One common complaint in the Westman area is that it is hard to find a family law lawyer.
There are only a few lawyers who practise family law, and most of them are very, very busy. It can be hard to get an appointment, and even more difficult to reach one by phone.
At our firm, we have a specific policy with respect to any new or potentially new family law files.
First, none of the lawyers at our firm take cold calls. Anyone wanting to talk about a family law case has to make an appointment. Why? Every case is different, and there are very few straight answers. The lawyer needs to find out all the facts before answering big questions like, "Can I get custody?" "Will I have to pay spousal support?" "Are my farm assets shareable?"
Also, sometimes the cold calls may be from a client on the other side of an existing file in the office.
Brandon is a small city, and a conflict check always has to be done before any advice is given. As well, there can be confusion if the caller phones several times with updates/new questions. At what point has the lawyer become their lawyer?
For these first appointments, our firm offers a family law consultation. The appointment is made for an hour, which is generally enough time to discuss the case.
The end of the discussion includes an idea of what retainer might be expected and idea of the cost of the case. At the conclusion of the meeting, the client can decide they do not want to take any further steps and/or do but do not want to hire the specific lawyer. They can just pay the fee and leave, no problem. Or the lawyer may indicate why the file may not be right for them and decline to open a file.
The FLAC appointment involves no commitment on either side. If the client decides to hire the lawyer, and the lawyer accepts, a file is open and the boundaries are clear.
To further add to the certainty of the process, there is a flat fee for the appointment, about half the normal hourly rate.
When a new client first calls, they are told the cost of the appointment. Again, this gives a nervous first-time client an idea of the cost of a meeting with a lawyer. No surprises, no need to check the time every five minutes and wonder how much this meeting is costing. When making the appointment, the staff ensure they ask a few basic questions to make sure our office is not in a conflict, there are no emergency issues and Manitoba is the correct jurisdiction. This keeps the clients from wasting their time.
The FLAC appointment has proven popular, especially with people going through difficult times in their marriage. They may not want to take the big step of hiring a lawyer just yet, but they do want to know what would happen if they did end the marriage. These spouses can come for information, pay the fee in cash and may never need to return.
At our firm, the fee for a FLAC includes an information disk, filled with articles about a number of family law topics, worksheets, child support guidelines and brochures for family law resources within Brandon.
» Jodi Wyman is a lawyer with Paterson, Patterson, Wyman and Abel, with offices in Brandon, Neepawa and Virden.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 8, 2012