When you make the decision to meet with a family law attorney to discuss your situation, the benefits you obtain from your initial consultation are often proportionate to your level of preparation. The more relevant information that you can provide to your attorney, the better counsel you will receive. But what is relevant? The answer to this question depends on the issues in your divorce case. For example, are there children involved? Are there significant assets or debts? What type of assets make up the community estate? Are there separate property claims?
Make a List of Questions
When you are preparing for your meeting, careful thought about issues in your case will help you formulate questions to ask your attorney. Be sure to write these down; often times clients leave their initial consultation with a lot of useful information, but none of their specific questions answered. The internet is an excellent source of general information regarding divorce. Limit your searches to your specific state, as information you obtain about divorce in New York will be largely inapplicable to a Texas divorce. If you have previously made a list of your specific questions, you will not only get answers but will likely open up areas of discussion with your attorney that may have otherwise be overlooked.
Be sure to take notes during your initial meeting. The list of questions you have brought is the perfect place to write the answers you receive. As your questions are answered, invariably new questions will arise and new areas of discussion will open up. Your notes will not only be an immediate, tangible benefit to you but will also serve as the basis of future areas of discussion.
Documents are always important, but a careful selection of those documents that provide information pertinent to your questions will help focus your initial consultation. Invariably, your attorney will request more documents related to your case, but for the initial meeting your time is best spent alerting your attorney to potential issues as opposed to reviewing a mountain of documents. If you decide to bring documents, do so with a mind to leaving them for further review. Tax returns, bank statements and credit card statements are always good to bring, but be sure to organize. For an initial meeting, the most recent two years’ worth of documents is probably sufficient.
For child related issues, report cards, medical records and therapy records are often vital. Again, recent records will help your attorney understand the issues, but it may be necessary to go further back. Many documents can be obtained online, but you may have to personally visit medical providers. Expect to be required to execute the appropriate releases and meet with the providers about a week before you meet with your attorney: some providers don’t keep records onsite, and it may take time for the documents to be retrieved.
Friends and Family
Bringing friends and family to your initial consultation can be very useful, but care must be taken. Initially, communications with your attorney while others are present are not protected by the attorney-client privilege. As a result, your attorney may ask for others to leave the room for certain discussions. Expect this. Your attorney is doing this to protect the confidentiality of your discussions. Also, it is important to remember that you are the person seeking advice. Sometimes friends and family bring their own experiences to the consultation and the meeting bogs down. Your case may have issues similar to others, but the specific facts and intangible factors will determine how your case proceeds. Just because one person has a difficult divorce does not mean that all divorces are difficult. Likewise, just because a person had an “easy” divorce does not mean that you will be so fortunate. Finally, friends and family do best in initial consultations when they aid in the communication of relevant information. Sometimes that is simply being of comfort in a difficult time. Other times it may involve firsthand knowledge of specific events.
Interviewing the Attorney
Finally, remember that your initial consultation is not only for getting specific questions answered. It is also an opportunity to get to know your attorney. It is extremely important that you feel comfortable with attorney. The relationship between you and your attorney will play an important role in the ultimate success of your case. The initial meeting is the attorney’s “job interview”. You should feel a sense of trust and confidence in the lawyer; if not any representation will be less effective. Remember, you will be working with your attorney during one of the most important times in your life. Preparation for the initial meeting allows you to focus on the answers you are receiving instead of struggling to ask the right questions.