Can someone sit in on my consultation with me?

Yesterday, I got a call from a very grouchy man. It’s not too often I have calls from men, since we represent women only, and we can’t schedule appointments for any men at all. This man, though, was angry because he was calling to pay for a consultation with one of our attorneys for his friend, and he wanted to be allowed to sit in. Our receptionist tried to explain but was ultimately unsuccessful, so I had to step in.
“We’ll have to get her permission first,” I told him, re-emphasizing what our receptionist had already told him. He bristled and kept trying to tell me more about her sob story, and I let him because it seemed important to him, but then I had to tell him, again, of our position.
It happens a lot that people want someone else – usually a mom, a dad, a sister, an aunt, or a friend – to sit in on their consult with them. There’s a lot of information in a consult, and, like in a doctor’s appointment, it can sometimes help to have a less emotional third party there to listen to the information and ask questions. In this case, of course, it was a little different because the person asking to sit in wasn’t a family member or even a girlfriend of the woman – he was an unidentified male friend, and the appointment was going to be a phone appointment. We hadn’t heard anything from the woman herself, so we couldn’t just tell him that of course it was fine if he called in, too.
Though you can certainly have a man friend sit in on your appointment, whether in person or by phone, you must give your permission first. It’s easier in an in-person appointment, because your support person will show up with you and you’ll probably also introduce them to the attorney. Permission is assumed. In a phone appointment, though, it’s a little more difficult. Especially in this case, since we had heard absolutely nothing from the woman whose appointment he wanted to sit in on.

Can I have someone sit in with me?

Of course you can. If it’s important to you, it’s fine to have an extra person sitting in most of your appointments with you.
Though you should also know that having a third party involved can be potentially problematic. It may be that you’re willing to take the risk, but it also may not be—so it’s important that you know, ahead of time, what rights you’re waiving by having another person present. Technically, attorney/client privilege only applies to conversations where only the attorney and the client are present. If a third party is present, it breaks privilege—making these discussions technically admissible in court or discoverable by the other side.
To put it more simply: there is NO attorney/client privilege in a meeting where you involve a third party. That’s not to say, of course, that your attorney will blab whatever happens just because now there is no privilege; we would NEVER share your information, even if you technically had waived confidentiality by having someone else present. If the other side tried to use discovery tactics or get this information admitted in court, we’d certainly fight it tooth and nail. It’s just that the added layer of protection is now gone.
In an initial consultation this is often less important; in meetings, later on, where we’re discussing an upcoming hearing or trial strategy, it may be more important to insist on one on one meetings rather than with a support person or an entire entourage. If the attorney feels the need, she may ask that your support person leave the room or hang up the phone to protect your privilege, which is also something you should be aware of.
Make sure that anyone you involve on the call or in the meeting is someone around whom you can be honest. Divorce is messy, and sometimes we’re talking about sticky subjects—like sex and money—which may or may not be appropriate for you to discuss around others. If you feel you can’t be honest or provide the attorney with the information she needs to represent you well, you may want to leave your support person in the lobby or talk to them about it afterwards.

What if I don’t want my support person to come in – but they’re insisting?

This is what I’m afraid of in this specific case. The prospective client could be being bullied by her “support” person. We actually see this all the time, and it’s a really awful thing. You should feel that you and your attorney can have an open and honest conversation about what’s best for you, whether or not your support person agrees with you about your goals or objectives.
We’re not omniscient, though, so we won’t know that you don’t want someone in the appointment unless you tell us. But, just like the labor and delivery nurses are skilled at keeping unwanted family members out of the delivery room, we’re pretty good at keeping unwanted support people out of our client’s business, too. If you let us know that you’d rather not have someone in your appointment and they show up with you, we can tell them no—even if you’re too uncomfortable to insist on it yourself. Give us a call or send us an email before your appointment, and we’ll make sure to protect you.

What if someone else pays my legal bills? Are they entitled to the information about my case?

No. No matter who pays your legal bills, if it’s your name on the retainer agreement, YOU are the client. Your friend or support person or family member is NOT a client, and is not entitled to access to any of the information in your file or to talk to the attorney. Once the retainer is paid on your behalf, it becomes your money, and you govern how it is spent.
If you WANT your support person involved, you can sign a release that allows us to talk to them. If you don’t want to, you don’t have to sign anything, and we won’t share any of your information.
Again, if you’re not comfortable telling your support person no, just let us know—and we’re more than happy to do it for you. We don’t have to offer a release in their case, and we won’t share any information at all without your say so.
So, yes, you can have someone in your appointment with you if you’d like—but you definitely don’t have to. It’s entirely up to you, and we’re willing to be the bad guys if that’s what you need from us. (We’ve done it before, and we’ll do it again; protecting you is our #1 goal!)
For more information or to schedule an appointment (with or without a support person) give our office a call at (757) 425-5200.

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