February 9, 2010
By Thomas Moore, Family Law Office Manager
First of all, I would like to express my appreciation to Stephen R. Arnott, author of Screening for Domestic Abuse: What You Don’t See, May be What You Get in the October 2009 issue of Bench & Bar of Minnesota magazine.
I would urge you to read his article in its entirety. It is written by an attorney for attorneys but Mr. Arnott makes several key points that are important for clients to consider also.
- Domestic violence seems to be on the increase.
- Some litigants in family law proceedings use allegations of abuse to give themselves an edge in the case, especially when fighting for child custody.
- Unacknowledged domestic abuse may be at the heart of other disputes over property, visitation, child custody and other aspects of a family law matter.
- Domestic abusers are taking advantage of modern technology, using cyberstalking, cameras, “bugs” and other devices to stalk their prey.
What Your Attorney Should Do
From this, Mr. Arnott draws several useful conclusions. Again, these are directed at other lawyers, but they are relevant to a layperson or litigant also.
- Lawyers should screen for domestic violence even when their client does not mention it.
- An attorney should develop a skill at eliciting the relevant information, judging its authenticity, and acting on it if need be.
- An attorney might use a domestic-violence advocate or other professionals for the benefit of their client.
- Appropriate screening for domestic violence helps ensure that their client is not only well represented legally but also physically and emotionally safe.
June 16, 2009
Meeting Your Attorney
The Initial Consultation
When you are dealing with any legal matter, — divorce, child custody, estate planning, or something else; you will of course have to meet your lawyer. While every attorney handles this meeting in his or her own way, here is one take on how that meeting would proceed.
First, you’ll have to find their office! Be sure to ask, or to map it, or to get directions on the phone. You do not want to be late to this meeting or arrive flustered by a frustrating chase around unfamiliar streets looking for an office. Some attorneys do make house calls or visit you at some spot convenient for you, but most prefer to meet you in their office. That this is “their turf” and not yours may be part of their approach, in order to ensure that you are capable of making some commitment to what can be an exhausting, long-term, and expensive relationship – hopefully resulting in you prevailing in your lawsuit, obtaining your divorce, drawing up and instituting your estate plan. Your prospective attorney may want to see if you’re up to at least some inconvenience and effort on your own part.
First Impressions Matter to You – And to Your Lawyer
OK, you’re in their office. Pay attention. Are you greeted immediately and courteously? Are you expected? Is this place like the offices on “Boston Legal” or “L.A. Law?” Probably not! So, being realistic, you’ll want to assess this first impression when you decide to employ this attorney – or not.
The first person you meet may be your attorney, a paralegal, or an office staffer. You may be handed a form to fill out, offered coffee, tea, or bottled water. You may be asked if you have brought any paperwork relating to your matter. Eventually – hopefully soon! – You will be invited into your prospective attorney’s office.
Bear in mind that the law is not just about statute, litigation, and precedent. It is also a very psychological matter – so you’d be advised to be aware not only of your intellectual, mental interaction with this person; but also of how you feel about him or her. Do you have a battle ahead over, say, child support? If so, do you want a lawyer who is a compromiser / nice guy; a battleaxe / bulldog; or something unique you can’t quite put your finger on yet?
How Your Family Law Attorney Might Proceed
She would ask what brought you to her, giving you a chance to expand upon your motivation; and asking more directed questions to bring out what might be important to your cause. It’s a back and forth question and answer format. The law can be abstruse and non-common-sensical at times, so by all means ask questions back. The point is to build some trust between you now, if possible.
She will talk about the attorney – client relationship and confidentiality.
She will outline what she sees your case to be and give some generic raw legal advice. You cannot expect her to lay out her entire role for you here – especially since the initial client interview is often free to you. This is an interview in both directions, actually: you are trying to see if she is the attorney for you; and so is she.
She will talk about the legal process you face. In some jurisdictions and for some types of law this can be very standardized; in others, not.
She will talk about two basic strategies in almost any case: settlement (no trial) or trial. Neither one is perfect and both typically involve both some work and some compromise.
The attorney will explain the business of the law. You have to pay the fee to get the advocacy you need.
Finally, the lawyer and you will end the interview. He or she will let you know what follow up you can expect – usually a letter or email.
Is This the Lawyer for You?
That’s it! Now, it’s time for you to make a choice – this attorney? Another? Drop the whole plan? Good luck!