What do I need to bring to my first divorce lawyer?
Before you commit, consider these topics when meeting a divorce attorney:
1. What is the attorney’s response rate?
Is the attorney quick to respond? Does he/she respond just to respond, or does he/she take the time to answer your questions and give candid advice? Will a paralegal or other member of the legal staff be contacting you? Who will be your primary contact if you retain the firm? The amount of time it takes to respond and the quality of responses is important to feeling heard, understood, and supported both as a person and client.
2. What is the attorney’s price tag?
Choosing an attorney by his/her rate or size of a retainer is a poor way to find quality representation. An attorney who promises a “quickie divorce” with a low rate can be equally as bad as finding the attorney who charges the most and breaking the bank. Financial considerations are important, but as long as the attorney’s rates and retainer are competitive in the area, there are more important factors to consider when hiring your divorce attorney.
3. Is the attorney familiar with the area?
Legislation for divorce in each state and county may differ, so it is crucial to hire an attorney who understands local rules and customs. The divorce lawyer should also be familiar with judges and fellow legal folk in the area.
4. What is your ultimate goal?
Tell the attorney your ideal outcome and ask if it is attainable. He/she should be able to tell you a path to achieving your goal and whether or not it is attainable. Keep in mind while an attorney is knowledgeable regarding the law, he/she cannot guarantee any outcome!
5. Is the paperwork clear?
Ensure a contract is in writing and is explicit for what services you will be paying, should you settle on an attorney. The attorney’s hourly rate, hourly rate for legal staff (if any), details regarding reimbursements for the firm, and the name of the attorney who is in charge of your case should all be listed on a contract prior to signing.
Beyond the reviews, pictures, and exclusive deals, you must connect with your attorney on a personal level; they will serve as your advisor and confidant. While finding a divorce attorney to guide you through a life-changing event may seem daunting, keeping these five topics on your mind will help you evaluate the best fit for your situation.
As you most likely know, divorce is a turning point in life and should be taken very seriously; having the right divorce attorney by your side can help support your family in a personal and legal sense, and is crucial to beginning the next chapter of your life.
Documents to Show Your Divorce Attorney: A Checklist
You should not put a lot of pressure on yourself when you visit with your lawyer for the first time, but some documents can be helpful to your new attorney in assessing the issues in your case. Remember the military adage, “Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance.” While the documents can seem personal, you should feel comfortable enough with your divorce lawyer that you are comfortable sharing – it will help you and your attorney be ready. Here are some of the most useful documents you can bring:
- Intake Form. Most family law lawyers have an intake form that gives them a snapshot of the issues and your goals, and gives them important details about you and your family. At McCabe Russell, we don’t require you to fill it out our intake form advance, but if you can, it helps us move forward.
- Agreements. If you and your spouse signed a prenuptial agreement or a postnuptial agreement (or if you’ve been working on a separation agreement), your attorney will need a copy.
- Previous years’ tax returns (with attachments). There is a lot of information in a tax return that can be helpful to your attorney. If you can, bring one or two years to your initial consultation. The attachments (W2s, 1099s, etc) can also be very helpful, so don’t omit copying those.
- Last 3 Paystubs (yours and your spouse’s). Like a tax return, pay stubs have crucial information on them (for example: rate of pay, hours worked, bonuses received) that can be helpful in assessing the financial issues in your case.
- Mortgage Statement and/or Copy of Deed. It’s not uncommon for clients not to know what is owing on their own mortgage or even whether they are on the mortgage. Bringing a mortgage statement and a copy of the deed can help your lawyer determine the answers to these important questions.
- Bank, Investment, and/or Retirement Account Statements (401ks, IRAs, 403bs, etc.). Even if you can only put your hands on one or two, account statements contain a ton of information and can help your attorney both assess and prepare.
Starting the Divorce Process: Related Resources
If you’re just starting the divorce process or planning to do so, you may feel overwhelmed by all of the steps required. If you also have children, the process can be much more emotionally draining. The following resources will help you make sense of your state’s divorce laws and the divorce process in general.
- Divorce Discovery: Exchange of Documents and Information
- Collaborative Divorce: Overview
- Divorce Information by State
- Reasons to Hire an Experienced Family Law Attorney
- Divorce Mediation Lawyers and Divorce Mediation
- If You’re Getting Divorced, Don’t Go it Alone: An Attorney Can Help
After determining which documents to show your divorce attorney at that first consultation, you’ll want to find the right attorney. But just because a lawyer has a lot of experience and great credentials doesn’t mean they’re necessarily the right fit, since style and personalities vary widely. If you need legal counsel, find an experienced divorce attorney near you today.
Before you even darken the lawyer’s door, make sure you know whether or not the lawyer is going to be charging for your first appointment.
Some lawyers offer an initial consultation for free; if so, they will usually advertise that first meetings are free. Other lawyers will offer an initial consultation for a reduced fee.
Most lawyers charge for initial meetings at their usual hourly rate. Do not assume that there will be no charge for your initial appointment. If you must make an assumption, assume that the lawyer will be charging you at the lawyer’s normal hourly rate.
If the lawyer is going to be charging for your first visit, they will usually expect payment once the meeting is done. All lawyers will take cash and cheques, and many will also take credit cards. Make sure you are able to pay for your first meeting when you book it.
How can I make the most of my first meeting with my lawyer?
Be prepared and organized. Bring basic information such as a simple statement of assets and liabilities, tax returns for the past three years and it is recommend that clients bring notes with bullet point topics they would like to discuss and questions they seek to have answered.
Should I bring all of my records to the first meeting?
No. In the first meeting, we will provide you with a comprehensive list documents for you to help us gather. Those will be reviewed and discussed in follow-up meetings. It would be very inefficient and expensive to actually review extensive documents during the first meeting.
What information are you looking for in the first meeting?
At the first meeting, we look for broad information. We want to identify the major assets and liabilities, know if there are likely to be issues with parenting the children, examine what the typical monthly income and expenses have been to make an initial determination as to the need for spousal maintenance. Lots of detailed information will be gathered later in this process.