With the beginning of a new year, I have been receiving enquiries from people wanting to come for a first appointment to talk about resolving their family law matters. If you want to engage the services of a family lawyer, what can you do to make sure you get the most out of your first appointment?
Your first appointment is as much about you gathering information about whether you will be comfortable working with the lawyer as it is about the lawyer getting information about you. Consider it like a job interview where you are assessing whether the lawyer is up for the job you have for them and will bring to it the values and style that is important to you. Use the first appointment as an opportunity to assess whether the lawyer’s approach and the direction they may take you on is consistent with the way that you want to work. If you are left with discomfort or concerns, try another lawyer out.
Doing a bit of preparation can ensure you get the most from your first appointment with your family lawyer. Take some time to write down a brief summary about your situation and any key concerns you want to discuss with the lawyer. Note down what is important to you about…
… the way in which you want to work through sorting out your family law issue;
…the relationships that are at stake; and
…the outcome that is achieved and why this is important
Emailing this information to the lawyer ahead of the appointment is often a good idea as it allows the lawyer to get “a head start” before the appointment.
Bring to the appointment basic information such as names, contact details and dates of birth along with copies of any Court documents or letters from other lawyers that you may have received about the problem. Your lawyer may ask you to bring identity confirming documents. If you want to apply for a paternity order or adoption order, if you have it, bring along the birth certificate for the child the order is about. Don’t be too concerned about bringing lots of documents about your property. Your lawyer can identify with you what property information will be needed and when.
If you are applying for Legal Aid, be sure to get information in advance from the lawyer’s office about the documents you will need to provide to support your legal aid application.
Some of the questions you come prepared with should include questions about the likely costs:
Will you be eligible for legal aid? If so, will you need to pay your costs back to the Legal Services Agency?
How does the lawyer charge?
When is payment expected?
What are the lawyer’s terms of engagement – the lawyer should give you a copy of these before any work is undertaken for you.
What is the likely cost for your matter?
You can expect that at the first appointment the lawyer will ask you a lot of questions so that he or she can build an understanding about you, your family and what is important to you moving forward. Your lawyer will then spend some time taking you through the various processes that are available to you to sort out your problem and the other professionals who may be needed.
Before the appointment ends, you should be clear with your lawyer about:
Your options moving forward and any decisions you may need to make in the immediate future;
what further information the lawyer will need from you;
what he or she is going to do next (if anything);
what you should do (or not do) next (if anything); and
the likely costs.
Most of all, don't feel you are committed to engage the services of the lawyer you meet at the first appointment. If you feel uneasy about how you will work together or feel discomfort about their approach or are concerned about the options for resolving your matter that they offered, then it may pay to "shop around" and find one that you feel confident with.
If you want help with a family law issue, go to www.familylawresults.co.nz.