There are countless ways to get screwed during the divorce process. The worst is getting screwed by your own lawyer whom you are paying. It is tantamount to hiring a really good hooker, however 2 weeks later your doctor is writing up a script for the STD that now burns as a reminder of your bad choice.
After interviewing a handful of lawyers your next step is retaining one. Your first interview goes great; it’s your first date minus the wine and candles, but you are swept off your feet. Here is someone who is listening, really listening to all the injustices and history of your soon to be ex. You are feeling warm and happy as your lawyer expresses their understanding, their face mirroring back the horror of what you have endured. Empathy freely flows and you bask in it’s glow and feel excited over the prospect of a mutually satisfying relationship, a champion in your corner. Nine times out of ten the new client leaves smiling, grin from ear to ear, the retainer cheque signed with the promise of a second date just around the corner. That’s the foreshadowing disguised as foreplay.
Rule #1- Your lawyer is not your friend, I repeat NOT your friend and certainly not your therapist. Make sure from the first date all through your courtship that you play hard to get. Do not email or call incessantly. Keep a journal of all your important and relevant facts and documents that you wish to bring to their attention. Check which form of remote communication you are not billed for and only send your information via this method. Shocking is the total of billing’s for communication when you add up the nickels and dimes.
Rule #2- Much like a prenuptial agreement get or insist on an Engagement letter. How may times have you been promised the moon? You are still being courted, filters, boundaries and clear expectations are a must. Your Engagement Letter will outline the scope by which your lawyer will act on your behalf. For instance, you need your lawyer to assist in financial disclosures for child support. Great, letters go out with these requests and in a perfect world they are received without Motions or court orders. At the same time you pour over the disclosures you realize that something is not right and you understand that your lawyer will act on any financial matter. Your ex has received an inheritance and lied about the amount. You made a deal prior to separation with your ex to forgo any claim. You discover that the funds however had been comingled in a joint account and now the inheritance rules of exclusions are not so straight forward. You tell your lawyer that this must be addressed. Your lawyer refuses. If the scope and expectations had been laid out in your Engagement Letter that your lawyer would act (or not act) on all your financial matters then there is no problem, you move on to dessert. If your Engagement Letter is silent or partial you will end up asking the Maître De for the cheque.
Rule #3- Do not disclose everything to your lawyer. My Mother used to say that keeping some things to yourself from your partner is a small way of protecting matters that may not concern him. The same goes for your lawyer. Your lawyer does not need to know everything. If you disclose your entire wish list and your lawyer does not necessarily agree with you, you stand a chance that your own counsel will change the strategy course and the entirety of what you need addressed may make it to 1st base but you are left without a home run.
Rule #4- Always check your statements. Keep a log of all calls, meetings and emails. You have a meeting to discuss your ex’s pension and you request that you want your ex to pay for an evaluation. A letter will go out to opposing counsel days or weeks later. The letter is forceful, almost aggressive but you note that the letter regarding a pension evaluation does not include which party will pay. You bring this to your lawyers attention and a second, meeker letter goes out and your statement reflects a double bill when the second letter was unnecessary. This happens often. You are left frustrated at the anticlimax and expectation of a strong one letter thrust.
Rule #5- Lawyers are like serial daters. When a fresh retainer is brought to the firm your lawyer will start calling you a little less. They may even seem a little distracted, less attentive. The anticipation of reaching success together is not met with the same enthusiasm as when you first met. Do not take this lying down. You have retained your counsel to be able to see you to the finish line with the same vigour as was demonstrated at your initial meeting. You may ask your lawyer from the start how many files are actively worked on and straight up explain your expectations. Never stalk your lawyer and be realistic as to where your matter is at any given time. This does not mean that your OK if your file becomes a wallflower.
There are many ways in which you can get screwed. This blog scratches the surface but is intended to change misguided fantasies of your counsel charging in on their white horse to save you, the Practice Wife in distress. Lawyers are human and fallible. They make mistakes and some cheat, some lie, some lose interest. At the end of the day you must establish the groundwork for a successful and mutually satisfying relationship. You are already in the throes of a divorce with your ex, you don’t want to have to divorce your lawyer too.
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Tomorrow’s blog “Step Away from the keyboard.