If you find yourself in a situation where hiring a family law attorney is necessary, whether that be due to divorce, a child custody case, or an estate planning matter, it’s likely that you’re feeling a multitude of different emotions—overwhelm, stress, grief, or anger. For many people, the emotional aspect of their personal trial is hard enough without feeling the pressure of needing to represent themselves or handle the matter alone. It’s for this reason that hiring a family law attorney to help guide you through the legalities of your individual case can prove to be so beneficial—an attorney can take huge loads of pressure off of your plate by taking on the legal aspects of your case and advocating for your best interest in the court of law.
Due to the importance of this client-attorney relationship, we can’t stress enough how beneficial it is to your case to know how to effectively communicate with an attorney as your case begins. We give of a list of tips to consider to ensure that your time and money are utilized well, while guaranteeing the best outcome:
Establish Best Form of Communication:
A great way of start your case out on the right foot is to discuss best forms of communication with your attorney during your initial meeting and/or post-hire. Every attorney will be different in how they prefer to communicate with their clients and which medium will result in the quickest response times. Whereas some attorneys may prefer emails, others may prefer phone calls or in-person meetings.
It’s also important to remember that, while your case is important and your attorney will absolutely ensure that every step of the process is handled in a timely manner, they may not be available to you at every moment throughout the day—likely, they will have other meetings, phone calls, or hearings to coordinate on their own calendars. For this reason, ask your attorney if cold calls work for them, or if its preferential to contact the office ahead of time and set up an appointment for later in the day or week. Often-times, having an appointment set up, whether it be in person or via the phone, will help ensure that both parties are available, and that you will have your attorneys undivided time and attention.
Understand How Communication Affects Billing:
Every law firm will have slight differences in how they determine appropriate retainers (the initial deposit) for each client’s case, as well as how they conduct billing afterwards. Most often, an attorney will determine your retainer based on the details of your case that you provide during your initial meeting, and the predicted complexity and work that your matter will entail. Once deposited, your attorney will bill you according to the amount of time that they spend working on your case, until your retainer is gone.
Ideally, your retainer will carry you through the entire case and no additional deposit will not be needed, but this is largely dependent upon the amount of time your attorney spends on your matter. Thus, if you’re emailing or calling the office multiple times a day, your attorney will likely bill for the minutes or hours that they’re spending responding to you, on top of the work that they’re doing on your behalf that you don’t see, such as communicating with your opposing parties’ counsel, acquiring necessary documents, arranging mediation or a hearing, etc. It’s not uncommon for fees to be a point of contention between the client and attorney relationship, however this is most often due to a lack of understanding of a firms billing rates, billing policies, and the amount of time that is going into one’s case. In order to avoid any confusion or misunderstandings, discuss these details with your attorney from the beginning so that both parties can communicate and work together towards a common goal in the most effective way possible.
Compile a Written List of Questions:
With the prior points in mind, a great tactic to employ when communicating with your legal team is to compile a written list of questions you would like to review so that each email, phone call, or in-person meeting is organized and productive, while keeping billing rates as low as possible and saving time for both parties. Rather than email your attorney five times throughout the day with individual questions, and in turn taking up their time while racking up your bill, write down all questions, concerns or topics you wish to discuss when needed so that it can be addressed during one sitting.
Often times, a lack of understanding about how the legal process works, or feeling in the dark on where one stands in the process is what creates a sense of worry in clients. While an attorney should take all measures possible to keep their client up to speed on where their case is and what the next steps are, make a habit of reviewing these points at the end of your conversation with your attorney. For example, towards the end of a meeting, ask your attorney where that puts you in the process, what the next step is in the process, and what your role in that process needs to be. Having this game-plan and mutual understanding about the development of the case will help create a sense of confidence and ease.
If you have questions or concerns regarding your case, it’s important that you feel comfortable approaching your attorney to discuss what is on your mind. It’s in good practice to allow your attorney at least 24 hours to respond to an email or phone call, but if you feel that they’re not keeping you up to date or providing the answers or support that you need in a timely manner, don’t be nervous to express this concern to them. More times than not, your attorney may not have been aware of your sense of urgency, will be apologetic for any lapse in communication, and eager to figure out a system between the two of you that works for everyone.
Try to Keep it As Professional as Possible:
It’s not uncommon for clients to pay for the services of a legal professional and assume that their paid retainer means that their attorney will now be their primary confidant and support system in all aspects of the case. While your attorney will be empathetic towards your case and happy to lend an ear during distressful moments that call for legal action, it’s important to remember that they are not mental health experts, and that spending hours on the phone helping you work through emotional ups and downs is not exactly included in the package.
Family law attorneys are people with experiences and emotions just like you—after all, most family law attorneys choose this branch of law because they have a big heart for people going through hardships, the family unit, and interpersonal connection. That being said, while your attorney certainly feels for you, their time is valuable, and their job is to remained unbiased advocates and legal professionals. Their primary goal is to understand your case and fight for your legal rights. While emotions and desires do absolutely intermix with this duty, they are best discussed at great length with a support system made up of friends and family, rather than your legal team. Simply put, keeping your attorney on the phone for hours to discuss your emotional state will cost you, as it can be considered billable time. In order to avoid this, refrain from contacting your attorney every time you and your ex have a dispute that leaves you frustrated. Rather, it is best to gather your thoughts, make that list of questions and concerns that you feel are relevant to your legal case, and reach out to your attorney when you’re ready to discuss strategy.
It should be noted: family law matters are emotional, and that is okay. It is okay to show these emotions to your legal team during difficult moments—they truly do understand and are eager to help you. The attorneys at Pacific Cascade Family Law personally understand how challenging family law matters can be—we are a team of people who have experienced firsthand the hardships of divorce, custody, death, and the ache of change. However, there is a difference between showing emotion when discussing a difficult topic, and venting to your attorney for hours while you process your thoughts. While we can certainly empathize, make sure that your time spent with your attorney is geared towards legal action, and not venting or processing.
If a time comes when it’s necessary to hire a family law attorney, make sure that you establish open and honest communication from the get-go. Case Evaluations are a time that you, as the potential client, should interview the attorney you’re meeting with on their communication style, their billing process, and how they can work with you to ensure that there will be a strong client-attorney relationship throughout the entirety of the case. Call us today at (503) 227-0200 to set up a consultation and learn how we can help you with your family law matter.