October 28, 2009

Get the Support You Want: Choosing a Consulting Attorney

“To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”– Mark Twain.

Consulting attorneys can make the difference between a smooth mediation process and one fraught with conflict. It’s important to choose your consulting attorney wisely.  Most mediators will provide a list of consulting attorneys they recommend, and many clients just pick from their mediator’s list.  But other clients want to determine their own options.  If you want to find your own consulting attorney, it’s good to be prepared on how to talk to a litigator when you potentially want their help in a non-adversarial process.

Ideally, consulting attorneys are supportive of compromise, and work hard to be open to their client’s ideas about what is “fair.”  But that can be asking a lot from a professional who is rewarded with success in all other settings if they “win” from a legal point of view.

Here are some questions to ask a potential consulting attorney to get an idea of how mediation-friendly they may be:

  • How do you approach your duty to me as a client?  Do you protect your clients from themselves, their possible desire to compromise “too much,” during the stressful time of divorce, or do you let your clients determine what’s best for them?
  • Do you feel it’s okay for me to make an agreement that is not a reflection of what I could get under the law?
  • Are you going to give me legal advice, to supplement my mediator’s legal information, with the idea that I need to do what you recommend, or is it okay for me to understand your view of the law and then not act on it?
  • If I hire you, are you the boss, or am I the boss of my divorce process and final agreement?
  • How much do you insist in being part of the mediation process? Is it okay for me to primarily use you to review my final agreement?  Or do you feel you need to be involved through the entire process?
  • Would you sign an attorney certification which states that you’ve reviewed the final agreement with me and that I understand the agreement and the applicable law, even if you don’t personally “approve” of my compromises?

Reading these questions, a non-attorney might find them somewhat aggressive or maybe repetitive.  But if you ask a potential consulting attorney the above six plus questions, there’s a good chance you’ll see the attorney’s colors and orientation to their practice of law.  Attorneys are used to being the experts in a time of conflict, which after years of legal practice can start to create a professional who feels they know what’s better for their clients’ families and children, and even better for their clients themselves.

Yet, some of my clients have successfully chosen consulting attorneys who have been nothing but a steadying, informed influence in the mediation process, leaving me grateful for their work in supporting their client in developing an acceptable compromise.

And, unfortunately, I also have been left open-mouthed stunned at the aggressive, threatening behavior from some of my other clients’ consulting attorneys. (And the funny part in hindsight? Their clients had the same response.)

So ask these tough questions, and choose wisely based on the answers you want to hear.

Her intelligence goes without saying.

Unmani’s level of fluid skill and preparation with the name change process reveals her complete dedication for helping others find their way through the legal mazes of our society. Her intelligence goes without saying. I agree with previous clients’ testimonials about her kindness and empathy for her clients; you really do feel that she is invested in you. Couldn’t recommend her more…

- Scott Z.
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