Questions to ask the Receptionist BEFORE You Hire an Attorney

You’re not ready to hire an attorney yet, but that doesn’t mean that you’re not open to getting more information.  You’re ready to take the next step, but what does that even mean?  Everyone seems to be pushing you towards scheduling a consultation, but you’re feeling like things are just moving a little too quickly.  If you’re feeling like yelling, “Wait, slow down!” you’re not alone.  It’s okay.

You should feel comfortable taking the time to get the information you need to feel confident as you begin to take your first steps forward.  If you’ve started to do the research on individual attorneys or law firms, or make initial determinations about what you’d like your case to look like, you’re in good shape.  If you’ve already attended our monthly divorce seminar, Second Saturday: What Every Virginia Woman Needs to Know About Divorce, or our custody seminar, Custody Bootcamp for Moms, you’re really in good shape.  (Did you know that attendees of our seminars know more about divorce and custody cases in Virginia than 99% of people?  It’s true.)

Hiring the right attorney can be a major determining factor in the overall success of your case.  Hiring the right attorney can strike fear into the heart of your husband (and his attorney).  Hiring the right attorney can help make sure that you spend money wisely.  Hiring an attorney can, in short, be the difference between winning and losing.

Lots of attorneys say that there’s really no winner or loser in a divorce or custody case.  Is that really true, though?  It probably depends on the case, but I’ve certainly seen plenty of cases where there is absolutely a winner and a loser.  Do you want to take the risk that the attorney you hire won’t be the person who can deliver the results you need?  In many cases, the right attorney can make all the difference in the world.

Good attorneys have solid relationships with judges and other local area attorneys, promptly return client phone calls, consistently meet deadlines, prepare diligently for court and other appearances, and care deeply for their clients and their cases.  Good attorneys aren’t impossible to find, but you’ll probably have to do some research to make sure you find an experienced attorney who is a good fit for you and your case.

    So, how do you find a good attorney who is a good fit for you?

It’s not impossible!  There are lots of good attorneys out there who would be able to handle your case with the level of finesse it requires.  But how do you find that person?

    You ask the person who is in the best position to know.  Who’s that, you may ask?  Well, it’s the receptionist!

The receptionist?  Yes!  She (or he, of course) hears everything around the office.  Every call in, every complaint, every client who gushes about her great experience in court.  Not only that, but she knows the attorney, know what he or she is like, know what types of cases he or she prefers handling, and, presumably, has her own opinions about that person.

Of course, the receptionist probably wouldn’t (and certainly shouldn’t, if she wants to keep her job) tell you, “Oh yeah, she’s a TERRIBLE attorney.  Did you know last week she missed a court appearance?”  You have to know the right questions to ask, but the receptionist will be able to give you some valuable intelligence that will help make your quest to find the best family law attorney run a little more smoothly.

    What types of questions should you be asking the receptionist?

The receptionist is a font of knowledge when it comes to the skills, personalities, preferences and idiosyncrasies of each attorney in her office.  She has a lot of information, and she could divulge some of it to you, but you’ll have to ask the right questions.  Be prepared, though: she won’t bash any of the attorneys to you.  You’ll have to read between the lines, of course, and ask the right questions.  It’s her job to give you information, but it’s also her job to showcase the firm (and each attorney) in the best possible light.  Still, that doesn’t mean that she can’t provide some incredibly useful information.

Let’s talk a little bit about the types of questions you want to ask when you call a law office and speak to the receptionist.

1.    Does this attorney have any books, white papers, or other publications that I can take a look at?

Many reputable attorneys have been published in some format or another.  Some have written books, and others have shorter publications, like articles, blog posts, or white papers, that you could take a look at.

What, exactly, are you looking for?  Well, it’s not so much WHAT the attorney has written; it’s the fact that the attorney has written something at all.  Reputable attorneys are often asked to write on or speak to a particular subject; this indicates that they are generally thought of as an expert in a particular field.  (Keep in mind, though, that no attorney will call himself or herself an “expert” because that’s considered a violation of our rules of ethics.)  It means that the attorney’s knowledge is in demand, and that the attorney is capable of juggling a multi-faceted career—representing clients, and educating others about the law and how it works in Virginia.

Not only that, but it will also give you an idea of the type of cases the attorney prefers to handle, and an insight into how he or she feels like cases should, generally, be handled.  By reading between the lines, you can get lots of information about the attorney’s preferences, interests, and practice management style.  Kristen Hofheimer from our office, for example, wrote “The Women’s Custody Survival Guide.”  What does that tell you about Kristen?  Well, basically, it tells you that she knows a lot about custody cases.  If you ask our receptionist, she’ll tell you that Kristen handles lots of complicated custody cases with complicated issues—like sexual or physical abuse, homeschooling, and even relocation.

If you ask the receptionist, the attorney may have written something that is exactly on point with whatever your issue is.  Maybe the law firm even has a blog or a series of articles online that deal with your particular issue.  If you ask, you may be surprised about the number of resources the receptionist can help you find.

Not only that, but, in the meantime, you’ll become more informed about the process in Virginia.  It’s a win-win situation, right?  Of course right!

2.    Is this attorney aggressive?

Now, this is an interesting question—and one that the receptionist might be a little surprised to hear.

This is a question I want you to ask—but not for the reasons that you might think.  If you ask the receptionist whether this attorney or that attorney is aggressive, and she says, “Oh, yes, very aggressive,” or something similar, you probably should be concerned.

Why?  Isn’t it necessary that attorneys be aggressive?  Well, yes, of course—aggressive is sometimes a good thing.  But, on the other hand, some attorneys are aggressive just for the sake of aggressiveness.  And aggressiveness for the sake of aggressiveness, rather than winning cases, means that these attorneys file more motions than necessary (which costs you money), refuse to settle (which costs you money), and send you to court repeatedly (which costs you money).

The attorney you want to hire should walk a fine line between being able to take a stand when necessary, and knowing when negotiating is really what’s in your best interests.

Obviously, you don’t want someone who is a shrinking violet, either.  If the receptionist says, “she settles most of her cases,” or “he’s very aggressive,” you might want to beware.  A good attorney can weigh the advantages and disadvantages of every situation, and apply the attitude appropriate in those specific circumstances.  Contrary to popular opinion, you don’t just want a “bull dog” on your side—bull dogs tend to run up costs unnecessarily, without yielding better results.  And isn’t it all about the results?

3.    Can I meet the attorney in person before I decide to schedule an appointment?

Lots of law firms set up barriers between potential clients and their attorneys, making it feel like you’ve got to pay a ton of money before you can even have any face time at all with a lawyer.  How are you supposed to make a decision about whom to hire if you haven’t even met the person yet?

How the receptionist handles this question should be very telling about the culture at the law firm.  Does she act shocked?  Does she tell you this is absolutely not a possibility?  Red flags.  Do you want to hire a law office that doesn’t make your comfort and education it’s top most priority?

At the same time, though, you can probably imagine that if the law firm transferred calls to the attorney for every single prospective client that called, productivity would grind to a screeching halt.  It’s not possible to take calls from every prospective client and do the kind of job that we want to do for our clients.

Even though it may not be possible to chat endlessly to the attorney about your case before you make the decision to hire, you should be able to meet the attorney, ask some questions, and get a general sense of her personality before you commit to hiring her for the duration of your case.

At our office, we understand how important it is to have an opportunity to meet an attorney before you make the decision to hire.  We also believe in empowering women by teaching them everything they need to know about the divorce process, which is why we started teaching our monthly divorce seminars, affectionately called Second Saturday (because that’s when we teach them).  Our Second Saturday seminars teach what every Virginia woman needs to know about divorce, and are offered on the Second Saturday of each month in both Virginia Beach and Newport News, and the third Tuesday of the month in Virginia Beach.  Each seminar is three hours long, and is taught by one of our licensed, experienced Virginia divorce and custody attorneys.

We teach the seminars on a rotating basis, so, if you want to watch a particular attorney before you decide to hire her, you can find out where she’s teaching the seminar next, and show up.  You’ll have an opportunity to ask her your questions, and you’ll spend 3 hours watching and learning from her.  You can also go watch other attorney’s seminars, if you want to compare, too.  Say you’re thinking of hiring either Sheera or Caitlin, but aren’t sure which—you can go watch both in action, and make a decision that way.

For more information about the seminars, or to pre-register to attend, visit our website at monthlydivorceseminars.com.

Don’t want to go to a seminar?  That’s fine.  You can also meet our attorneys at our Girl’s Night Out events.  Not every attorney comes to every event, of course, but if you show up, especially if you come to more than one event, you will have the chance to meet several of our attorneys all in one place.  This definitely isn’t the place to ask your legal questions—it’s really just a fun, social event designed to give our current, former, and prospective clients a chance to get out and have a little fun.  For more information about our upcoming events, or to register to attend, please click here.

The receptionist is a source of all sorts of good information, so don’t forget to ask her these questions when you call into the law firm.  This is another great way to gather the kind of information you’ll need to help you decide whom to hire.

Don’t overlook important sources.  Feel free to ask these, and any other questions you may have—with or without scheduling an appointment.

For more information, to ask about our attorneys, to schedule an appointment, or to get more information about our upcoming seminars, give our office a call at (757) 425-5200.

Filed under: