What’s it like working with a Virginia divorce lawyer?

Posted on Feb 22, 2017 by Katie Carter

Almost two years ago now, I was in a car accident. (Let me just say, at the beginning, that it wasn’t my fault, and the other driver was cited.) It was a pretty serious one, too, because it totaled my car (and I loved that car!) and injured me.
Years ago, way back when I was in law school, a lawyer/professor of mine gave me a piece of advice. He said, “The attorney who represents himself has a fool for a client.” So, remembering those words, I knew I had to hire a professional to help me with my case. I may be an attorney, but I’ve handled exactly 0 personal injury cases, and, once I started thinking about it, I realized that there was a TON I didn’t know. So, I called a friend. And, ultimately, I hired him. Even at the time, I felt like it was a pretty shocking thing, signing a retainer agreement and hiring an attorney. I had never hired an attorney before. (I imagine that it feels pretty surreal to a lot of our clients in the beginning, too.) It felt like such a big deal, and it really did make me nervous.
Well, now, fast forward two years. Ever since I hired him, I’ve been struck by the differences between the way his firm manages his cases and the way we do.
One of the things that frustrates me the most is that I have no idea whether he’s doing a good job for me or not—I receive almost no communication. Just two weeks ago, I emailed his paralegal. No response. It took another email, and more than a week of lag time, before she emailed me back to answer a very simple question. I was told that a demand was being prepared for my case. When I asked to see it, she balked a little. She told me they rarely show demands to clients, because they ask for so much more than they ultimately receive. They don’t want it to appear misleading. Still, I asked to see it—and, for good measure, requested that I be kept up to date on any correspondence received in my case.
My law firm just doesn’t handle cases that way, so I was shocked that I even had to request to see documents and to be kept informed of progress as my case moved forward. And, like I said, this is a friend of mine. Of course, I’m not trying to attack him or anything; after all, he could be doing an amazing job. The thing is, though, that I just don’t have any idea. And it’s a little disconcerting to go so long with so little information. Is my case just languishing on a shelf somewhere? Is something happening? Do insurance adjusters call? Really, I’m completely in the dark. I can tell you, from experience, that’s not a comfortable thing.

The number one complaint people make about family law attorneys (or, in my case, personal injury attorneys)

The number one complaint we hear about family law attorneys is that they don’t communicate. From firsthand experience, I can tell you how uncomfortable it is to just wonder what’s happening in your case. In a family law case, too, there’s an awful lot at stake. After all, it involves your whole life! You should never have to sit around wondering whether your attorney is doing a good job for you—or whether your case is just gathering dust on a shelf somewhere.
In our firm, we have a policy that we have to return a call or email within a business day. Because of the nature of our jobs, we’re often in and out of court, settlement conferences, client meetings, and other appointments, so it can be hard (or totally impossible) to just pick up the phone when a client calls or email back immediately.
Sometimes, too, additional research has to be done before a particular question can be answered. Whenever I can’t answer a client’s question immediately, I do at least send an email to confirm that I’ve received it, and to give an approximate time by which I think I’ll be able to have a discussion about their particular issue. It’s not just good business, it’s basic courtesy.
We encourage our clients, too, to schedule phone appointments. That way, we can set aside specific time to talk to you about whatever it is that you’re wondering. It’s only natural to have questions, and you should feel like your family law attorney has time to sit down with you (in person or on the phone) to have them answered.
Within one business day of contacting someone at our firm, you’ll receive a response. It’s our policy, and it’s how we would like to be treated, so it’s incredibly important to us.

What happens when correspondence is received in my family law case?

When something happens on your case, we’ll let you know about it. If opposing counsel calls or sends an email, we’ll make sure you know what happened. If a date is changed or a trial is set, we’ll let you know. If we receive a document (like a separation agreement or a pleading in any contested case), we’ll scan and send you a copy, and be available to answer questions and provide guidance.
Likewise, before WE send anything out on your behalf, we’ll let you know about that, too. Whether it’s a letter or an email to opposing counsel, revisions to a separation agreement, or a document that needs to be filed with the court, you’ll see it first, before it goes out. We’ll make sure it all looks right, that all the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed, and that we’re on the same page. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll get to dictate every single word to us (because we have to make sure that things are truthful, not misleading, and calculated to yield the kind of results we want), but you’ll certainly have an opportunity to provide feedback and ask any questions that you have.
No letters will go out or documents will be filed without your knowledge.

What if I don’t want my husband to know I’ve hired a family law attorney yet?

That happens sometimes! We won’t disclose our representation of you until you’re ready—unless, of course, we have to (like, to meet a deadline set by the court or something similar), but you’ll know ahead of time if that’s the case. We won’t surprise you, and we’ll keep your confidences.
Likewise, if you husband has to be served with something, we’ll let you know before the process server serves him. That way, if you’re afraid, for whatever reason, you’ll have a head’s up.
If you’re wondering what it’s like to work with any old Virginia family law attorney, I can’t tell you. I can tell you, though, what the policies are in our office. From dealing with an attorney myself, I know what it feels like to be left in the dark and unaware of the progress in your case. I’m really surprised that my lawyer’s office handles things this way because, for me, that’s so outside the realm of possibility. I can’t imagine ignoring a client email, or not sending a copy of an important document that was about to go to in their case. I understand that I’m hiring an attorney for their expertise (like you are, of course) and I don’t want to get in the way of them exercising their professional judgment—still, it’s not too much to ask for answers to your questions, return phone calls, and information regarding the progress in your case.
Working with a Virginia divorce lawyer doesn’t have to be intimidating, but you do have to make sure that you’re a good fit with the firm you plan on hiring. Ask your lawyer questions about their policy for returning calls and emails. Ask whether you’ll see documents before they go out. Get a sense for the lawyer (including how they react to you asking those questions) before you make any big decisions. There ARE people out there practicing law like you want it to be practiced (you know, with an emphasis on client satisfaction!)—you just have to know where to go.
For more information about working with one of our Virginia divorce lawyers or to schedule an appointment, give our office a call at (757) 425-5200.