Category: Attorney-Client Relationship
Questions/Answers
What documents do I bring to my first meeting (initial consultation) with a divorce lawyer
The lawyer will ask you what you own (assets), what you owe (debts), what you earn annually, what your spouse earns annually, and specifics about your children, if any.  Therefore, bring at least 2 years tax returns, your last 3 paychecks, your spouses last three paychecks, a list of all bank accounts, investments accounts, real estate (with balance of mortgage and equity loans) and documents regarding any retirement assets. Also bring children’s dates of birth and social security numbers.
How do I fire my lawyer?
Once you have hired a new attorney and that attorney has entered an appearance in your case, discharge the old one. Do this in writing so that you have a record of when you told the attorney to stop working. You don’t need a lawyer racking up billable hours after you have fired him or her. Check the terms of your fee agreement to see if there is something special you need to do to fire the lawyer, such as notifying him or her by certified mail. If the fee agreement states that you cannot fire the lawyer or if the fee agreement has any other provision that you consider onerous or unfair, discuss this either with your new attorney or with the appropriate grievance commission or licensing board in your jurisdiction. Such provisions may not be enforceable.
Can I switch lawyers during my divorce?
Since you have employed the services of your lawyer to do your divorce, you can fire him or her if you feel that he or she is doing an inadequate job. Be aware, however, that you will have to get another lawyer acquainted with your case, which can delay your divorce and certainly increase your legal fees. Often times clients take out frustration on the lawyer, because things are not going as planned or they do not understand how the legal procedure works. If you do get frustrated with the performance of you lawyer, be sure to make careful decisions and do not act hastily. Some clients have a tendency to fire a lawyer and end up regretting it greatly.
What is the lawyer going to ask me?
He or she will probably ask you why you are considering a divorce, and whether you and your spouse have tried to reconcile your differences. He or she will ask you how long you have been married and whether you have any children. Whether you and your spouse are living apart or are still together. What are your plans for retirement? What are your assets and your debts? And so forth. Do not be surprised or insulted if the lawyer asks you some questions that you may consider very personal. Divorce is a very personal matter, and if a lawyer is going to assist you, you must be as forthcoming as possible. Lawyers hate to be surprised later on in the process. They would rather know as much as possible up front. The more they know the better legal service they can provide you.
Helpful Tips and Facts
Beware of sharing a divorce lawyer
In Michigan it is unethical for a lawyer to represent both parties. A divorce lawyer should always make it clear that he is working for one party and not both parties. The other party should be encouraged to seek his/her own legal counsel. This applies regardless of whether it is an uncontested divorce or not.
A Divorce Lawyer With a Messy Desk
One of the most common causes of legal malpractice is a failure to make filing deadlines. No matter how solid the case, a lawyer who misses a filing deadline -- for example, an appeal -- has just lost it, and his or her excuse -- that the paperwork was misplaced -- falls on the deaf ears of courts that are not interested in alibis or excuses. The volume of paper associated with a case increases exponentially as it processes and invites clutter if it is not properly filed and managed. This is not to say there are not competent lawyers who appear disorganized, but it is a note of caution: A lawyer whose desk looks like a cyclone hit it may be one to avoid.
A Lawyer is Your Employee
When you retain an attorney, he or she works for you -- and you alone. An undisclosed conflict of interest is a serious breach of legal ethics.
Start Locally
If an attorney’s actions seem questionable, the place to begin is with an inquiry at the county bar association. Each county bar has an ethics committee. This will put an investigation into action, and if further actions are deemed appropriate, the county bar will work with the state bar to see that the issue is addressed and resolved accordingly.
Dating During a the Divorce
Even if your divorce is uncontested, it is wise not to pursue a new relationship or at least limit your dating until the divorce is final. This includes your lawyer! If you are involved in a heavily disputed case, certain aspects of your divorce and the final outcome can be jeopardized if it becomes known to the opposing side that you have been involved in a new relationship while still married.
Restrain Your Lawyer
Always remember that the lawyer you hire is your employee. Keep him on a tight leash. Marriage and family law are one area where restraint is the better part of virtue, and a top dollar settlement can be staggeringly expensive emotionally when angry and bitter spouses have to deal with each other about the children. And remember, the bills for all this are graduated in small fractions of an hour.
Stockpile Your Questions
Try to be as organized as possible before contacting or meeting with your divorce lawyer. This means gathering several questions and asking them all at one meeting. Do not call your lawyer back several times in one hour as new ideas pop into your head. This will not only disrupt your lawyer, but it will also drive your legal fees through the roof.
How You are Being Billed
Your lawyer is your teammate in your divorce, so in order to start off on the right foot and build a good relationship, you must be on the same page as to how you are going to be billed. Chances are you are going to be billed on an hourly basis, along with miscellaneous fees (like court filing, faxes, copies etc.). You want to make sure what defines a billable hour and what the minimal billing increment will be. For example, will you be billed 15 minutes for a one-minute phone call?
Malpractice Suits Against Divorce Lawyers
Malpractice suits brought by clients can be very damaging to a lawyers career and potentially jeopardize his or her license to practical law, so it is often suggested that careful consideration be taken by anyone making such a claim.
Suing a Divorce Lawyer
Know what you are up against before taking on this task. Claiming malpractice against a lawyer should not be justified by a bad outcome in a divorce case. If you feel that it is justifiable, you should proceed, but if your outcome is not favorable, you should expect a countersuit.
Getting a Legal Opinion
Low-cost legal services are available. A county bar association can provide an attorney referral list that gives the names of lawyers who will provide abbreviated, initial consultations at reduced rates.