By: Randall M. Kessler, Esq.; Darren M. Tobin, Esq.
The communication between the attorney and the client starts at the initial interview. Remember, every client and every case is different. From the outset, it is imperative that you take sufficient time to get to know your client, his or her spouse, the family, and the background of the marriage. Understanding your client’s needs and expectations are vital if you are going to successfully help your client.
At your first consultation with the client, you should ask questions to get an idea of the history of the marriage. Encourage your client, in as much detail as possible, what transpired during the marriage, financially and emotionally, and why he or she is sitting in your office.
Remember that at that initial meeting, you are interviewing the client just as much the client is interviewing you. As you listen and talk with the client, ask yourself if this is a case you want to handle. Every attorney has a story about a case he or she took which turned out to be a nightmare after the client, the opposing party and/or the opposing attorney became unbearable. The aggravation will undoubtedly take a toll on you both emotionally and psychologically, and a difficult case with difficult parties can take a disproportionate amount of your time, detracting from spending time on other cases you are handling. As an attorney, you should never feel that you must take every single case that comes your way.
It is also important to decide how much discussion you are willing to have with a client before that initial face to face interview. Be mindful of a potential conflict that you may have with the potential client. Run an internal conflict check within your office to see if you have in some way represented this client’s spouse in another proceeding. Also, you should not give a full legal opinion without knowing all of the facts. You also need to decide what you will bill the client for that initial interview. Either you can charge the client at your normal hourly rate, and for the time you meet with the client, or you can charge a flat fee which will probably be less than your normal hourly rate.
After that initial interview, the client must decide if he or she wants to retain you as their lawyer, and you must decide if you want to take the representation. That decision should be in writing. Should you and the client decide to enter into an attorney-client relationship, be sure you complete and sign a Retainer Agreement. If you decide to not take the case, it may be a good idea to send a letter to the person in which you basically state that while you enjoyed speaking to the person, you want to confirm that you will not be taking on the representation. This eliminates any possible ambiguity or future obligation.