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The Initial Client Consultation For the Divorce Lawyer: Being Awesome Every Time

The Initial Client Consultation for the Divorce Lawyer:

The initial client consultation is the first meeting that a family law lawyer will have with a potential client. Most divorce lawyers grow our legal practices one client consultation at a time. 

Many times this important meeting is just the beginning of a longer, more substantial ongoing relationship. 

After the initial client consultation, the goal is to get retained by becoming the person's divorce lawyer,

For many of us who practice family law in a highly competitive market, it is important that we nail the initial client consultation. Many family law lawyers spend money on Google advertising, they network a lot, and they do other kinds of marketing. These efforts are often costly and time consuming. We want to make sure that when our marketing works, that is, we have a potential client sitting in front of us, that we have not wasted your efforts. 

We want the potential client sitting in front of us to become become an actual client. 

What Not to Focus On:

For some divorce lawyers, their focus during an initial client consultation is on how this client will ultimately be a source of income for them. The lawyer may be distracted with thoughts of how the client will pay for them and whether or not this initial consultation will be worth their time. 

Although it is clear that we are in this business to make money, this is not, in my view the best way to proceed. 

It is best to set aside everything except for focusing on how we can be in service to this potential client. We spend that half hour (or more) during the initial client consultation doing everything we can to assist that person. This is doing such things as helping them with some burning questions, just listening, or doing a calculation for support.

Ironically, when we focus on being in service more than money, in my experience, the clients are way more likely to retain us.

Nailing the Initial Client Consultation:  What to do First

Before I even sit down with the potential client, I ensure my office is tidy. I don’t have books and papers scattered everywhere, coffee mugs on my desk etc. I give my desk a wipe.

I also want to not only act like a lawyer, but look like a lawyer. It is important that I do this because presenting the lawyer part is never easy for me. I have a very casual manner. I also very much prefer to dress casually rather than in a suit. What I am saying is that even though this “looking like a lawyer” thing does not come naturally, In the interest of continuing the growth of a thriving legal practice, I suck it up and do it anyways.

The next thing I do is sit down with the potential client I tell them I have a checklist of everything I want to ensure that we cover. I also let them know that I am sure they have some questions and that by the end of our meeting I will be able to help them with those. The fact that I am taking charge of the interview while at the same time saying I will answer their questions is reassuring to most potential clients.

I also let them know I will be taking notes of our meeting and that I will give them a copy of what I have written down.

Many people, if seeing a lawyer for the first time in their family law matter, may be feeling sad, overwhelmed, or nervous. For many, seeing a divorce lawyer was never something they thought that they would see themselves doing. This is not business as usual for the potential client. I always stay aware of this.

The First 30 Minutes:

Some divorce lawyers charge for the initial client consultation of 30 minutes (or so). Others do not charge at all.

Our office’s policy is that the first 30 minutes is of no obligation (if they don’t hire us they don’t pay for it) and that if they do hire us, they pay for it. We also charge them for any time we go over the first half hour.

I then reassure them that we will cover a lot in the first half an hour of time. 

I then note the time and get started. 

The Initial Client Consultation Checklist:

 Here is the initial client consultation checklist that we use at our firm, Hemminger Law Group:

  • Make sure office/meeting space looks reasonable.
  • Call up a Blank Meeting Notes template - to insert information for the file and meeting notes. Our firm’s template sets out what the firm is to do, what the client is to do for the next meeting, and any other important information. Even if this potential client has not committed to being my client yet, I still fill out this form. More often than not, this form becomes the structure for our next meeting.
  • Tell them first half an hour is no obligation but if we go beyond that we start billing them their hourly rate. Tell them the hourly rates of the lawyer, students, or other lawyers in the office.
  • Go through file information sheet they have filled out from their Initial Client Intake Form.
  • Tell them how we start with the “velvet glove approach” and go up from there. If we can negotiate a reasonable, fair settlement without court intervention we will do that. We only commence an immediate legal action if we think it is necessary. If it is, we go like gangbusters.
  • Discuss the various options available for resolution:
  1. Mediation,
  2. 4-way meetings,
  3. Negotiation by way of letter between lawyers; and
  4. Court if necessary
  • We use court as last resort – so we know we did the best we could in advance to avoid it. Once we go to court, no worries, we will be organized and ready to go. In order to reach an agreement, it takes both parties to agree. If someone is not willing to agree, we have to get a judge to decide.     
  • So, how do we get started? We send the Invitation Letter that is as non-threatening as a letter can be from your ex’s lawyer.
  • Things to know about our office:
  1. We work collaboratively, but don’t double bill, all matters revert to the highest billing lawyer’s rate if 2 office people are at a meeting.
  2. Everyone’s hourly rate
  3. How you retain us, retainer or credit card authorization (give them the form)
  4. How much will this cost? Give them an estimate if possible. If I don’t know yet, I tell them my highest billing case and my lowest billing case.
  5. Tell them that once we are retained they don’t have to chase down their lawyer - If they call and we are unavailable, tell them to book a 15 minute appointment – We often are unable to call just to return a phone message and don’t want to be ignoring something that is important for them.
  • Other Things to tell the potential client:
  1. Counseling, are they getting any? It is important, this is way too hard to go alone
  2. Ask if they have any further questions?
  • Other questions we will want to canvass if not already covered:
  1. Is there a lawyer on the other side?
  2. If so, what lawyer?
  3. Are there court documents? If so let’s see them (this is really really important). For example, is there a Notice of Family Claim that needs to be responded to?
  4. Are there any orders/agreements outstanding between these parties?
  5. If parenting is in issue – are there any concerns regarding you (drug use, alcohol use, anger problems etc.) that the other side might say (for example what would they tell a judge about you?)
  6. Are there any documents (like a Notice of Family Claim) that immediately need to be responded to?
  • To cover when we think it is a good idea:
  1. Ho’oponopono  (yes, we actually take the time to tell them this)                                  
  2. The importance of doing a new will
  3. Hell Hath no Fury like a Woman scorned said “Oscar Wilde” – if they are starting a new relationship, keep that under wraps until matters are finalized, if possible. There is no sense adding a fly to the ointment.
  4. Initial financial concerns - Are there lines of credit or credit cards that need to be capped?
  5. When in high conflict think BIFF in all communication (text and emails): Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm
  • Finally, tell them they are in good hands, and set up the next meeting time.

Covering the Checklist Lands the Client:

As I go through the checklist, I ensure that I am totally present with the potential client and listen to their concerns while at the same time making sure I am getting across to them all the information about how me as a lawyer, and we, as a firm, proceed with family law cases.

By Val Hemminger, divorce lawyer 

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Val has created this website to share with her colleagues. She  is not suggesting, by any means, that she is the best divorce lawyer out there. She is, however, suggesting that she is the best divorce lawyer that she herself can be. Feel free to share anything you find useful.