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Litigation

How to Get the Most Out of Your Consultation

How to Get the Most Out of Your Consultation

By Inna G. Materese | Esquire

Most people don’t visit an attorney’s office happily. After all, why would one need an attorney if everything is going swimmingly? It is therefore understandable that most clients are unsure of how to proceed when scheduling a consultation with a lawyer. However, the solution to your legal question often begins to form at that initial meeting with competent counsel and it is important to get the most out of the first visit. So, how does one get the most out of a legal consultation? So glad you asked.

  1. Choose (your counsel) wisely. Many clients (understandably) shy away from consultation fees and only seek out free consultation. In doing so, they are potentially eliminating the attorney they need. Consultation fee avoidance can cost you big time in the long run. Though you may ultimately choose not to work with the attorney with whom you consult, it is important to ensure that the attorney you’re meeting with takes the time to get to know and understand your specific circumstances. You will likely find that a paid consultation lasts longer and is more in-depth than those offered free of charge. It is quite likely that you will walk out of a paid consultation with an evaluation of your specific case and a strategy for tackling your legal issue. If you shy away from an attorney you believe can aptly handle your matter because he or she charges a consultation fee, you may be shortchanging yourself down the road.
  2. Do your own recognizance. Before you meet with an attorney (or sign a retainer, for that matter), understand whom you are hiring. There are many, many attorneys out there and many, many resources to help you find the right one. Consult the local bar association for active bar members who practice in the field you are looking for. You may wish to consult with an attorney with a certain number of years of practice or certain credentials. This information, as well as attorney disciplinary records is likely available online. Evaluate whether the attorney you are considering has relevant experience, participates in relevant associations, is respected by the legal community, and/or has positive client testimonials.
  3. Get your ducks in a row. Being prepared is the best way to get the most out of your time with an attorney. Know as much as possible about the facts of your situation and identify the things you don’t know. It is often helpful to jot down notes regarding specific timelines, dates, details, and other pertinent descriptions. Compile any and all documents to support your understanding of the situation. For example, if your legal issue involves a dispute over a contract, make sure to have the contract handy at the meeting, as well as any documents evidencing your position. The easier it is for your attorney to assess the situation, the more productive your consultation will be.
  4. Remember that details are essential. Your attorney will likely ask you extremely specific questions about every detail of the issue. They are not doing so to be nosy. Instead, he/she is attempting to truly assess your case. Though it may be frustrating to clients at times, most cases turn on small threads of information and the manner in which the law applies to those very particular circumstances. Include all possible details regarding your issues, even if you may not believe it is relevant or noteworthy. Don’t be afraid to share with the attorney in your consultation. While some information may be personal and/or feel embarrassing, your attorneys needs to know anything that can affect your case to properly advise you and your consultation is confidential.
  5. Facts, Facts, Facts (and more facts). Nothing is a bigger shock to a potential client’s system than to hear an attorney redirect him/her away from their feelings about an issue to more mundane facts. But, remember those details we mentioned above? Your attorney needs as many of them as possible during your meeting. While we always keep in mind that the situation that brought you to our office is sensitive and can be extremely emotional, keeping your focus on the factual circumstances is the best way to get the most bang for your legal buck.
  6. Bring your goals but leave your prejudices at the door. When you meet with an attorney, it is important to have an idea of what you’d like to accomplish, even if it is not quite fleshed out yet. Make sure your attorney is aware of your goals so he/she can advise you appropriately. However, it is equally important to remain flexible, adaptable, and receptive to input. Your consulting attorney may advise you that your goals, in their original form, are not quite feasible or, well, legal. Or, an attorney may advise you that the process for accomplishing your goal may look quite different than what you envisioned. Be open to professional advice. After all, that’s what you’re here for!
  7. Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask questions during your meeting. While your consulting attorney may wish to explain a certain concept or obtain certain information before answering, it is important that your questions are addressed. Before you leave, address any questions you may have about legal options, fees, retention of your attorney, possibility of success, attorney experience, etc. Doing so allows you to not only evaluate your legal circumstances but also helps you evaluate whether this attorney is the right man or woman for the job.

Keeping these tips in mind when you visit an attorney will help you have a more effective consultation and help you find the best attorney to collaborate with.

Preparing for Your Family Law Matter

Preparing for Your Family Law Matter

By Inna G. Materese | Esquire

We know that initiating a family law matter is generally a last resort for our clients. The process is often stressful, emotionally wrought, and can be costly. However, when the last resort becomes the only option, preparing in advance can be helpful. Being prepared can make an otherwise seemingly-daunting process a little less so. Here are some things you can do to prepare for your family law matter:

  1. Create your own "case file." Mastering the nuances of your own circumstances is a crucial first step in preparing for a family law matter. Create a chronology of events and/or a list of important facts. Create a record of important family circumstances and/or points to discuss with your attorneys. You are a wealth of information about financial, logistical, and historical aspects of your family. Maintaining a list of important points, conversations, schedules, locations, transactions, events, and/or other information will help you remain organized and will ensure that your attorney is aware of the complete picture.
  2. Gather your paperwork. Our clients are often unaware of many aspects of their financials and/or familial circumstances. When this is the case, family law litigation (whether divorce, custody or support) and the rigors of providing "evidence" to the court are often overwhelming and difficult. Thinking (and preparing!) ahead can help keep the process manageable. If you are preparing for a divorce matter, make sure to gather a copy of current bank, retirement, credit card, and/or mortgage statements. Gathering documentation regarding the property owned by you or your spouse is crucial to any divorce matter. If you are preparing for a support matter, gather complete copies of your tax returns, W-2s and 1099s, pay stubs, and/or employment benefits. If your believe you will be a litigant in a child support matter, make a list of the activities in which your child participates and gather documents (such as invoices, receipts, payment confirmation, etc.) evidencing the cost of those activities. In custody matters, preparing information about your child can be crucial. If you have specific concerns about your child or your child requires extra considerations (such as in the case of special needs children, kids with health needs, and/or educational and therapeutic needs), collect as much information as you can about the issue. Past and current report cards and school records can also be helpful in custody matters. 
  3. Understand your financial situation. Once you gather all the necessary paperwork, it is helpful to get a sense of your assets versus your debts. It is important to understand the nature of your finances and keep looming expenses in mind. Understand when bills are due, whether deadlines for any important decisions are coming up, and/or whether financial changes are on the horizon. Understanding your finances can assist you in deciding when and how to initiate your family law matter.
  4. Figure out your living expenses....now and after the start of a case. One of the most important planning tools for our clients is a monthly budget. Understanding the carrying costs of your life under your current circumstance, as well as how they might change when you initiate a family law matter, is essential. For example, your attorney may ask you whether you can afford to stay in the family home or whether you can afford to move out. The fear of being unable to maintain living expenses can be one of the most distressing aspects of litigation. It is therefore important to consider how income is currently being used and what changes can/should be made if the need arises. 
  5. Don't make any sudden moves. If you believe litigation is on the horizon, making big purchases and/or changes can have a negative impact on your future case. Preserving the status quo will give you an opportunity to discuss any possible changes with your attorney to determine the viability and advisability of the decision. For example, avoid purchasing a new car or new home if you are contemplating a divorce. If you believe a support matter is in your future, discuss any possible changes in your employment and/or income with an attorney before committing to the change. In custody matters, changing your child's residence, school, medical providers, etc. can be detrimental to your future case. In short, check in with your lawyer before making a big decision.