When you’ve come to the realization that it may be time for you to seek out the advice of a family law attorney, you need to make sure that you find an attorney that you “click” with and feel comfortable sharing what can sometimes be very personal and emotional information. There are all different types of attorneys out there – some adversarial from the start, some more willing to work towards a settlement, some who are very intense and some who are more relaxed, but get the job done. During the initial consultation with the attorney, you should examine whether your attorney seems interested in your cause and whether he or she truly listens to you when you speak. You and your attorney will become partners, working together towards the same goals, so you should make sure that you choose an attorney who shares the same strategy for building a solid path for you to accomplish your goals.
I get the question a lot whether spouses can “share” an attorney and the answer is NO WAY! Not only is it unethical for an attorney to represent both parties, but absolutely unadvisable for you not to have your own independent legal advice. If you choose to have only one attorney guide you both through the divorce process, that attorney can only represent one party and will be looking out for his or her client’s best interests at all times. You should always seek the advice of an attorney separate and apart from your spouse.
Once you’ve chosen an attorney to represent you, make sure you understand the immediate course of action and what to expect right from the start. When your attorney requests information from you, respond as quickly, completely and concisely as possible. Remember time is money and the longer it takes your attorney to go through documents and emails, the more it will cost you in the long run. Essentially, avoid being the client who drops off boxes of receipts and old, dirty, crumbled documents at your attorney’s office for your attorney to sort through. Be the client who is well-prepared and organized. In Don’t Settle for Less: A Woman’s Guide to Getting a Fair Divorce and Custody Settlement, author and family law attorney Beverly Pekala discusses several rules for clients to follow, including:
- Your lawyer is not on call 24/7. Not everything is an emergency. If you think that your situation is or borderlines as an emergency, call the police. More than likely, if the courthouse is closed, your attorney will be unable to assist you anyway.
- While you need to inform your attorney of important details that affect your family law situation, you need to remember that your lawyer is not a psychologist, counselor, therapist, etc. Lawyers are educated and trained in how to resolve issues in the legal system, but are most likely not mental health professionals also.
- On the same note, while your attorney is trained in how to litigate legal matters, we did not create the legal system, nor the current laws. Sometimes the law may not always be fair, but as your lawyer, I am obligated to inform you of the current law and how it applies to your case. Attorneys cannot singlehandedly change the legal system overnight and while some laws and processes may seem unnecessary and archaic, the fact remains that it is the law. You may not like it, but I have to advise you to abide by it.
- The real world is not Boston Legal or Law & Order, so your expectations should be adjusted for reality and your attorney should explain to you exactly what to expect well in advance of going to court for your hearing. Each parish follows different local rules and operates a different family law system. Make sure you have been explained what will occur specific to your parish and case.
- Always, always, always be honest with your attorney. Not being truthful with your attorney never helps a situation because sooner or later, the truth always finds a way to reveal itself. It is much better to be up front and tackle the situation head on.
From the day you hire an attorney to represent you, you become a team. If you find yourself doubting your attorney or in constant disagreement with your attorney, you have either chosen the wrong attorney to represent you or you need to step back and face the reality that you are being unreasonable in your requests or goals. Lawyers do not create the facts of the client’s cases; Lawyers are tasked with the duty of making the best of the facts and circumstances presented to them in each case and offer advice accordingly. Sometimes, even a seasoned lawyer will have bad news for you. However, you should always expect for your attorney to return your phone calls and emails promptly and to obtain your approval before taking any major actions in your case. No matter what, you should stay involved in the process of your litigation. Don’t go for long periods of time without checking in with your attorney and always know where you are in the process.