Pause. Breathe. Funny how breathing is natural and automatic (and important), but, when we are scared, we forget all about it. You get served with papers, come how to an empty house or a message that the other parent wants to leave with your child. The first instinct is that you need to fight. And maybe you do. Sometimes a quick response is needed. But there also needs to be a plan.
This is the difference between a strategic lawyer and an aggressive lawyer. An aggressive lawyer will fight just to take money from you (some do this) or to prove how tough he or she is (many do this). Neither of these reasons is about serving you. Neither helps you or your children, and both reasons will result in draining your finances. How many times have you heard someone say, “I spent thousands (or tens or hundreds of thousands) of dollars in lawyer fees on my divorce, and nothing was done?”
A strategic lawyer will work with you. There should be a plan and a strategy from the very first meeting (an in-depth, paid consultation. We’ll talk more about why free consultations aren’t in your best interest in a later post). A strategic lawyer will respond quickly and may respond aggressively, but there is a reason for the response.
Hiring a strategic lawyer is entering into a partnership. As the client, you are the first priority and decisions are made with your input. The goal is to find a resolution- which may mean a settlement or it may mean court. Unlike an aggressive strategy, strategic lawyering involves defining the possible outcomes, figuring out how to get there and communicating that to the client. A strategic lawyer who prioritizes you also looks for cost effective ways of doing things, rather than fighting about each and everything and adding it to your bill.
Strategic lawyering can also mean structured fees. Not necessarily fixed or flat fees, which may be possible in certain cases. But providing a budget for how much certain things will cost. This can allow you some planning, rather than scrambling to pay another large retainer request dropped on you from out of nowhere- the “pay me or I’m out of the case” approach. With some time to plan financially, there is less added stress to your already full emotional plate.
These are just some things to consider if you, or someone close to you is facing a family law situation. Children, family and home are the most important things in most of our lives. It’s scary enough to face the possible loss of any of these. No one should have the added stressors of financial and emotional ruin.
Lori Barkus has been practicing law for nearly 20 years. She is an attorney, mediator and also collaboratively trained. Her firm, Barkuslaw, offers a range of family law services- including, limited representation, strategic consulting and full representation- to meet the unique needs and priorities of the individual client.