In my office, I’ve worked to become a different kind of attorney for my divorce clients. We even say we’re “unlike any attorneys you’ve ever met.” Here are a few reasons how we do this – and how our clients benefit – and why:
- One size fits all….fits no one. We don’t think all divorces are the same. In fact, we feel strongly that they vary as much as families do. We’ve heard about attorneys who, for example, won’t ever take a case to trial. On the other side (and more commonly-found) is the attorney who says they’ll “fight” for you to get every last thing you’re entitled to. These latter attorneys are aggressive and seem to approach every divorce as a battle. You may be looking for that, and so that kind of attorney is the one for you. Sometimes, though, an aggressive attorney will escalate the conflict between the parties, which generally doesn’t help anyone (except the attorney who gets paid more for more conflict). But we don’t think dissolving a marriage should be a battle unless a battle is what’s required. We feel that your divorce is YOUR divorce. It should proceed as YOU want it to. Some cases are in fact very high conflict and require a more aggressive stance, & they do cost more. Often a lot more. Many – most, really – cases, though, are mainly civil, with perhaps a couple sticky issues. There may be some arguments or hard-fought hearings over contested issues. But much of divorce these days is an unemotional calculation & division of assets, determination of support, and making a custodial schedule that works for both parents. Often this can be done fairly simply if the parties are motivated to resolve it themselves – as we feel they should be, since studies indicate a much higher level of satisfaction with results by couples who settle their own cases instead of having a judge decide the disputes. Many clients, indeed, are just looking for help navigating through it, getting it right & not overlooking something they’re entitled to, and representation if needed through the tough spots. We’re not going to tell you how your divorce should be approached. We’ll have suggestions & counsel for you, but ultimately it’s YOUR divorce & your decisions. We’re here to help you, and that starts by meeting you where you are, and taking it from there. We don’t agree that it has to take “fighting every step of the way” to get a good divorce. Quite the opposite, really. We’ll fight as hard as any attorney when we need to battle, but if it’s not necessary? We’re going to work closely with you to get it all done as quickly and painlessly as we can. Why?…it’s because:
- Divorce is hard enough. Divorce is so hard. I know when I got divorced years ago, even though I had been a divorce attorney for 10 years by that time, I was surprised at how hard it was. It’s emotional & devastating. Your home life is completely changing, your future plans have been erased, & unfortunately it takes a long time and is expensive. Your kids are acting out, your job is on the line because you’ve taken time off to deal with divorce issues, and when you’re there, you’re distracted. There is so much about divorce that is tough that we feel your relationship with your attorney should be a good one. As attorneys, we’re very professional. But we’re also kind & understanding. We take our work very seriously because it’s serious work with high stakes. But we take ourselves a little less seriously, and most of our interactions with our clients are friendly & even light-hearted when they can be. We work to be sure our attorney-client relationship is not just legally-trusting but also personal, compassionate, non-judgmental, friendly & effective. Some clients have found our style to be too informal, but we find that it works great for us and our clients love it. We show our difference from the very beginning:
- Turning the initial consultation on its head. In a “traditional” attorney consultation, which is often free and maybe 30-60 minutes, there’s a pattern to the time spent. Usually after the greeting, the attorney asks what’s going on, and the potential client tells their story. There’s not a lot of dialogue as the story is told. Once the story is done, most of the time is up, and the reminder of the consultation is the attorney giving the retainer fee amount and discussing next steps to hire the attorney. Some attorneys spend some time talking about their accomplishments or history in an effort to sell themselves. We don’t do any of this because we don’t think it’s helpful to the potential client. First, we send you our confirmation email, directions and intake form prior to our appointment. We ask you to send us the intake form back completed before the appointment. We also ask you to send us any of your documents (for example if you’ve already filed for divorce) as well as a ‘narrative’ of your story – again, all before the appointment. We review everything you send to us before we meet. That way, we can start our appointment by hitting the ground running. We can jump right in and answer questions or talk about strategy. We want to share as much information with you as we can because we think that well informed clients make better decisions. We do charge for our consultations, but that’s because we give you as much as we can in the time we have together. This approach flows through our entire relationship:
- Working as a team: We’re partners in your divorce. We don’t take over your case. Again, it’s your divorce. We help you through it, certainly there’s a lot we do for you or on your behalf, but it’s ultimately your case. We see our relationship as that of a team. We’re managing much of it, but you’re the one with the majority of the information/facts about what’s happening, and you’re also the ultimate decision-maker. We navigate & advise, as well as of course take the lead in court proceedings. But we each have roles and responsibilities that must be taken seriously. We think it’s critical that you understand what’s happening at every step so we can work together to get to the best result. We work with you to empower you to get through your case, and we do this with:
- Options: to save money & make informed decisions. Again, we’re not going to take over your case. There are options in just about every stage of a case, every aspect even. As an example for any case, one of the first things we do after we file for divorce is serve the documents on the other spouse. Most attorneys will just send out the service to their process server and pass the charge along to the client for the $150 the attorney paid (or more). Well, that’s not the only way to serve the other side. We talk to our clients about this, because sometimes a mutual friend can serve the other spouse. Sometimes the other spouse can drop by our office to pick up the papers. In these latter options, there’s no fee to pass along to the client. We like to give our clients these options because it can allow them to save money on their fees, something many clients are interested in. In fact, we have a letter for all of our clients that they receive upon hiring us that discusses various ways they can save money on their fees. At every step of the way, we talk to our clients about the options, and cost of each option, because we’re working together to get to the best result considering all factors. Some clients want a more hands-off approach with their attorneys and just want them to “handle it.” So we’re not going to be the best attorney for someone who is looking for that. Another example of how we present options is when the other side isn’t doing something they’re supposed to do. An aggressive approach is to file contempt against the other side. But it’s also the most expensive and the most likely to damage the relationship between the parties. There may be a number of reasons why we’d want to try to maintain peace between the parties, so often filing contempt can be a bad idea as well as an expensive one. Our clients probably aren’t thinking about these consequences, so this is why we have the discussion to go over the pros and cons of each option – both legally as well as how the decision affects the parties’ relationship, jobs, kids, settlement chances, etc. – so we can make the best decision…together. Sometimes, too, we don’t know something, so we need to get outside advice. We do this by:
- Partnering with other professionals. I know you won’t be shocked to find out we don’t know everything. Sometimes we want to talk to a CPA about a tax issue, or a therapist about a behavioral issue, or a financial advisor about a property division issue. We know that divorce isn’t just about the legal case. We know that our clients may have questions we can’t answer & needs we can’t meet. We work with a team of other professionals who can help to offer you advice & counsel in these other professional areas. We’ve spent the last 7+ years getting to know CPAs, therapists, counselors & MFTs, Certified Divorce Financial Advisors, financial advisors, and others to be sure to be able to give you a referral to qualified professionals we’ve worked with, we know, & we like and trust. And what happens if we disagree?
- Getting a second opinion. We feel strongly about getting a second opinion. We advise clients to talk to more than one divorce attorney when interviewing to hire one. Attorneys differ a lot in their style, approach to cases, approach to working with clients, & demeanor. Divorce is so hard, and involves such high stakes (your children, your home, your assets, your future) that we feel everyone should work with an attorney they completely trust and feel completely comfortable with…not just the first one they meet! It’s hard to do a consultation more than once – it’s tiring, it takes time, & can cost – but it’s worth it to be sure you’re working with the right professional. We always like having “second opinion” consultations. If we find out that we agree with the current attorney, then the client can now return to their counsel with more comfort and trust in them. If they decide to make a change, then the client has been able to get into a better professional relationship than they were in. We want you to be with the right person, even if it’s not us.
We think it’s important to be flexible with clients and meet them where they are. We’re not going to try to impose our feelings or our approach on your divorce – it’s yours. Our job is to advise you with the laws and the options you have, and to help you to get to the best result. We want what’s best for you at every step of the way. We start by making sure you get as much information as you can in our initial consultation, and throughout your case we work closely together.
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