What to Expect at your Initial Consultation.
This guide serves to provide information concerning what a potential new client can expect when meeting with their lawyer for the first time to obtain an initial consultation regarding divorce or custody matters. The purpose of the guide is to help individuals best prepare for meeting with a lawyer.
Introduction.If you are contemplating hiring legal counsel to represent you in a divorce or custody matter it makes sense to meet with the attorney either in person, or over the telephone prior, to retaining them. To begin this process, you need to first find an attorney you would consider hiring. From there, it is strongly suggested you review the potential lawyer's biographical information and former client reviews.
If you feel confident in interviewing this attorney, you likely need to contact their paralegal to schedule the initial consultation. Some lawyers offer free initial consultations and other lawyers charge for their time, so it is important to know what the cost is (if any) prior to setting the consultation date. More so, some attorneys offer different lengths of time for their consultations so it is important to ask when scheduling how much time you can anticipate spending with the attorney.
What about Confidentiality?Rest assured that when you meet with an attorney to seek legal advice and to discuss the specifics of your circumstances, your conversation will be confidential and protected by the attorney-client privilege. However, that is not to say there are not are certain exceptions to this rule. By way of example, a lawyer can break privilege if it is necessary to prevent reasonably certain death or substantial bodily harm to another. However, the majority of information is protected from future discovery or dissemination so you can speak open and honestly with the attorney even if you do not ultimately hire them.
To note, prospective clients facing divorce often bring third-parties to their initial consultations, which is not at all uncommon. However, the prospective client should be made aware that if the third-party is privy to the advice given by the lawyer at the initial consultation, then there may be legal grounds for arguing the conversation is no longer protected by the attorney-client privilege, which may make the information discoverable by the opposing party at a later date. See, e.g. In re Fox v. Alfini, 2018CO94 (Colo. 2018) at paragraph 3 (holding: "the presence of a third party during an attorney-client communication will ordinarily destroy the attorney-client privilege unless the third party's presence was reasonably necessary to the consultation or another exception applies").
What is a retainer?Most lawyers practicing family law will require a retainer of some amount before they can proceed with their representation. The retainer amount will vary primarily based on the attorney's experience level and the prevailing rate in the community where they practice. A retainer is akin to a deposit, which will be left in the lawyer's firm's COLTAF trust account and billed against at the lawyer's hourly rate once representation begins. Some attorneys require what is commonly referred to as an "ever-green retainer," which means the retainer must be fully-replenished when depleted and others do not. It is important to ask the lawyer how much their retainer is and whether they offer payment plans in the event the retainer monies are depleted before representation is concluded. In the event your matter is concluded before the retainer is depleted, you can get a refund of those retainer monies.
Common Questions to ask the Attorney at the Initial Consultation.Common questions to consider asking your prospective family law lawyer at the initial consultation include the following:
1. What is your hourly rate? Do you have a paralegal? What is their hourly rate?
2. How much is your retainer?
3. Do you primarily practice family law? Do you have prior experience in this type of case?
4. What is your approach towards settlement?
5. What is your approach towards litigation?
6. Do you offer payment plans?
7. What steps should I begin taking immediately in this case?
What to bring to the Initial Consultation.If your case has already been filed, you would be prudent to bring with you any and all pleadings that have been filed with the Court that you have been served with. This would also include any correspondence your spouse or their attorney has sent you regarding the case. Some filings require timely responses so it is critical your lawyer is made aware of any pending motions, which may need to get addressed immediately.
Lastly, given this is an emotionally difficult time for most individuals, you are encouraged to keep a running list of questions and concerns written down so you can ensure you cover everything with your potential new lawyer at the consultation without the risk of forgetting something major.