Many clients are completely overwhelmed by their first meeting with a family lawyer. They are frequently emotionally distraught by the potential end of their marriage, scared by the possibility of losing control over their children, afraid of their economic future or all of the above. Thus, many people are unprepared for their initial conference with an attorney. This leads to an inefficient use of time with an attorney, and wasted money. I have found that having specific tasks helps clients focus on resolving their problems and lessens anxiety about the unknown future. Further, being prepared for your meeting with an attorney saves money in two ways: The attorney spends less time mining you for information, and you will have done much of the work that you would have paid the attorney to do for you. Following these five steps in preparing for your first attorney meeting will save you time, money and probably some anxiety as well:
1. Create a Budget: In the event that you are going to be separated from your spouse, you need to know how much money you need to survive until the financial issues are resolved. This requires a budget. If a lawsuit is filed, you may very well be required to submit a budget to the court, so you might as well get started on this right away. You should include every monthly expense that you incur in your budget. If you incur a cost quarterly, then divide the total annual cost by 12 to obtain a monthly amount. You may have to estimate things like rent and utilities if you are still living in the marital home. The legal form that attorneys in Wake County use to submit budgets to the court can be found here. This form provides a useful guide to budget items that may not occur to you.
2. Create a List of Assets and Debts: Having an inventory of assets and debts is absolutely crucial to your ability to make educated decisions about dividing marital assets. Do you know what your net worth is? Do you know whether you have more assets than debts? Include homes, vehicles, art, collectibles, retirement accounts, bank accounts, insurance benefits, stocks, bonds, business interests and other assets. You do not necessarily need to inventory the silverware, dishes, linens and other smaller items unless they are especially valuable. Also include all debts including credit cards, loans, mortgages, credit lines, equity lines and other financial liabilities. You can find a fairly extensive list of assets on this form. Having a list of assets and debts (and when possible amounts for each) will save your attorney a lot of time, and you a lot of money. It will also help you and your attorney formulate a strategy for resolving your case at an earlier stage.
3. Estate Planning Issues: Review your papers so that you can inform your attorney of any Wills and Powers of Attorney that you have created. If possible, have copies of those documents for your attorney. Your attorney will want to discuss these documents with you. Also, tell your attorney if your spouse is designated as the beneficiary of any insurance policies or financial accounts. Identifying these issues will prevent your attorney from having to dig for this information later. Again, this saves you money in legal fees.
4. Organize Your Documents: You will probably encounter a lot of paper while you create a budget and a list of assets and debts. As you find this paperwork, organize it by account/asset/debt and statement date. Even if you don’t bring these documents to the first meeting, you will need them eventually. Lawyers and paralegals spend untold hours digging through boxes of random unorganized documents supplied by clients. If you can organize the documents as you go through them, you will save a lot of money in legal fees. And, you will have a much clearer view of your own financial picture.
5. Make a List of Questions for Your Attorney: No matter what you do, you will likely be emotionally charged during this first conference. This causes clients to lose their focus and forget to ask the questions that they really want answered. So, make a list of your questions before you arrive for the meeting. Using this list, you can make sure that you leave your meeting with the information that you were seeking.
If you take all or even some of these steps prior to meeting with an attorney, then you will be much better prepared to get what you need out of that meeting. If you are going to be divorced, you will need to take charge of your own financial life. This is the first step in that process. Even if you reconcile (and I hope that you do), many clients find that taking these steps opens their eyes to their real financial situation. And, you will have saved thousands of dollars in legal fees by doing the grunt work yourself.
Please note that nothing on this blog should be considered legal advice and that viewing the information on this blog does not create an attorney-client relationship between us. You are advised to consult with an attorney to confirm the current state of any legal information contained in this blog, as the law constantly changes.