Volume 2, Number 3
|Table of Contents|
The Divorce Client’s Notebook
You have accepted the new family law client and the client’s retainer. Does the client leave your office with nothing more than a lighter wallet, a copy of your retainer agreement, and the expectation that you will win the case?
Why should you be the only one working on the client’s case? Enlist the client’s efforts by creating a client’s divorce notebook. The notebook has a two-fold purpose: to educate your client, to make your client a more effective one, and to create the client’s own file mirroring your own. I recommend a three-ring binder, tabbed for:
• Proposed exhibits
• Client notes and questions
• The client’s journal
• Client education materials
Encourage the client to file everything you send in the client’s notebook and to bring the notebook to your office during each appointment. As the client’s “home” file grows, the client will take his or case more seriously and reach an understanding and appreciation of the work you have done.
Suggesting that the client jot down questions that arise and save them for the next appointment not only helps to eliminate those pesky and annoying telephone calls, but it also underscores to the client the importance of your advice. You will be better able to keep track of the advice you give, too.
Divorce is not unlike childbirth, attended by a constellation of concerned, well-intentioned but often meddlesome maiden aunts, friends, barbers and bartenders doling out misinformation and myth. Not only is the client likely to have greater familiarity with the self-appointed experts than with any lawyer, the information’s free! Before long, the client’s not sure whom to believe, and the most earnest lawyer can find himself or herself spending more time than ever explaining the real story to the client. Make sure your client gets the straight scoop by educating your client, pre-empting the Old Wives’ Tales and misperceptions. Even the most sophisticated clients benefit from client education.
Include in the “educational” part of the client notebook:
• Your state’s child support guidelines
• A summary of your state’s dissolution of marriage law. Omitting the technical points, a brief and succinct synopsis of child custody, visitation, alimony, and property distribution guidelines can be remarkably helpful. (Some clients may appreciate a copy of the state’s dissolution statute.)
• A timetable of the process from filing through discovery to trial.
• An explanation of discovery.
• Standard visitation schedules.
• Standard child support payment rules.
• Pointers on client conduct during a dissolution action, e.g. guidelines for a client seeking custody.
• If you find yourself answering the same questions repeatedly, consider developing a Frequently Asked Questions, or FAQ, addressing those queries.
While certain client educational materials can only be homegrown, take advantage of those written by the pros. Among the best bets are:
Divorce Manual: A Client Handbook , published by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.
My Parents are Getting Divorced: A Handbook for Kids , published by the ABA Family Law Section.
The Boys and Girls Book About Divorce (ISBN: 0553276190) and The Parents Book About Divorce (ISBN: 0553286323) by Richard Gardner. Both are mass-market paperbacks published by Bantam.
Give yourself credit for what you give the client by displaying prominently on client handouts your name and address. Your client will become one of those self-appointed experts in time, passing along your literature to prospective new clients and marketing your family law practice for you.