Meeting with a lawyer for the first time can be a daunting prospect, especially in the context of any family law issue; moreover, when you first need a family law lawyer, many issues or problems you are experiencing will likely be affecting much of your day-to-day life making an appointment with a lawyer even more overwhelming or confusing. Fortunately, there are things you can do to make your first appointment and consultation with a lawyer productive and, hopefully, easier on yourself.
Your Own Notes
An important part of what a family law lawyer will do during your initial consult is try to get a sense of your particular situation. Much of (family) law is based on precedent, and there are many general principles in play; however, how those principles apply to your situation is often unique. As such, it will be helpful for your lawyer if you can provide specific information about your family situation. For example:
- When and where were you married?
- In cases of separation, have both parties acknowledged the relationship is over? If so, what is the agreed-upon date of separation?
- Do you have children? If so, how many and how old are they?
- Did you work during the relationship? Did you go to school? Did the other party? If so, when, where, and for how long?
You could consider writing this information out and providing a copy to your lawyer for their own file as it is often a valuable reference tool when preparing court materials, correspondence with opposing counsel, etc.
It is likely there are things you want to ask the lawyer and an initial consult is a great opportunity for you to get answers to some of your immediate questions. However, it is not uncommon for people to get flustered or to simply forget about some questions they wanted to ask. As such, an invaluable preparatory step you can take at home prior to your meeting is to simply make a list of questions to bring with you to the appointment. The lawyer you meet with will be happy to go through those questions with you during the consultation.
Existing (Court) Documents
Sometimes, you will seek legal assistance from a lawyer after you have been served with documents or even after a case has already been ongoing for some time. In those instances, it is very helpful for the lawyer you are meeting with if you can provide any existing court materials. If they are available, you should always bring with you the following:
- Existing Court Orders;
- (Draft) Domestic Contracts (such as a Separation Agreement or Marriage Contract);
- Court documents that were served on you;
- If you have been self-represented or have been represented by another lawyer, any court documents prepared on your behalf; and
- Letters you received from the lawyer representing the other party.
In an ideal situation, you could forward these documents to the lawyer you are meeting with ahead of time; however, even if that is not possible, be sure to bring along these materials to your appointment.
In almost all cases, whether they involve litigation or out-of-court negotiations, it will be necessary for all parties to make full and frank financial disclosure to some degree. Moreover, your financial situation can potentially have an impact on factors such as support payments (paid or received), a division of property, and an equalization of net family property. As such, it is helpful to bring to the following information to your consult:
- Your three most recent tax returns and Notices of Assessment;
- Your most recent paystub; and
- A list of all your assets and liabilities, both those held solely by you and/or those held jointly with others.
Know the Costs Involved
The truth of the matter is that retaining legal representation can be a costly endeavour. Lawyers and staff will charge their hourly rate, and you will likely receive periodic statements of account. Moreover, most firms will require payment of a significant retainer fee. Clear information about these costs should be provided to you openly and upfront. If there is confusion in this regard, be sure to get clarification immediately.
In addition to your legal fees, there are expenses associated with ongoing litigation (such as filing fees). What these expenses potentially are will depend largely on your specific situation, so do not hesitate to ask questions about this at the consult.
With the above in mind, it should be possible for you to attend at your initial consult well prepared. This is beneficial to you not only because you will have some peace of mind but also because it will allow the lawyer you are meeting with to get to the point and provide in-depth information that is relevant to your specific situation.
At Lerners LLP, we understand there is much coming your way in your family law case, and we are committed to standing by your side and advocating fiercely on your behalf. If you are interested in scheduling a consult with someone in our Family Law Group, please do not hesitate to contact Lerners LLP. Please note that coming in for a consult does not in any way obligate you to formally retain us afterwards.
We look forward to being of assistance to you.