Don’t Wait Until The Last Minute to Hire a Lawyer

I get lots of calls from potential divorce and family law clients who have, for one reason or another, waited until the last minute to hire a lawyer.    By last minute I mean they have waited until  a week or two (or less) before an important trial or hearing before calling on me.

I’m not talking about situations where there is an emergency case filed (like emergency child custody or a request for a domestic violence protective order); here I am talking about situations that have been developing for months and the potential client calls just before something big is going to happen in his or her case.

As a naturally inquisitive person I always ask the question, “Why did you wait until now to call me?”  The answers I get are all over the place. Here are just a  few of the actual answers I have heard to that question:.

  • “I don’t know.”
  • “I thought we could work it out.”
  • “I thought I could handle it and it’s, well, complicated.”
  • “I just found out he/she hired a lawyer, so I guess I need one too.”
  • “I don’t want to be sanctioned by the judge!  What does “sanctioned” mean?”
  • “I’m scared to go to court alone.”
  • “I don’t want to go to jail.”
  • “My _____ finally convinced me to get a lawyer.”
  • “I did not have the money to hire a lawyer.”
  • “I’ve been on vacation.”
  • “My previous lawyer just fired me.”
From there, the exchange usually goes like this:
Me: “So what has been done to get your case ready for trial?”
Them: “Umm, nothing, but I do have a big blue Rubbermaid container that we tossed our bills and junk mail into for the last couple of years.”
Me: “What about your mandatory disclosure?
Them: “I read about those.  I think that’s what the motion for sanctions is about that came in the mail yesterday.”
Me: “So when, exactly, is your alimony trial?”
Them:  “Next Thursday.”
Me: “You’ve got a problem. “
Them: “I know, that’s why I called you, I hear you know how to handle this kind of thing.”
Me: “I’ve already got a hearing next Thursday.  I’d have to drop everything to take care of this for you.  I can’t drop everything to handle this for you.”
Them: “Well can’t you do my case too since you will be at the courthouse anyway?”
Me: “No, that won’t really work.”
Them: “Why not?”
Me:  “You have to understand, it’s not only the time in court.   I have to learn everything about your case, pull all these documents together, and fix whatever can be fixed that you’ve muddled up over the last few months.  What you are asking me to do is give up my time off this weekend with my family and work on your case.”
Them: “OK, when can we get started?”
About half the time I end up agreeing to take the case because I want to help as many people as I can.  However,  for reasons which should be clear if you’ve read this far, you should not want to be that last minute caller.