Many people think that the establishment of a relationship with an attorney is solely up to them. In other words, potential clients believe that if they have the money and they want a particular attorney they can retain that attorney and have him or her represent them. This perception is not exactly accurate. A good attorney or law firm will filter out people they see as potential problem clients. People should be wary of firms or attorneys which are open to taking on any and all cases for any and all causes and should be aware of the considerations an attorney makes when taking a family law case.
Can the Client Actually Pay to Get through the Matter?
No one – absolutely no one—can determine exactly what it will take, money-wise, to get all of the way through a domestic relations or family law matter. However, attorneys have general concepts concerning potential ranges of total costs, depending upon the matter, the past history (if any) of the matter, the court in which the matter will be heard, the judge or potential judges, and the magistrate or potential magistrate (and even the opposing counsel—if one is known).
If it looks as though the matter will take months or even up to a year or more, and the potential client absolutely does not have the funds to make it, then the attorney will most likely explain that fact to the potential client and either suggest another attorney in the firm with a lower billing rate, or another attorney from another practice. One of the problems that we have seen though, in the above type of situation, is that we usually can’t find another attorney or firm which would be able to get the potential client through the whole matter either—based upon the available resources. Note that sometimes, because of developments in cases, even the person who has become a client, just can’t make it through due to the length of the process (continuances by parties or the court) or the other side’s conduct in maintaining positions which are unrealistic.
In talking with potential new clients, attorneys listen to the potential client’s version of what has happened, and the client’s perceptions of what is currently happening and why. Frankly speaking, there are times when the client’s desired outcome is either most likely impossible, or even potentially one which the law will not permit. Attorneys and clients are not permitted to bring actions in court without some underlying support to the action. Bringing an unfounded action which is without basis factually, or which is without basis in the law, can result in attorney fees and monetary sanctions being awarded against the client and the attorney. Bringing such actions also puts the attorney and the client in a definite losing situation — something that would be bad for both. Defining and ascertaining the potential client’s goals and expectations can aid an attorney in determining the financial scope of the representation and thus whether the potential client’s goals can be met with his or her resources. Whether the potential client is bringing an action or is defending an action must be considered in relation to goals. When the potential client is defending an action, the attorney must determine if there is a desire by the potential client to counter with his or her own action against the other party.
Does the potential client have a number of theories from friends, family, or the internet? If so, is the potential client willing to trust the attorney as to whether or not those theories are applicable in the client’s situation?
In assessing potential clients, attorneys will attempt to determine whether they and the potential client can communicate easily. By this we mean that the attorney will be looking to see if the potential client understands the attorney when the attorney outlines potential courses of action and potential timelines and theories. Lack of understanding can only lead to problems. It is important to determine whether the potential client will follow the advice of the attorney.
The formation of an attorney-client relationship, especially in a family law matter, is not something which should be taken lightly, either by the attorney or the potential client. The matters to be dealt with are too important, and the results of any court actions regarding those matters, are results which have long lasting, deep, consequences, some good — some not so good. The lawyer and client have a long and difficult road ahead of them when they start their relationship and should each be able to trust and rely upon the other. For that reason, each should make sure that the choice of their partner in this matter is a good one, and understand the attorney's considerations when taking a family law case.