For most women, attending an initial consultation is the first step in a divorce or custody case. Others have either requested a free copy of one of our books, What Every Virginia Woman Should Know About Divorce, What Every Virginia Military Wife Needs to Know About Divorce, the Women’s Custody Survival Guide, or the Woman’s Guide to Hiring an Outstanding Family Law Attorney, or even attended one of our seminars, Second Saturday: What Every Virginia Woman Should Know About Divorce or Custody Bootcamp for Moms.
There more than one way to skin a cat, or so the saying goes (though I’ve always found that saying to be particularly grotesque), though, and there’s no one “right” or “wrong” way to approach a potential upcoming family law case. By reading the books, you can get a background understanding of the possible issues you may be facing. Attending the seminars, on the other hand, you can interact with an attorney, even asking some of the questions that are keeping you up worrying late at night.
If you’ve still got questions, or if you’re planning on hiring an attorney to help you move through your case, though, the real first step towards getting started is scheduling a one on one consultation with a divorce attorney.
Still, that’s pretty nerve wracking for most people. It feels sort of like Pandora’s Box, doesn’t it? It’s something that, once you start it, you’ve sent into motion a series of events that you won’t be able to contain or control. Only—really—it’s not like that at all. An initial consultation is just that—a consultation—and it’s designed to help make sure that you have the information you need to make the choices you need to make. Of course, the attorney you meet with will also give you information and details about how to hire her (or him), should you decide to, but the main purpose, from your perspective, is just to figure out what’s what. You need to know how the law works, what you can and can’t do, and what steps you should be thinking about taking, regardless of whether you decide to hire an attorney later on down the road. Don’t be intimidated! If you need answers, you need a consultation.
What can I expect in an initial consultation?
In an initial consultation, you’ll meet one on one with an attorney to talk about your specific case. The attorney will ask for details about whatever brought you in that day, and you’ll be given an opportunity to talk at length about your situation. Your attorney will analyze your case, give you an idea of the strengths and weaknesses of it, and talk to you about possible outcomes. We can help you analyze the advantages and disadvantages of any possible courses of action (like mediation, negotiation, collaboration, or litigation) so that you feel like you’re in the best position possible to start making decisions.
It’s an interactive discussion. Your attorney is there to help, so you should bring a list of questions, if you have them, to make sure that, when you walk out the door after your appointment, you feel like you’ve left no stone unturned.
Can I bring someone with me?
Sure! In fact, that happens all the time.
Lots of women feel like they really need someone else there to help make sure they take advantage of all the information they’re hearing. It can be a lot to remember, especially if you’re under a lot of stress or just don’t feel like you’re in the best emotional state.
Bring someone, if you think it will help. Still, there are a couple of things that you should keep in mind if you’re planning on bringing someone else in the room with you.
Keep in mind, though, that even if the person you brought with you is the one who is paying the bill, if you decide to retain, you will be the client. We run into this issue a lot with well meaning (but slightly overbearing) parents or friends, and it’s important that you know. No matter who is tugging at the purse strings, at the end of the day, it is you who will be (or could be, if you decide to retain) the client.
If the person that you’re planning on bringing is overbearing, you might want to think about that before they get into the room with you. Will they push for your best interest, or will they push you to do what they think is right, regardless of how you feel? Be sure that you bring someone who makes you feel comfortable and will be an asset to you, rather than a liability.
You should also be sure to bring someone who you can be honest around. I know it’s hard; initial consultations often cover some pretty uncomfortable territory. Be sure that the person you bring is someone you can be honest around. Otherwise, you won’t be able to give the attorney the full and complete story, and that’s not helpful to anyone.
Remember, too, that attorney/client confidentiality is affected when you bring another person into the room. Still, if bringing someone in will put you at ease and help you make sure you make the most of your appointment, by all means, bring that person.
Will the attorney take my case?
Maybe! It all depends on your case. Sometimes, we can’t take cases—usually, because we don’t have jurisdiction over the case—but most of the time, at the end of a consult, we’ll present the prospective client with a retainer agreement.
The retainer agreement outlines how our firm handles cases. It covers everything from how and when we bill to what the cost for taking on your case will be. It’s a legal contract, so you should be sure you read, understand, and agree to it. Without a signed retainer agreement, we can’t take a case.
Is the attorney I met with my attorney now?
The point of the consultation, though, is to get information. Concentrate on getting the answers to your questions first and foremost, and worry about hiring an attorney, if that’s a decision you decide to make, later on, after you’ve had a chance to digest the information and read over the retainer agreement.
Is hiring an attorney the right decision for you? Maybe! It really all depends. There are so many different types of cases out there. Would you be better off doing it yourself? And, if you do decide to hire an attorney, how do you know you’re hiring the right one? Sure, you liked the attorney you met with, but how do you know if she’s “the one” you want to represent you in your case? Request a free copy of my book “The Woman’s Guide to Selecting an Outstanding Divorce and Custody Lawyer” by clicking here. In this book, you’ll find quick and easy answers to all of these questions and more, plus get access to an attorney scoresheet, so you can compare and contrast multiple attorneys at a glance.
Is the attorney I met with my attorney now?
No. Meeting with you doesn’t mean that you’ve become a client, or that the attorney is responsible for completing any other work on your case. It does, however, mean that there’s a conflict of interest, and your husband can’t now meet with or retain the same attorney. (Of course, that’s not much of an issue for us; we only represent women anyway, so we wouldn’t ever consider helping him.)
You paid for a consultation, and that’s it. That’s where our relationship ends, unless you decide to retain.
What do you mean, retain?
When you sign a retainer agreement and pay the retainer amount, you’ve hired an attorney to represent you. At that point, the attorney will start doing work on your case.
I have a couple more questions that I forgot to ask. Now what?
Some attorneys will, to a limited degree, answer your questions after a consultation. You can always try to call and ask, or send a quick email, but don’t be surprised if you don’t get a response.
Lots of attorneys have been burned this way. Keep in mind that, without a retainer agreement in place, our malpractice insurance won’t cover what we do. So, if someone comes in, after a consultation, asking questions—and then they take our advice, misapply it, and sue us—we don’t have insurance to fall back on. It’s pretty risky territory for us. It’s not because attorneys don’t want to help or don’t care about your case, it’s just that many of us have been burned when we’ve tried to do a good deed.
Until you’re a client, it may not be very easy to track down the lawyer for more information. Again, it’s not because we don’t care. In fact, at Hofheimer Family Law, we care very deeply about our clients and the women who come to meet with us. That’s why we offer free books and low cost seminars, so that information and questions are quickly provided and answered.
Haven’t been to a Second Saturday seminar yet? Maybe that’s the place to start. Each seminar is taught by one of our licensed and experienced Virginia divorce and custody attorneys, so you may very well have an opportunity to get your question answered there. We do take questions from the audience, and, if you’ve already had a consultation, we’re happy to offer you free admission.
We know that questions do often pop up later, and we want to make sure we’ve answered all of yours before you make any big decisions. Second Saturday can be a great way to get questions answered, either before or after your consult.
How do I know whom to hire?
That’s a great question. For more information on hiring an attorney, or how to tell a good attorney from a bad one, request a free copy of my book, “The Woman’s Guide to Selecting an Outstanding Divorce and Custody Attorney.”
If you just want to meet our attorneys, so that you can tell who is the best fit for you, consider attending our Girl’s Night Out events! They’re absolutely free to you, no divorce or custody case required. We all try to attend each event, and they’re offered at fun local spots. We provide food and drinks, so all you have to do is show up (and bring a friend or two). We’re happy to talk to you (though, of course, this is a fun event, and not one where we discuss divorce or custody cases) so that you can get to know us. It’s tons of fun, so you should definitely make time to attend.
For more information, to schedule a consultation, or to get more information about upcoming Girl’s Night Out events, give our office a call at (757) 425-5200.