Why won’t a Virginia divorce attorney take my case?

Posted on Aug 7, 2020 by Katie Carter

It happens sometimes that a potential client walks into our office, tells us their story, and ultimately walks away without a retainer agreement.

There are lots of reasons we might not give a retainer agreement. Sometimes the potential client only comes in to get more information. Sometimes, they’re not really ready to move forward just yet, or a more thorough review of the laws reveals that now wouldn’t be the best time to move forward, even if the client personally feels like she is ready to move forward now.

Sometimes, though, we don’t give a retainer agreement because we don’t want a case. It’s usually because either (1) what the prospective client wants to happen can’t legally be done, or (2) because what they want is unlikely to actually happen.

Hey, we make our living this way. Taking cases is our game. So, as you can probably imagine, turning them away is not ideal. We don’t want to do this, but sometimes we have to.

Let’s talk about some examples.

When the prospective client wants something to happen that can’t legally be done

The first type of prospective client that we often send away without a retainer agreement is one that wants something to be done for which there is no legal basis. Sometimes, a client wants something done that can’t legally be done. They want to have a case transferred out of a particular jurisdiction, or remove it from a certain judge’s docket. They want to get spousal support from a husband’s inheritance. Something that the law just doesn’t support.

Sometimes, they want you to do something that’s unethical (or downright illegal!) to achieve their goals. I once had a client tell me that she wanted me to tell her husband we’d report his infidelity to the Navy so that he’d get fired if he didn’t agree to the terms she wanted in their separation agreement.

When the prospective client wants something that is unlikely to happen

We see a lot of the second type of prospective client, too. These clients tend to have unrealistic expectations for what the legal process will entail, and what might happen to them if they pursue a specific course of action.

Examples? Sure. One of these types of clients would be someone who wants to relocate so that she can live with their new boyfriend. Another would be one who signed an agreement, and now she wants to change its terms. A client who wants supervised visitation or one who expects no overnight visitation to ever be granted is a good example too.

Some prospective clients are more or less willing to hear that their case is likely to be unsuccessful. Though we can never really guarantee results, we are often able to advise a client based on similar cases that we’ve seen — and, of course, there are some position that we already know will be more or less successful.

I don’t recommend that a client not move forward unless I feel that, as a matter of professional integrity, I need to. There’s no incentive for me to turn away a case unless I have to.

I met with an attorney who seemed unwilling to take my case, or didn’t give me a retainer agreement. What should I do?

I think the best course of action, whenever you don’t get an answer that you want to hear, is to get a second opinion. If nothing else, it’ll give you some peace of mind. And, hey, if you find someone willing to take your case on, that’s great! It may be that you connected with someone who was unfamiliar with your issue, or was unwilling to take on a case of that complexity. I’d have a full and frank conversation, though, with the attorney you intend to hire about the total overall costs of the case. It’s difficult (actually, impossible!) to know ahead of time exactly how much a case will cost, but an attorney can usually put you in a ballpark — like, under $10k, over $10k, over $50k, etc. If experts or other witnesses are necessary, you might want to get an idea how much that would cost, too.

If you don’t understand, ask questions! It’s your case, and you should understand what’s happening.

I know I don’t mind questions. I don’t mind if you disagree. I don’t mind if you want to talk to someone else, or, really, anything. I know that you have a lot on your mind, and that your case is a major stressor, especially if it involves your children. I can assure you, it gives me no pleasure to tell someone that something isn’t worth pursuing, that she’d lose based on the evidence I’ve seen, or that it would be too expensive for her to reasonably tackle given the budget that she’s working with.

A second opinion is ALWAYS smart, especially if you are surprised or questioning the advice you received. For more information, or to schedule an appointment with one of our attorneys, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.