Here are a few ideas to make a trip to your lawyer’s office more effective:
1. Leave the kids at home or meet with us during school/daycare hours.
It’s pretty distracting having any adult conversation with your little ones interrupting you, right? Well, that goes for us too. Not to mention we will probably be having difficult conversations about the child’s mommy or daddy – not appropriate subject matter for their ears.
2. It’s okay to bring a support person with you. Don’t bring four.
We understand that people often want someone to come to the lawyer’s office with them to take notes or ask questions, or even to just observe. That’s fine – but imagine multiple people, each with their own thoughts or opinions, crammed into a small office, and all talking at once. That doesn’t make for an effective meeting. Also, please do not expect us to give your support person any legal advice (unless, of course, they want to retain us on a separate matter).
3. (a) Don’t show up unannounced and expect to meet with your lawyer.
This one is self-explanatory. We spend a lot of time in court and with other clients. It’s wise to schedule ahead of time. Do feel free to come by and see the assistant if you are dropping off documents; (say, for your pesky Financial Statement!).
(b) Communicate effectively and efficiently.
This is a big one. On our hourly files (the majority of cases we take), we charge our standard hourly rate and bill in 6 minute increments. Let’s say your lawyer’s hourly rate is $200 and you have a 5 minute conversation with her. She will likely tack that onto your invoice as a “point one”, or “0.1”, or, in layman’s terms, $20.
There are ways to overcome racking up that legal bill. First, save your questions up for one email or one phone call. Second, if you’re on the phone with your lawyer, watch the time. I actually had a client tell me once, “hey, I’m watching the clock and that’s 6 minutes of your time, gotta go!” I laughed, but she had a point.
Third, ask yourself whether you must call your lawyer or if it’s a question for an assistant (who bills at a significantly reduced hourly rate). For instance, if you’re making an appointment to see your lawyer, call the assistant. If you’re wondering if you can withhold the child because your ex-spouse has fallen off the wagon, call your lawyer.
4. Be organized.
Make lists! If you aren’t doing so already then I suggest you do a list for everything. Make a list prior to each appointment or phone call with your lawyer. Have the main talking points or questions enumerated, and leave space for the answer (see #6!).
5. Take notes.
You’d better believe that I’ll be taking notes when we meet, when we talk on the phone, when we go to court, etc. I can’t possibly remember everything! And while it’s generally my practice to follow up with a “to do” list, that’s not always practical. Bring a notepad with you, and make an itemized list just like the one I’d make for you.
6. Financial statements.
If you are asking for child support (or being asked to pay child support) you must file a Financial Statement. No one likes them. They’re not fun. Most people have never done one before. Regardless, if you have recently retained a lawyer for child support purposes, it’s best to have your income tax documents ready or risk delaying your case.
If you have questions about preparing your draft Financial Statement, and believe me, you will, then list those questions and call your lawyer’s assistant. If you have instructions from your lawyer then refer back to that original email, or the information you got from the assistant, instead of making multiple inquiries (this will help you with 3(b) above!).
7. If your lawyer gives you a deadline, meet it.
There are a lot of reasons you hire a lawyer. One of them is to keep track of the many deadlines the courts put in place during a proceeding. So, when your lawyer gives you a due date, they’re not saying that it would be helpful to do that thing by that date. They’re making sure you don’t miss out on a deadline that could derail your case.