When To Have “The Talk” With Your Divorce Lawyer

What is the talk? Well sometimes it starts with “It’s not you, it’s me” but it usually ends with the client picking up the file and going to a new lawyer.  There is an old saying in the divorce world that is people tend to hire lawyers like themselves.  It’s not always true, but more often than not it is.  But before you “fire” your lawyer, you owe it to yourself to talk to them, to tell them your concerns or problems.  We are not mind readers and sometimes we makes mistakes.*

So, why then would you want to talk to your lawyer?

You’re not happy

Don’t just sit and stew, if you are not happy and I mean 100% happy with your divorce lawyer, call and tell them!  Let me give you an example, I recently had a divorce case that was bordering on nasty, a long term marriage that ended with alimony and my client receiving a large property settlement.  My client would email me a few times a day, I would usually ask her to call me when she could or I would respond to the email when I had a chance, usually a few hours later.  I thought everything was great.  We settled the case and I asked her to fill out a short survey where she expressed her utter dissatisfaction with two things.  1) The time it took to respond to emails.  You see, she was in business and apparently in business people get back to each other within the hour usually within just a few minutes.  I didn’t recognize that as a problem.  The other issue was 2) Me asking her to call me.  I didn’t like spending the time typing (I’m a slow typer!) long and complex emails, so instead when I got her email, I would ask her to call me back.  She hated that, but didn’t tell me until the case was over.  The moral of this is if she would have told me she would have been much happier and probably less stressed during the process.

You Don’t Understand What Is Going On

It’s important that you, the client, understand what is going on in your case.  You need to know why the lawyer is doing what they are doing and you need to know the next step in the process.  If you don’t you’ll get anxious and probably be unhappy with the way the lawyer is handling your case.  Don’t be afraid to ask!  Send an e-mail or call, but if you don’t express your confusion you can’t always expect your lawyer to read your mind.

You’re Concerned About The Bill

If you are confused or unaware of certain charges, ask!  If you don’t know what you are being billed for don’t to shy you need to ask.  Probably more important than that is you need to be aware of the costs coming at you in your case.  If you scraped together every last dime for the retainer and you’re lawyer tells you that trial is in a month and you need $5,000, tell them!  I will tell you personally I feel much more comfortable when a client tells me about the financial situation then being surprised.  I (and many other) family lawyers in Minnesota will work out payment arrangement if we now about the situation beforehand.

There you go, if you talk to your lawyer about these items and you are not satisfied with the answer, it might be time to find a new lawyer.  Don’t be embarrassed about “firing” your lawyer, there is usually no ill will and it happens to the best of us.

*DISCLAIMER: In no way does this constitute an admission by Attorney Kohlmeyer or any member of the Rosengren Kohlmeyer Law Firm that they have made, will ever make, or are making a legal mistake. This is not an admission of liability and is used solely for illustrative purposes!

Any Comments or questions feel free to call Jason Kohlmeyer at 507-625-5000 or email at jkohlmeyer@rokolaw.com

Jason Kohlmeyer

With over 15 years experience in high conflict family law cases, having received numerous awards, and a frequent lecturer through both Minnesota and the United States on family law issues, Jason has decided to help people through a blog, answering some of the most common questions that people have during divorce and family law. cases. http://rokolaw.com/southern-minnesota-lawyers/jason-kohlmeyer/ Remember this isn't legal advice. Just blog and attempts to answer general questions, for legal advice you need to hire a lawyer. If you're in Minnesota our firm would be happy to see if we can help you.

6 comments

  1. (This is a version of my comment above, rewritten for clarity and to remove errors).

    A bad lawyer does this:

    – Is impossible to reach. Takes weeks or much longer to respond to an email or phone call.

    – Doesn’t review discovery documents. The first discovery document asked for tax returns and a host of other financial information for every year that I was married to the defendant (we were married over 20 years, and I was the defendant). I spent every spare minute, including work time, for a month, digging up over 20 years of records that were strewn through my attic. The letter from my lawyer said that I had to do so because my ex-wife’s lawyer requested it, and knowing nothing about divorce, I thought that this was important and had to do so (we had a net worth of perhaps $300,000, and with children over age 18, no child custody issues, by the way). When I brought the data in, my lawyer seemed annoyed, and said, “I’m not going to go through all of this. If her lawyer wants to see more than 5 years of information, she can come in here and go through them herself!” Thanks, but I just spent over 50 hours digging this unneeded stuff up. And my hourly rate is $50 an hour more than yours, Ms. Attorney. I started for the second time to consider whether I should fire her, but she was the only full-time divorce attorney in our small town. I learned later on that almost no divorce case requires more than 5 years worth of records, and that the discovery requests were likely a boilerplate from an idiot paralegal.

    Doesn’t review other documents. The quitclaim deed was notarized in another country. I found out four days before the refinancing of my home that it was invalid from a private practice real estate attorney hired by the bank. This postponed the closing over two months. This wasn’t clearcut incompetence, because a divorce attorney (even one four hours form the Canadian border) might not know that additional certification is needed on an international quitclaim deed (although I did find this out with a little research on the internet, after the fact). However, I’m sure one of the attorneys in their practice who does real estate would have known this.

    Assigns an attorney who is friends with both parties to your case without getting consent. At this point, my attorney, who was too busy, assigned the research to determine how the quitclaim deed could be legally signed to a newly-hired attorney, who happened to be a former neighbor, a friend of both my ex-wife and myself, and the ex-wife of a neighbor (I had declined to testify in their custody trial to remain neutral). This attorney didn’t work there when my case started, or I would have chosen another firm. I wasn’t asked if she could be put on my case – I was told about this after it had already been done.

    In any case, based on what you wrote, it looks like I should have complained. A lot. But in divorce, most people don’t have a clear hold of their senses; at the same time, I was trying to run my business and take care of my kids. The divorce was a surprise – the kids and I had 3 hours notice when my ex-wife left the country.

    Looking back, I wish I had chosen another lawyer, of course. I also wish I had fired mine early on.

    I will send her a bill from the bank for the additional fees incurred because of the invalid quitclaim deed. I wish I could send her a bill for the extra 50 hours I wasted at the beginning, as that was more time than she spent on my case. I was going to wait until the end of the case and either send a nasty note or have a long, unpleasant conference with her, but now a friend (and the mother of my daughter’s friend) is one of my lawyers, so even that has become a sticky issue.

    • Thanks for the comments, and I feel bad for you since a bad lawyer puts us all in a bad light.

      And I agree, the middle of a divorce you generally don’t want to feel your lawyer is the bad guy, but to others reading this, be sure you complain, if you have issues do not be afraid to talk to your lawyer about them. If the issues aren’t resolved then you may seriously want to consider switching lawyers.

  2. Dear Sir
    What a pity I can not have you for my Lawyer! I am searching for ways to “delicately” tell my divorce Lawyer that I am unhappy with his services and your site is the best yet.Your tips give me incentive to give my Lawyer another chance, before dismissing him.

    thanks.

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