According to a 2016 study by the American Bar Association, a majority of people who don’t go to a formal advisor for assistance with a civil justice situation neglect to do so because they believe they have “no need for advice” or that such advice “wouldn’t make a difference.”
In family law situations like divorce or child custody disputes, it is integral that both parties speak to a lawyer.
Family law cases can be stressful experiences in and of themselves. Without a lawyer, you may have trouble navigating the legal process and protecting your rights. In most cases, it will be in your best interest to have a lawyer review your case.
Nonetheless, most people don’t know how to talk to a lawyer for the first time.
There are a few things you can do on your end to make an initial consultation smoother and more productive. Keep reading to learn how to prepare for your initial consultation.
Organize Necessary Documents
Before your consultation, you should make copies of important and relevant documents. Your lawyer will need these to give you proper advice about your case.
For a divorce consultation, for example, you may need the following documents:
- Schedule of assets and debts
- Income and expense declaration
- Tax returns
- list of facts about you, your ex, and your children (if you have any)
- Any relevant evidence (such as text messages and emails)
If you’re unsure of how to obtain some of these documents, your lawyer can provide you with guidance. There may be other important documents to your case that are not on this list.
It’s your lawyer’s job to be an advocate for your rights. To do that, they need to know every detail of your case – even the details you aren’t necessarily proud of.
Being completely honest with a lawyer can be a challenge for many people. After all, this is someone you just met. You may be feeling scared, vulnerable, or hurt by your situation.
But remember that your lawyer is a professional who has plenty of experience with these types of cases. They’ve sat and talked with hundreds of people in your exact situation. Any and all information related to your case is pertinent to your legal strategy, even if it doesn’t paint you in the best light.
For example, it’s not uncommon for a judge to ask a parent to take a drug test during a child custody dispute. If you neglect to tell your lawyer that you use marijuana recreationally, there’s no way for your lawyer to prepare you for this situation.
If you’ve held a separate bank account from your ex or kept a separate property from them, your lawyer needs to know about it. If you don’t tell your lawyer, there’s no way for them to help you protect these assets during a property division case.
Your lawyer is not there to judge you. They’re there to fight for you and your family. Always tell the whole truth, from your initial consultation to the day your case is settled.
Ask Your Lawyer Questions
Come into the consultation with a list of written questions. Typically, the best questions to ask are those that relate to your case and the laws that apply to it. You can also ask your lawyer about their practice.
For example, in a family law case, you could ask your lawyer the following:
- How long have you been practicing family law?
- What is your success rate?
- Is family law your primary focus, or just one of your practice areas?
- Will anyone else in your office be working on my case?
- What state laws apply to my situation?
- What procedures will we have to follow for my case?
- Which factors are important to child custody/alimony?
- What strategy would you recommend for my case?
- Based on what I’ve told you, how would you expect a judge to rule on my case?
- Is there anything I can do keep the costs of my case down?
During your lawyer meeting, you may come up with new questions about your case and the legal process. Don’t hesitate to ask these questions.
Typically, a consultation will last about a half hour. You may wish to have consultations with multiple lawyers before you decide to retain one.
If you sign up for a consultation, you’ll want to make the most of it. After giving your lawyer all of your information, be sure to write down answers the lawyer gives to your questions. Any information you obtain during your consultation can help you during the decision-making process.
Discuss Your Lawyer’s Fees
It’s perfectly reasonable for you to ask your lawyer about their fees. You can also ask them how their pay structure works and the total you can expect to pay for your case.
Even a rough estimate can help you make initial decisions. However, your lawyer may not be able to give you a specific quote for your case. The cost may depend on how your case plays out and whether it goes to trial.
The trial process can be challenging for anyone, but they are particularly challenging for families. Trials are also expensive.
It’s usually in your best interest to avoid a trial if possible, even if you feel like you want your day in court. An estimated 95% of divorce cases are settled outside of a trial.
Typically, a divorce case will only go to trial when there is a major disagreement on child custody or finances.
Keep Your Lawyer Appraised of Any Changes
Should you decide to retain your lawyer, you’ll need to let them know if your situation changes. Any major life changes could influence the outcome of your case.
For example, if you’re in the middle of a divorce and decide to move out of the home you shared with your spouse, this could affect your financial situation. Major offenses, such as a DUI arrest, could greatly affect child custody rulings.
Talk to a Lawyer about Your Family Law Situation
It’s understandable if you’re hesitant to talk to a lawyer about your case. Obtaining a lawyer is a big decision. You may not even be sure if you need one.
But anyone facing a family law issue should at least have an attorney review their case. Consider a consultation. You’ll get some much-needed answers to your questions with no obligation to make a commitment.
The team at Pacific Northwest Family Law has years of experience practicing family law. Contact our Washington family lawyers today to schedule a consultation.
Call Us: (509) 537-1822
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