save both time and money.

In any case, you should receive communication from your attorney and/or your paralegal which will help you understand the timeline for any work that needs to be done, as well as the steps necessary to get the work done. If yours is a separation agreement case, you should have an idea fairly quickly of how long it’ll take to have a first draft to you for review. That may or may not require a retaining meeting, but will certainly require some communication back and forth.

Will you communicate by email or phone?

Usually, email. Unless you indicate a preference to receive communication by phone, in which case we can certainly accommodate. I like email, though, especially as we go back and forth over what terms should be included in an agreement or in a pleading, because it gives me a document that I can save and to which I can refer back. I would take notes in a phone call, too, but it’s more difficult to capture the exact wording as I go when I’m on the phone, versus in an email when it’s all already laid out.

You should feel comfortable expressing a preference to your attorney, if you have one. But definitely make sure you check your email in the early days! There’s a lot that tends to go back and forth in the flurry of activity when a new file is opened, and you don’t want to slow things down by missing anything important!

Will you do the work – or your paralegal?

A good question! A good paralegal is a super important part of any law office. They keep things running smoothly and, in many cases, help clients save a ton of money.

It’s best not to underestimate the impact a paralegal can have on your case! While attorneys often do the work that requires legal argument, a paralegal can be effectively employed to do all sorts of things that save time and money. (And, in some cases, they’re the real experts – like when it comes to where and how and when to schedule hearings in each of the courts! They’re also often friends with paralegals, clerks, or assistants to other attorneys, guardians ad litem, and judges, and can keep cases moving efficiently in a way that someone else couldn’t!

A specific division of labor between an attorney and a paralegal is unique to each attorney/paralegal team, so you should ask your attorney if you have questions.

Will I see work done on my file before it is filed with the court, shared with my husband, or sent to opposing counsel?

YES! Oh goodness, yes! We never send anything off (except maybe a cover letter!) without your approval and consent. Anything that is substantive, includes legal arguments, or goes to the court is going to pass through you first.

You’ll have a chance to make edits, ask questions, or follow up before documents are filed.

A good attorney/client relationship is open, honest, and transparent. You should feel comfortable asking questions, and should receive a timely response. Keep in mind, though, that time spent on a case is billable, so questions will ultimately increase the bill. (Though, in our office, we don’t bill you for questions related to what was billed to your file.)

Setting up a good working relationship from the beginning, following some helpful tips, and being open, honest, and timely will help keep your case running smoothly, and ensure that you get all that you need out of the relationship.

We’re really friendly, and encourage questions. We’re timely, too, and will ensure that your questions are answered. All law firms – and all attorneys – are not created equally, so you’ll want to do your research before committing to an attorney or a firm to ensure a good fit.

For more information, or to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.