The Texas Family Law Podcast: What You Should Expect When Hiring a Divorce Lawyer

hiring a divorce lawyer podcast

This week Jake & Brian breakdown the process of actually hiring Walters Gilbreath, PLLC, from the first phone call to your first meeting with them.

The Texas Family Law Podcast is available for download on Apple Podcasts, as well as on SoundCloud and Spotify. Don't feel like listening to it? The entire transcript is available below.

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What You Should Expect When Hiring a Divorce Lawyer

Jake: All right. This week we want to talk about some internal stuff with our law firm and put out there for folks our process for meeting with potential new clients, how people can find our firm and schedule a time to meet with a lawyer, and how that process works from first contact with our firm to retaining our firm, and then what next steps are after that.

So Brian, to kick it off why don't you talk about the various different ways that somebody can schedule a consultation with our firm. 

Brian: The most common way is the old fashioned way, which is just a telephone call to the firm.

We focus most importantly on making sure that a human answers the phone within two rings. Then immediately after you've identified yourself as a potential client you can be immediately transferred to an intake specialist who can talk to you about your case, understand what's going on and even on the same call if it's urgent and we try really hard to directly connect them to an attorney. One of us often. 

That way they can get their problem taken care of because it's family law. These are often urgent dire importance situations and we think our clients deserve that.

So that's the most common way. I think you want to talk about the next most common way, which is some type of online contact.

Jake: Yeah, online chat form submission. Although I'll say, with the calling and talking to a live human, I think a lot of times people assume correctly for most law firms that if I want to call a law firm and talk to a human, I have to call between the hours of nine to five and maybe I'll get somebody. 

I know, we have folks answering the phones pretty much 24/7, as far as me and Brian, our availability to talk to people. I know Brian you're routinely, and I am routinely talking to folks on the weekends or after hours.

And we have a system set up, we'll talk about the online stuff in a second, as far as calling the office, people can call the office on the weekend. Brian and I will see that, or somebody in our law firm will see that and it's not an uncommon event that somebody contacts our office Saturday morning and you or I, or another attorney with our law firm doing a consult on a Saturday afternoon, which I think is shocking to a lot of people.

We do make ourselves available. It's like you were saying Brian, in family law sometimes you can't wait a week and sometimes you need to talk to a lawyer right away, because sometimes frankly you don't want to wait that long.

It's an emotionally difficult time. If you've made a decision on Friday night to do that, it's time to take that step. You don't want to wait until Monday morning to talk to somebody. And then there’s also people's work hours. We're shooting this podcast at 7:00 AM in the morning because you and I've got stuff to do. Today I have depositions. I know you just wrapped up a big trial and you probably are doing mediation or depositions or something today. So we're really flexible on the time. It doesn't have to be this, nine to five time frame. Often it is, but it doesn't have to be.

Let’s talk about the other ways we've built out the ability for people to schedule online with either us or an associate. We'll talk about the difference for the partner consult and an associate consult and in just a second, but you can just go online book a consultation or we have form submissions that you can do on our website and we'll be seeing those right away. 

Brian and I have really tried hard to build a system where there's always eyes on the ball when it comes to potential clients contacting us. Honestly, often the worst thing that a lawyer can do is not communicate and that includes with potential new clients. It certainly includes our clients that we are always in constant communication with, but it pertains to potential new clients too. There's nothing more frustrating than no contact in a law firm and not hearing back from anybody for a few days or even more than four or five hours.

It shouldn't be that long. That's not how it works. I always tell people, I promise you if you contact the Mercedes-Benz dealership or the BMW dealership and say, I want to come buy a car. I promise you they're not waiting two or three days to call you back and the fact that lawyers do that still to this day, is just something that we really fight against.

I know Brian, you and I really tried hard for that not to be the experience. So you have  phone calls where you talk to a human immediately and schedule or you can do it online if you're at work or you're in a place where you can't call, or you just prefer online submission or scheduling online. It's all there. It shows up, we get the information we need and we do the consult. You can even pay online for the console. 

Talk about the types of consults that we do, Brian. I know you and I have experimented a lot with this and listened to our current clients and our potential clients and see what they like the best. So how are we set up as far as the type of consult that somebody can do? 

Brian: Pretty much whatever they want to do. And we just want to make it easy for you, the consumer.

To me, oftentimes that's by phone, frequently that's by zoom before the pandemic. We’re shooting this in March of 2021, So a year ago we did a lot of in-person consultations. Those have become either rare or non-existent in the past year. I assume they'll resume at some point and more commonly, but we live in a big state and big cities. 

Sometimes I think most old school lawyers approach it like  “You need to call my secretary. They'll call you back in two or three days, and then we'll set up a consultation a week from now that works for me, the lawyer, and at two o'clock 10 days from now and be down here in my office.” And for a lot of people that doesn't work.

You're going to sit in a waiting area like you're at the doctor's office. Maybe somebody will bring you a cup of coffee. You sit around until the lawyer's ready, till the Lord is ready for you.

It's the phrase I came up for it a  long time ago was Lord-Barrister McDougall or something, I’m so lucky to be able to talk to this lawyer that you have to wait around his schedule.

And, it's just not that way. We're all humans, we're all busy and we as consumers deserve that respect. 

Jake: Yeah. Again, it's a speech I give people about how you and I are both Board certified. We're both trial lawyers where we get hired on some of the best cases.

But this is a customer service business. It doesn't matter if I'm representing a professional athlete, which we had those in the office, or if I'm representing a firefighter and we have those in the office too. This is customer service and the customer isn't lucky to talk to us. We don't want to have that attitude no matter who you are. We're providing a service, we get paid for that service. But you as the customer deserve top not service. I think that starts right off the bat. 

So yeah, we have these options, you can do it on zoom, some people just prefer phone calls. Some people, like I said, before the pandemic like to do it in person. I've had a couple where I've just texted with them directly before our call and it's just so urgent I’m like I know what I need to know. Let's get going. 

Then the other thing that we offer just as far as the type of consultation, we also offer partner consultations or associate consultations. It's not every single case that comes in that you have a consultation with me or Brian. A lot do, but some don’t need it and we offer a lower rate for consultation if they want to consult with an associate.

I think we have some of the best associates in the state. We have board certified associates working for us and some folks just want to talk to an associate either because they expect an associate to be handling their case, or they're feeling us out, or they just want the lower rate for the consult but then they ultimately expect to work with me or Brian. 

That's just another option that we offer folks that's online. If they call the office we also offer both partner and associate consults. And so to that point Brian, can you talk about the other options we offer as far as consultations.

Brian: Like you said, to talk to Jake and the partners, that's $500, for the associates it's $300, and for these little 10 minute check-ins, there's no charge for those. And there's no time limit on them either.

They rarely go past an hour. In fact, a lot of them are minutes. We're able to give you answers to questions and not beat around the bush. But I've been in some that have been closer to two hours, but that's rare. Who wants to talk to a lawyer for two hours?

The 10 minute check-in is just for situations where you might not be sure that you have a case, or you might not be sure that it can be filed in Texas, or you might not be sure if you're the right person to talk about it. Let's say you're a friend of somebody who needs a lawyer, you probably don't need to talk to the lawyer at length. You just need some basic information. 

We're not a dial up, ask a legal question service. It's not like that, but to answer those kinds of broader questions, we're happy to do it. It's typically one of our staff that does that, but occasionally if needed I'll get on the phone and if it sounds like something we need to deal with, we can give someone a quick talk.

Jake: Yeah. I think on the other extreme, if somebody has already decided to hire us essentially, but wants to make sure it's actually me or you that they're talking to or that we're who we purport to be online, it just takes 10 minutes and we’re both like yeah you match up with us, let's get moving.

Frankly, a lot of folks have made the decision to hire us before they even call and do a consult. We understand that and we recognize that, so if you've already made the decision, you don't need to pay for the consult. You're just ready to get going. You want to check in to make sure again, make sure that we are who we say we are. But we've worked really hard to I think put ourselves out there, if that's the best way to put it, put ourselves out there through our website, or our podcast, or our videos, through our writing, and through our reviews. I think you can really tell our personalities through our reviews and how we handle things.

So yeah, I think it's the two extremes. I just see that this is something that you all can handle, then I'll call back and schedule something. Or if it's time to get going and I don't need to talk to somebody for 30 minutes. I just want to check in with you all. And so we've created that option, which I think is unique to a lot of law firms.

It's like you said, it's not a dial up “Hey, I got a legal question.” I'm not gonna be able to answer it with just knowing just a few things about you. For those we do offer the paid consultations. 

So then procedurally, I guess let's talk about procedurally what happens. As far as getting in and we'll talk a little bit about what a consult looks like, and then actually retaining the firm, but, procedurally, it's pretty simple. Once you called and you made that decision, either booked online or wanted to call and talk to the office, it just gets set up.

That's the procedure and like we alluded to earlier, it's going to get set up. Unless there's something shocking going on or the potential client needs a different time it's going to get set up that day. It's really rare, Brian. I can't think of the last time I did a consult where they didn't contact the office and I was talking to that individual the same day.

Brian: Of course that's our policy and if possible we get directly connected to them, but certainly within a short period of time. If you're in it court till five and they need to talk to me and I'm available at noon I can certainly jump in there at least answer the more, most pressing questions. 

Jake: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. But it goes back to what I said earlier is you're not calling the car dealership and then saying we can get you in two days from now. That's just not how our world works or should work.

I'm still, like I said, shocked by how many law firms you contact and they say Ms. or Mr. can meet with you, next Tuesday at three o'clock if you're lucky. It's not what our customers expect of us.  A lot of times it's pressing issues. It's either pressing because of what's going on with the case. It’s pressing emotionally. It's filing for divorce or, filing for child custody, or modification or something like that. That is an emotionally difficult decision to make.

I've never talked to anyone that hasn't told me that it's an emotional, difficult decision to make. It's an emotionally difficult decision to make in sitting around, with that emotion hanging over your head. Waiting to talk to a lawyer, that's just not the right way to treat people particularly in family law, particularly the work that we do. It's just not something that we believe in. So yeah. Call the office at three o'clock in the afternoon, you'll probably talk with your lawyer in the next couple of hours. Six o'clock at night, you'll probably be talking to a lawyer in the next couple of hours. 

That's just the commitment I think that we've made at this law firm and it's one of the reasons that we've grown so much and we get the reviews that we do cause we started off right at the very beginning and set that tone of communication.

So somebody set up a consult, say, it's with you over Zoom, it's paid, it's on your calendar. Walk us through what a consult looks like, what are we talking about? What can the client expect to be asked of him or her? 

Brian: As you alluded to, first of all, it's going to be on time. I'm going to text you from my mobile phone to your mobile phone and say, “Hey, I'm here just reminding you we're talking in an hour. Here's the link to the Zoom.” And then I'm going to be there on it, three or four minutes before it's scheduled to start. Cause I think your time's important everybody's time is important. So that's the first thing. Generally. I already have a sense, a basic sense of what's going on because you, if you're a potential client, you've already talked to my staff and, or submitted something online with some basic information.

If it's an open case, I've usually gone online and looked at them, the procedure and the documents that have been filed, and any deadlines. Then really at that point, I open the floor to the potential client and just say, here's what I know. Why don't you tell me more and tell me anything you think is important, and that can be three or four minutes, or that can be 30 minutes depending on what's out there. Because every case is different and everybody wants to address those things a little bit differently. 

So once I get that basic information, then I'll often start asking questions, what about this, 0r what happened here, or most importantly we're where do you want to go? Where can we take you so that at the end of this you're satisfied that it's the best outcome that you can get. And then from there, I get the generally the same questions toward the end from the clients. How long is this gonna take? How much is this going to cost? What can I expect to occur? All the things you would want to know. As far as the cost and how long is it going to take, that kind of thing, we actually reveal that on our website. We have a calculator you can use too, and as far as I know, we're the only ones who do that.

We're also the only ones who publish our hourly rates and our retainers and allow you to calculate what we think the case is going to cost. It's a guess it's an estimate, but it's still that it's the car dealership analogy is a good one. We can imagine that you go, you do a test drive at a dealer, you check it out, you read about the specifications of the car, and then and only then can I tell you what it costs. It's like some state secret with lawyers in their rates. I don't understand it. We don't do it because we're just transparent. It is what it is. And it's not the right price for everybody. We're definitely on the upper end of quality and price.

But we're also reasonable. I think that's one of the reasons we have associate lawyers so that the price can be lower for cases that are less complex and if a person wants it. 

Jake: Yeah, we’re aggressively efficient as well. I always tell people, yeah, our rates are comparable, probably higher than a lot cause we provide a better service.

You and I are Board Certified. Some of our associates are board certified. We've got some of the most experienced associates out there and I think some of the best associates out there. We have rates there that are competitive and higher. We are aggressively efficient. I always tell people I am massively out billed all the time by people with lower rates.

It's just, it's shocking. But that's just the story of efficiency in the legal profession. We'll talk your ear off about this for hours that the legal profession is the only profession out there that's motivated to be inefficient, and Brian and I just made a different decision to be efficient and that results in us being less expensive, even with higher rates. 

Anyways, back to the process. I'm the same way as you Brian. I've talked to people, I've pulled information online, I've talked to my staff. I probably have a pretty good idea of what's going on even before I even jump on that zoom call. And I do like to tell the client, no secrets. 

Hey, I've, I've read your divorce decree, if it's a modification or I've read the pleadings, or this is what my staff's told me. And then it’s just all right, tell me what's going on. And some clients it's just, quick two, three minutes, and this is what's going on. Some clients it's, let me tell you about the day I was born and that's fine too. It's whatever they think is relevant, I want to talk through that. 

Yeah. Then on costs. That's right. They always want to know how long is this going to take? And I can usually give them an estimate. It depends on what County it is in, what's going on with the case, and you're going to get the lawyer no guarantees, but I can usually give her a fairly good range of what's going on. It’s the same on cost.

It's like you were saying, Brian, lawyers love to do this. “Well see, I can't give you an estimate. But yeah, just pay me this big retainer and it'll be fine. You can trust me. I'll take care of it.” Which, I get why people don't want to make commitments,  because nobody's ever going to tell you “Hey, it's going to cost this much (unless it's a flat fee case, which those are rare)” but nobody's going to say “Hey, it's going to cost this much.”

You're paying me for my skill, expertise, and experience. I think you deserve to know what I think it's going to cost. It's funny because Brian, you and I, just the way our minds work is we're always trying to figure out how much we're billing folks, the average case and stuff so we can see if we need to make adjustments. 

If we're providing an efficient product, you know what we're doing as far as our practice and, we've gone round around on try and track that and stuff like that. Is there a particular way to track it? I think you and I have discovered that probably the most accurate way of estimating when a case is worth is what you, and I think, what it's worth to the client, what they're going to pay. We've found that internally, we're pretty accurate about it, so we share that information with the consult. 

I usually tell people like, look, if you're starting off in divorce, if it's agreed and nobody fusses, it's going to be this much less. If there's minor arm wrestling, let's say you'll send some discovery and go to mediation, but work it out. It's going to be this much. If y'all do this, if y'all start butting heads on this issue or that issue, here's what it's going to cost. And then, a nightmare scenario. I can never give you the true nightmare scenario because I could  really tell horror stories, this is the upper end of what is out there. And here's what you can choose to control. Ultimately I can't control the other side, but here's things that you can do on your end to reduce costs, because ultimately, our goal is to provide good service, but we also are not looking to run up people's bills on stuff that they don't need to be paying for.

The client doesn't want that. You and I don't want that. It results in a bad product, unhappy clients, unhappy lawyers. It's just it's just not what I'm doing. So we end with that discussion just because it is something that the consumer needs to know, is how much is this going to cost? How much is this going to cost me? And then talk to me about, Brian, we were having this conversation last weekend, about actually retaining us. So logistically what's that look like? 

Brian: Same thing. Just make it easy. The olden times, and I think the way most lawyers still do it as, print out a contract, read this 20 page document, read it, and write a check.

Yeah, that whole process can take an hour by itself. We don't do that. It's all electronic. We just create a contract with the link, click on it on your phone. We do a really short contract because we'd like people to actually read them. If they're 20 pages, nobody's going to actually read them or remember what's in them.

It's a pretty simple contract. We'll go from there and let you know a little bit more than that, but that's basically what it is. You can sign it with your finger on your iPad or your phone. And then a little box pops up to pay the retainer fee, which you know, that depends on the case. We have a calculator for that, an estimator for that on our website too. And then it's off and running. We get an email saying they've signed and paid and we send them an automated form to fill out their information. And off they go it's very simple, 

Jake: Briefly what's retainer range? 

Brian: Anywhere from $2,500 to $15,000.

The vast majority of them are between $5,000 to $10,000. We have a really good system of accounting that keeps people appraised or up-to-date about where they are so they can keep up. I think the old business model of lawyers was get a huge retainer, $20,000 or $30,000 or $40,000 and send people a bill every three or four months or whatever, whenever you got around to it.

Jake: When it's too late to complain about it. 

Brian: Exactly, and so you can generally know where you stand at a given time and discuss it. If something comes up, “Hey let's what about this line item on the bill? Let's look it over and talk about it.” 

Jake: Yep. Yep. That's right. Yeah and it's not really fair to tell the client a lower retainer because $5,000 was a lot of money. $7,500. It was a lot of money. $2,500 is a lot of money. So it's a lot of money, but it is a lower retainer than most of the competition.

But we do that because we bill twice a month, we have continuous conversations with our client about how much this is going to cost. What's it looks like moving forward, and so we just start that relationship off with a potential client. We start work when two things happen, contract signed, retainer paid, and then we are off to the races.

So I guess we can wrap up with that, as far as once that's signed. Something I think is shocking to me with all firms is you sign, you pay a retainer, and then you don't see work product out of the law firm until two or three days later.

Even if it's something as simple as filing an answer, that's frustrating. I think that's really frustrating to people. We have that automated form that goes out because we want people knowing that the work starts now. I haven't pulled you to my office taking your money so I could maybe get to your case next week.

We're working together. I think that really helps. Again, you have the logistical issue a lot of times, things are just going on with the case that needs that rapid response, needs an appearance filed right away.

If you're switching lawyers and somebody is just completely messing up your case or not being responsive and you made that decision to make a switch, you want the new lawyer making an appearance right away before something happens in your case. You may be looking to file first for divorce or you have an answer deadline or something. So a lot of times, logistically and legally, there's a reason to get moving right away. But again, it goes back to that emotional deal too. It's an emotional decision. Anytime you're hiring a lawyer, if you've signed the contract, paid, you want to feel taken care of right away, which I get, because that's what you're paying for is that feeling of we've got this.

We were talking about this last weekend. I think the number one thing that potential clients want to hear and what I would want to hear, what I have wanted to hear when I hire lawyers, is “I've got this.” I'm not going to sit there and guarantee results. You're not going to hear me in a consult say “Oh, I promise you, we're gonna win.”

I may tell you “Hey, this is a pretty good case. I feel good about it.” I'm never gonna tell you, I promise you, we're going to lose if this is just gloom and doom. We're going to give you our opinion about it, but ultimately what you're going to hear from us is that we're going to take care of this. We're going to take care of you. We're going to be in this together. That starts right off the bat. That starts from the second you call our office, but it continues on through the consultation, through hiring us and the next step. We are rabid communicators and that's just something that we've really worked hard on.

It starts the second you've you call our law office looking to retain us. That's why we set that tone right away. So yeah, I know there's more information on our website.

Brian: Well, I'm sure we'll circle back to maybe some details on some of these issues in the future, but I think that's a good start for now.

Jake: It might be good to do another one where we rant and rave about platform efficiency and communication. But we don't have two hours this morning, so we'll wrap up this week and we'll see everybody next time. All right. Bye.

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