Avoid These Top Mistakes To Get The Most From Your Attorney And Your Legal Fees!
by Kate Kennedy
Researching my book “The Great Alimony Myth”, I had the pleasure of talking to many knowledgeable and well-intending attorneys. I always found that lawyers are interesting to chat with because their education and interpretation of society through the eyes of the law is unique and something most of us do not have. Along the way, however, I found that there are very common mistakes people going through divorce make with their attorney that can be easily prevented. Here are a few mistakes to watch out for that will save you money, time and dissatisfaction.
Mistake #1: Using Your Attorney as Your Therapist
Lawyers are not personal divorce therapists. They are your legal counsel, but not your counselor. They are not going to help you with your hurt, anger, confusion and feelings of desperation. Sure, they will likely be polite and listen to you while you drivel on crying, yelling, and venting… but only because you are paying them bank per hour. Do not pay them to listen to you talk about anything other than legal aspects of your divorce! This will save you substantially in legal costs. If you find yourself talking to your attorney about anything other than the legal aspects of your life and divorce, consider getting a divorce coach or therapist.
Mistake #2: Not Asking Direct Questions
Each time you know you will be speaking with your attorney, write down a list of direct and concise questions you want to ask beforehand. Do not start your meetings with “Well, what do you think about…?” or “I was wondering if…?” Be assertive in a polite manner. Your attorney is not a mind reader and for the meetings to be productive and effective, you must be as direct and as clear as possible.
Mistake #3: Accepting Non-Direct Answers
I am not putting down lawyers when I very intentionally write the following statement: Attorneys are legendary for being evasive and not answering what the word ‘is’ is. Listen for nebulous language such as maybe, may, could, should, might, and worst of all…try. Yes, the law is difficult to navigate but anytime the word “try” is mentioned, you know what you are paying for (a mere attempt). Do not let your attorney blow past this. Call them on it in a nice way and have them further explain. Non-direct answers can leave you with false senses of security, lack of understanding and possibly confidence you should not have for your particular situation.
Mistake #4: Not Asking for Further Clarification
This mistake is especially true when you have a hunch that more of an explanation is needed. In an ideal world, this shouldn’t have to be stated … but more often than I would like, I see that people are afraid to ask for a better understanding when they need it most. Do not be intimidated or afraid. You hired this professional and you deserve to completely understand what they are saying. Most attorneys are not trying to pull one over on you – I want to be clear – they just get used to dealing with the law all day long and forget that you do not. As soon as you do not understand something, stop your attorney and ask for further explanation.
Mistake #5: Trusting Your Attorney is Always Looking Out For You
Ideally you and your lawyer are a team, yes. And it is true, not all lawyers are money hungry, court loving narcissists. But you are one of your attorney’s many clients and they are in this to make a living (i.e. save for vacation, pay for college, raise children, pay a mortgage off, contribute to IRA’s, etc.). Lawyers can do extra work while dragging on settlements in order to keep cash flowing their way. On the other hand, they can also slack when you really need them. Always monitor them during your case. Be sure to understand what they are doing for you and why. The “why” will help you see if their actions are or are not warranted so that you can change course before it gets out of control. I have seen clients blindly trust their attorney, only to find themselves in preventable dilemmas had they simply been more proactive. This is your life and your money – do not let this happen to you.
Kate Kennedy is an avid reader, researcher and teacher. She enjoys one too many coffee cups daily, and thoroughly revels in her title as “Aunt”. She is working on a research book tentatively titled “The Great Alimony Myth” as well as a fiction novel. She lives in America’s Finest City, San Diego, California.