In this week's episode, Brian and Jake discuss ways you can make the most out of your initial consultation with a lawyer. They'll go over questions to ask before hiring a family law attorney and why free consultations can be a waste of time. Stream this episode now to make sure you're prepared to have a successful legal consultation.
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.
How to Prepare for a Lawyer Consultation
Brian Walters: Hello everybody. It's Brian and Jake back for another podcast. This time we're going to talk about what clients can expect and what they can do to help make their consultations or their meetings with us go well. So what's the first thing that comes to mind Jake, when you're going to consult with somebody about a case? What's the most important thing that you'd like them to have available?
Jake Gilbreath: So first of all, I do want clients to come in with an open attitude. There's not some agenda that we have to go through. Every single consultation is different. Some people come in and they just want to, I think we talked about this last podcast, make sure that I match the persona online and they're ready to get going, and some people want a more in depth consultation. I did one a few weeks ago where the client wanted to know my personal background and how I got into this, which I'm all about talking about that type of stuff. Some people aren't interested but it's really up to the client of how the consultation goes. Let's hit some high points. We would recommend it, and we like getting asked and consultations.
So as far as bringing documents, I do think it's helpful. If there's pleadings and stuff that have been filed, we often ask the clients to send that to us ahead of time. Sometimes we can pull it ourselves, if you have a name or if I had your cause number, we'll ask your case number. A lot of times, if you're going through a divorce or modification as part of the setting up with one of our lawyers, they’ll ask the case number. And a lot of times we'll have to pull the document ourselves. That's not always that's always possible given the County, some counties don't have online access, but anything that's been filed in your divorce, any type of paperwork that's been exchanged that you've already gotten the process going, we want that.
It's certainly not required, but some clients like giving us a little spreadsheet that they've done or notes that they've taken stuff like that. Anything that a client wants us to review before a consultation, we'll certainly look at it. We’re not going to show up on your zoom consultation and not review what you've sent us. We'll always have reviewed it. And then, you're also not going to get a thing from us that says I reviewed this from you and I'm going to, I'm going to charge you extra money because I reviewed documents before your consultation. I've seen several firms do that. You're certainly not going to get that from us.
So you really can't send too much before the consultation. That's a certain amount of time that we would need to go over everything, but we do want people to feel open about sending those types of things, although it’s certainly not required. Some people just want to start talking without the lawyer reviewing documents. But that's how I do it. What about you, Brian?
Brian Walters: I agree. I think you, you touched on something important in that very first sentence, which is that it's an open mind. It doesn't really help a potential client to come in and have an agenda to convince us that they're in the right, the other side's wrong and we should think they're great guys or ladies. That isn't our job. Our job is to give legal advice and to shepherd a person through this legal system to the best outcome that we can get for them. And we really can't do that unless you're honest with us.
We have plenty of clients who have made mistakes in their lives, or done things that they regret or weren't so smart. But we still treat them the same way. We're not a friend, we're lawyers, and we're attorneys and counselors at law. That's what we do. And not telling us about some important incident that maybe you're not really proud of, or not telling us both sides of the story, I think that's not helpful.
You and I have been doing this enough that we can read between the lines a lot of times to figure that out, and sometimes I'll ask questions like “What would your spouse say is the biggest problem, or what would your spouse describe some particular key incident or some issue?” How would the other side explain that in a courtroom to try to get somebody that's consulting with us to give the other side of the story of what we're getting here so that we can try to give better advice. We can only give advice based on the information we have, so that's helpful.
As far as the documents go, I love timelines. They don't even have to be anything real specific and a lot of times I'll just start writing one down as we're talking, but if someone's got one ahead of time; when were you married? When were your kids born? When did such and such event in your divorce happen? When did you guys move to Austin from Chicago or whatever the case is? It's helpful to have those things and to have a sense of it. And that's particularly true if there's an ongoing case or this is a modification because those are deadlines and there's procedures and rules based on those things.
So that's those are the two things that I find most helpful for folks. What about you?
Jake Gilbreath: Yeah, I think that's right. Every once in a while you get that sense talking to a potential client either the phone or on Zoom or in person where we can tell that they're embarrassed or ashamed about bringing up certain parts, and that's on both sides.
You can have where you did the bad act or something that you're embarrassed or ashamed of, and you don't want to talk about it, or your spouse has behaved horribly and you don't want to talk about it because you're embarrassed because you know why you've put up with it.
It's just, it's really important to be open with the lawyer, and sometimes that takes time. Sometimes you start being open after initial consultation. It's down to the relationship that we start to open up about this stuff, but I don't think we can emphasize enough that you don't have anything to be embarrassed about. You don't have anything to be ashamed about. Marriages are difficult. Every single one faces problems, they all face different problems. I've been through a divorce. I'm not proud of everything I did in my prior marriage. I'm not proud of everything I've done in my current marriage.
We want people talking about that because if you don't give us all the information, then you're going to get faulty advice because we're not going to be able to analyze things without knowing the full story from the beginning.
Back to the initial consultation, I do think It's helpful for clients and again, this is something that's not required, but I encourage it. Do your research before coming in and talking to the lawyer on the legal issues that you think that you may have. I love it when a client comes to me in a consultation and I start talking to them about “This is what conservatorship for kids means. This is what possession access means and know this is a child sports calculator”, which I'll do that all day long in the consultation. I'm fine, but it's really great to be a client who shows up and goes “I know I did the research online. I looked at your website, I've listened to y'all's podcast. I have some questions about it, but I gave myself this baseline knowledge.” Clients can save themselves time and money by doing that again, it's like our job to guide. It's just through these issues, but coming to the consultation, having done some background, again, totally not required, but that can be helpful.
If you come in with specific questions, I've had clients that send bullet point questions and stuff beforehand, and again that's something that's helpful. But again, it's not required. I get people who jump on the consult sometimes and they haven't sent me anything before they, I'm just saying, Hey, how do you know? I know nothing about you, what's your name? What's going on? And I'm totally fine with that too. But, I want people to feel open and not like I'm going to be offended if they show up and say, I know this stuff already, or I've got a background, just tell me here's my specific questions. It's just, it's an open forum. However they want to do it, but don't feel embarrassed or hesitant to go about it that way at all.
Brian Walters: I was going to say that typically, unless you come in and just go through the automated system online and make it make an appointment, even then we ask for some basic information, but typically you will talk to one of our staff we'll have gotten a lot of this information out before we get there.
So it's not usually going to be just a cold meeting. We'll have some background.
Jake Gilbreath: So let's talk about if you haven't quite made that decision to hire or even if you have, but you still want to verify that you've made the right decision. What are some types of things that clients can ask you, Brian, about how you approach communication, how you handle things, your experience? Again it's interesting that some people don't want to ask these questions. They feel like they're going to offend the lawyer, if they ask about your experience or your background or anything like that.
Maybe that's because some lawyers actually get offended by that if you have some questions, but what are the types of things that you like to get grilled on in your consultations?
Brian Walters: Have you worked with this other lawyer? If there's another lawyer on the other side, what's the reputation of the other lawyer is a common question.
How will you be working on the case or will some of your staff or other attorneys be working on it? How much is it going to cost? How long is this going to last? Those are the common types of questions. And we try to put as much of that on the website as possible so that people, like you said, can do their homework easily and figure that out. And some of it is the basic stuff: how long have you been a lawyer? Are you Board Certified? I think we're the only ones that really go into detail about our billing and about expectations, about communication.
Then once someone does sign up, we have an automated system of emails that we send out kind of one a day or so. Here's what this first phase is going to look like or here's a link to a document where you can give us a bunch of information and documents, to try to keep the communication going and make this as easy as possible because these things are hard. To be involved in one of these cases on top of all the other things going on in your life, day-to-day jobs, kids, everything else, and then to have a very stressful emotional situation.
The last thing you need is more stress from your lawyer to make things even more difficult.
Jake Gilbreath: I think that's right. I have people ask me all the time how many lawsuits have you tried, if it's a jury case I get asked how many jury trials have you tried against opposing counsel, what's your experience with her or him? What's your experience with this court? Have you tried cases in front of this judge? These are all questions that I want to get asked.
Some lawyers and if you're interviewing us and other law firms, these are questions that you should ask a lawyer or your potential lawyer, even if it's not us, you should go do a consultation with somebody else and ask that lawyer: Have you tried the case in front of this judge? You might be surprised at the answer. Have you dealt with this opposing counsel? Have you seen this issue before? I think, yeah, I think the reason why some lawyers get offended by the questions, cause they're not going to like the answers that come with, I think, and I think it's also really fair to tell, to grill, really grill a lawyer or a potential employer on.
Okay. So how are you going to communicate with me and how are you going to bill me? And we talked about this last time where it's just the smoke and mirrors from lawyers about don't worry about the billing. You'll just get a bill from us and it's going to be totally fair. And you're going to agree with it and you to pay it.
It may come three months and they can six months to make them at the end of the case. Just don't worry about it and yeah, I'm going to communicate with you. Don't worry about it. I think it's fair to say, okay, specifically, how are you going to bill me? How many times are you going to send bills?
What's the process for payment and if I don't pay what happens and what am I going to do? If I have a question about the bill how is this going to get paid for moving forward? Both sides want that discussion to happen now then I think it's really fair to say, okay, so how are you going to communicate with me? And there should be a plan, I think, from the law firm of how you're going to communicate with the clients. In what fits for that client, it shouldn't be a vague you call me whenever you need me. That's not really a plan.
I guess it's a plan for a disaster but it's not really a plan to just say don't worry about it, or just call me when you need me. The law firms should have a specific way of communicating with clients and that should be, frankly, the lawyers should get grilled on that. In the console.
So I'm never offended by, almost being cross-examined by clients and how we're going to handle things with them. Cause I think it's a fair topic. What about you, Brian? What are your thoughts?
Brian Walters: I know that you and I both have been clients of lawyers and the shoe has been on the other foot. It's normal. I wonder about somebody who didn't want to know that information. I would figure they're just afraid to ask me or they're not thinking very far ahead. It's something I often just bring up on my own because I think it's so important to be on the same page about those things.
Jake Gilbreath: So last thing, and this is a common question, we were going to talk in this podcast a little bit about free consultations. We talked about this some last time about how it's not a phone-in legal question, but we do a 10-minute check-in that we don't charge for. For a full consultation, we do charge for those who either have a partner do it or an associate do it.
What are your thoughts? Lots of people call in before they schedule a consultation, they want to know about free consultations and they ask why don't we offer those and what our experience with those is. So what's your thoughts when somebody says “Okay, Brian, why are you charging me for a consultation to see if I'm going to pay you money to represent me. Why do you charge for the consult and why shouldn't I go with one of these lawyers?”
Because if I Google Dallas divorce lawyer, I'm going to get a bunch of things in flashing lights that say free consultation with this divorce lawyer. Why don't I go hire somebody like that?
Brian Walters: You get what you pay for. There are several red flags. If a lawyer's not charging for a consultation, and again, we have this 10-minute kind of check-in because we know there are situations where you don't need a full, long paid consultation.
The other work you and I are doing is generally during the day is billable and our billable hours are higher than our consultation fees. So I could be in my office doing work for existing clients or I could be in a consultation, and it's only fair that my time is compensated for first of all.
And secondly, I'll pay much closer attention. That's just human nature. If I know someone's taken the time to pay and come and see us, or do a Zoom or whatever we're going to do for a consultation, my experience with lawyers who do not charge for consultations is that that's because there's not much demand for their services and they have a lot of free time on their hands, and that's a bad sign. Those are lawyers generally that are not very good at what they do or else they would be plenty of people clamoring to pay them for their time. So we take it seriously. Those consultations are very important and we blocked the time. We do not rush people and you're going to get what you pay for.
I think maybe not everybody, but it seems like everybody who's ever been to one with you or I, is satisfied with it and is glad they did it. And it's a two-way street. We don't take every case that comes in the door. It's important that we be a match on some level with our clients and that's the best situation you can be in.
Jake Gilbreath: I think that's right. I think you should get real advice and a consultation. It's really rare that you and I don't get hired at the end of a consultation, but sometimes it happens. Sometimes somebody is just looking for a second opinion from what they're being told from their lawyer But you should be, you should be gaining legal advice and she should be getting specific advice.
I think a lot of times with the free consultation, you're coming in for the sales pitch. I'm not really interested in what's going on with your case and giving you advice. I'm interested in pitching you to come hire me and so I'm going to do a hard sale at the end of this. That is the free consultation. You should walk out as the client with a benefit. And going back to what the client should do, come into a consultation. You should demand legal advice from the lawyer. What do you think about this situation? What do you think the next steps are? What does this look like? Procedurally? You're paying for it.
You should get something more from the lawyer than just coming in and saying, let me spend the next hour telling you how amazing I am and all my fancy plaques on the wall. We've got the fancy plaques; I'm Board Certified, Brian, you and I both went to UT Law which is one of the top law schools in the nation. I can talk about that all day long. I don't think you want to pay me to hear me talk about my credentials. I think you want to pay me to hear about specific advice about your case and your situation. Yeah, I think that's the benefit of it. I think the client needs to insist on it.
We insist on providing that benefit or pay consults. That's something that as a potential client, you should come in expecting from us or expecting from whomever you're talking to.
So I think that kind of wraps it up.
A lot of the stuff is available if you call into our office, but hopefully that gives a big overview of what the consultation looks like.
All right. Take care. Thanks.