I have court coming up. Is it too late to hire you?
Probably one of my absolute least favorite things in the entire world is when I have a consultation, and she tells me that she has court next week (or tomorrow, or in two days).
So, yeah, next week is always kind of tricky – especially if your court hearing would require any kind of preparation at all (which they almost always do). I mean, obviously, going to court requires preparation, right? Otherwise we’d all just wing it, and you could probably do without an attorney!
I’ve been doing this for awhile, so I really do get why this happens. The closer court gets, the scarier it seems. Or he hires an attorney, and you get some scary official-looking correspondence, or the attorney files a bunch of motions that you don’t really understand and don’t know how to combat effectively. Lots of things can happen at the last minute that can make you think, “Well, gosh, maybe I don’t have it all under control.”
It IS scary. Hey, even I get nervous when I go to court! There’s never any telling what, exactly, will happen, and even if you’re super familiar with the law (which most people aren’t), it’s nerve wracking. It’s your life! Your kids! Your finances! That’s SCARY!
And so much of what happens is final, or, at the very least, can’t be un done without (1) an expensive and time consuming appeal, or (2) a material change in circumstances (in custody, visitation, and child support cases). With other things related to the divorce, especially financial things, it can be a full and final order, and nothing you can do can change it!
The stakes are high in a custody and divorce case, and you’d do well to take court seriously. It’s smart to consider hiring an attorney, especially if he has hired one to represent his interests.
But I do have court next week. Can someone represent me?
Maybe, but it depends on the type of hearing, and you may need to talk to an attorney to even figure out what kind of hearing you’re facing. If it’s an initial appearance in a custody case, it often is possible to be ready in a week. For a pendente lite hearing in a divorce case, it may depend on the issues, and exactly what the other side is alleging.
Attorneys are nervous to sign on to take a case on such short notice, though, because it’s often not really enough time to do any discovery, if any discovery is needed, and to really have the opportunity to flesh out all the issues. If attorneys hate any one thing more than anything else in the world, it’s being surprised in court. If we have time to research and prepare, we can come up with lots of good arguments for all sorts of different situations. When we’re ambushed in court, it’s a lot harder. Some of that comes from just being honest with your attorney about the potential issues in your case, and some of it comes from having adequate time to prepare and knowledge of the issues. It’s hard to take a case, on just a couple of days notice, and waltz into court prepared to discuss anything and everything. It takes awhile to build that level of knowledge, and a couple of interactions with opposing counsel, too. It’s a process.
If you DO have court next week, though, and you need an attorney, there’s no time to waste. It may be that you can find someone willing to take your case, but it may also not be possible. It really depends on the issues, and the type of hearing involved.
A pointer, though. If you’re calling to schedule a consultation, and you have court coming up, let the receptionist know about your court date. At the very least, she can make sure that your consultation is with an attorney who at least has the date of your haring available. That doesn’t guarantee, of course, that the attorney will take your case — if there isn’t enough time to prepare, it doesn’t matter whether the attorney is available to cover the hearing. Still, it removes at least one potential barrier!
I have a hearing coming up. What should I do?
Please, though, for the love of all that is good in the world, reach out to an attorney BEFORE your hearing is a week out! Sometimes it’s possible to get someone to represent you on such short notice, but is that really what you want? You’d prefer, wouldn’t you, someone who had a chance to really prepare, and not frantically throw something together? It’s definitely not ideal to wait until the last minute. And what if then you CAN’T find someone who is able to take the case – whether from a lack of availability (we do have other cases on our calendars, you know), or because there’s not enough time to effectively and adequately prepare?
Don’t wait. Call someone sooner, rather than later. Whether you actually hire that attorney to represent you or not, at least get the information so you can make an informed decision – preferably without a ton of time elapsing.
Can I ask for a continuance?
Maybe. Often, a pro se person (a person representing herself without an attorney) has more luck getting a continuance than an attorney does. (A judge thinks, “Well, the attorney is here – why does she need a continuance?”)
You can always ask. The judge may say no, though, so you should be prepared and at least have some talking points prepared in the event that the hearing goes on without your continuance being granted. Chances are, the longer the time you had to prepare and hire an attorney, the less likely it is that you will be able to get the continuance. If it’s a shorter period of time, the judge is more likely to have sympathy for you.
If you tell the judge you need time to find an attorney, though, you probably should intend to hire an attorney. You definitely won’t get a second continuance!
For more information, or to talk to one of our attorneys (especially if you have a court date coming up, you really shouldn’t wait!) give our office a call at 757-425-5200.