When To Keep Your Attorney In The Loop (And When Not To)
The first time you meet with a divorce lawyer, they’ll want to hear your story from start to finish. How long have you been married? When and why did things turn bad? Does your spouse also want this divorce? How much money do you both make? (The list can go on.) However, you may be surprised by the things your attorney does (and doesn’t!) need to know.
Understanding what you should and shouldn’t tell your attorney will have a huge impact on your attorneys’ fees. It’s important to distinguish when you should and should not call them, and expect them to take action. Giving your attorney everything they need — and nothing they don’t — will ensure you get the most time- and cost-effective representation possible. Here are some tips for getting the most value out of your attorney-client communication.
Apply the “naked test”. If you’re about to ask your lawyer a question they can only answer if they’ve seen you naked, it is not a legal question. Ask your mother, or sister, or best friend. Such questions usually have an emotional component or require intimate knowledge of you/your spouse’s personality. We are not good at predicting how people we haven’t met will react to a situation. Asking us if we think a certain proposal will upset your spouse is impossible for us to answer.
We can’t substitute our judgement for your values. For example, if you ask us, “should I keep the house?” the first thing we will ask is, “do you want the house?” This is not a legal decision, it’s a personal preference and lifestyle issue.
If you ask us, “is it better to have placement on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day,” we can’t answer that. We can only explain that there are no legal implications to either choice. Any implications are practical, emotional, and based around your unique family. Attorney-client communication should be centered more legally than emotionally.
“My friend at work thinks the amount I’m paying my spouse is ridiculous. He only has to pay his spouse half as much. He says you probably don’t know what you’re doing. Is he right?” It’s only natural during a divorce to seek the advice of others who have been through it. But divorce is much like childbirth — the process is entirely unique to the individuals going though it. Just because your friend was in labor for 3 hours with no pain does not mean you will have the same experience. Likewise, if you struggle with excruciating labor pains for 36 hours only to have a C-section, it doesn’t mean anything is “wrong”. You just had a different experience.
If your friend’s divorce only took four months and she got the house and sole custody, it doesn’t mean that’s what you should expect — or if you get a different result, something “went wrong” or you’ve “lost”.
Many variables impact a divorce. If you have children, the court must evaluate approximately 45 factors — almost none of which are consistent from family to family. These include the number of children you have, education levels, earning capacities, your financial and service contributions to the marriage, your children’s special needs, and more. Unless ALL 45 factors are identical to your friend’s, AND you have the same spouse as her, the same lawyer, and the same judge… you’re likely to get different results.
So, asking your attorney to explain why a friend or family member’s results are so much different is an exercise in futility. Insisting on a comparison or justification will only cost you money and distract your attorney from focusing on your case. This is the opposite of ideal attorney-client communication.
Lawyers charge for their time, their knowledge, and their expertise. If you have a question, you should first think: “Am I willing to pay $100 for the answer right now?” Lawyers charge in tenths of an hour. Talking to your attorney for 10 or 15 minutes can quickly cost almost $100. Even if you don’t talk that long, your attorney still must take notes of the conversation, enter them into your file, and possibly follow up on anything you asked about. All of this, of course, takes time and costs money.
Sometimes a question you believe is urgent resolves itself without attorney intervention. Sometimes, you can “save up” multiple questions and ask them all at once to make a meeting more efficient (and less costly). Some clients will make lists of their questions before a call to ensure their attorney-client communication is streamlined.
And maybe it really IS worth $100 for you to know right now if you should open the birthday card your ex-spouse sent you, or just send it back unopened (true story!). But again, that’s a judgement call only you can make. If you call us, we will answer. And we will charge you for that answer, even if it’s not a legal question.
Because of the personal nature of divorce, we often develop close working relationship with our clients. However, we’ll still charge you for the time you need. We will happily listen to you tell us about how your sister saw your ex with an old high school friend, and it might be a hilarious story. But do you really want to pay us to listen? We can’t turn off the meter just because we like you. So when you need a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on, it might be better to find a friend who will listen for free.
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Milwaukee, WI 53226
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