Maybe some of you have already seen the new documentary on the business of family law intimating that family law is “big business” with a great deal of the blame being placed on family law attorneys. So when your client calls you and tells you he is thinking of getting divorced, who do you refer him to?
Qualifying your referral as well as the attorney you are sending them to will help your client properly navigate through the divorce process in a way that is best suited for his or her needs. Properly matching the client to the right attorney can really make all the world of difference. There is a big difference between the client that was married for nine months with no children and no comingled assets and the client that has been married for 23 years with five children and several real estate holdings and stock options. Asking some simple questions can assist you in making the proper referral.
QUESTIONS FOR THE CLIENT
- How long was the marriage and are there any minor children?
- Are there joint marital assets and debts and what is the nature of them?
- Do they feel that the divorce will be amicable or contentious?
- Where did the parties last reside as husband and wife?
It is essential that you know the attorney to whom you are referring your client. You want to make sure that they are going to be able to properly represent your referral. Your client is trusting you to refer them to the right attorney.
QUESTIONS FOR THE ATTORNEY
- How long has the attorney been practicing in the area of family law?
- What is their hourly rate and their retainer amount?
- Do they work on sliding scales and have payment plans?
- Are they a proponent of collaboration and mediation or are they more of a litigator?
- Where do they primarily practice?
These basic qualifying questions can better match the client to the right attorney. Please keep in mind that the “big business” of divorce has many other alternatives. Protecting your referrals from attorneys that love to litigate and welcome the opportunity to file motion after motion is paramount in today’s climate. For a very long time now family law attorneys have been using alternative dispute resolution options, such as, mediation as a way of resolving marital issues in a more amicable way and avoiding the high cost and tremendous stress of the litigation process.
The new trend in our family law legal community is getting trained to practice collaborative divorce. This practice area has all parties and attorneys signing a collaboration agreement wherein the parties and the attorneys agree not to litigate. There are active collaborative practice groups in South Florida and the next training will be held in Boca Raton in early June.
Knowing how the lawyer practices can make a difference to your referral. Will the attorney ask, “How are you feeling?” or “How are you and the children doing?” These types of attorneys are heartfelt and empathetic attorneys. They may encourage the client to seek marital therapy before contemplating a divorce. Many of these types of attorneys offer the first hour consult at no charge. They look for ways to keep the costs down and encourage the clients to settle and not fight.
Other types of attorneys might ask, “What is the value of the marital assets?” These types of lawyers treat family law as a business. They are less empathetic. Your referral may be required to pay in advance before the consult. Some firms ask for a credit card to reserve the appointment time. Hourly rates may range anywhere from $250 to $550 per hour. Some attorneys will work on a sliding scale and some will not. Finally, where does the attorney practice and do they charge for travel time to the courthouse? Referring a client that last resided in Miami to an attorney in North Palm Beach might not be cost effective for the client.
Knowing and considering some of these important factors will better assist you and your client in making sure they end up in the right hands. Tammy Saltzman