People often reach out to me with questions about their divorce lawyers and what is currently happening with their case. They often ask things like whether a fee is reasonable, how to tell if the lawyer is paying attention, or whether they should look for a new attorney. The one question I get most often is with regard to how quickly a client’s call is returned. I will respond to this one today, and future posts will address some of the other questions I receive.
How long is reasonable to wait for my lawyer to return my call?
This is a question that despite its simplicity touches on many aspects of your relationship to your lawyer. A simple answer is that it is discourteous for lawyers to keep you waiting for a return call for more than 24 hours. But the question also relates to the way that lawyer or law firm manages communication with clients. Some firms are more respectful of clients than others and the time to find out is before you retain that lawyer to represent you.
Now, back to your phone call. How urgent is the subject matter of the call. If you just discovered that your wife withdrew all the money from your checking account and you need relief NOW you should not have to wait 24 hours. On the other hand, if you are calling to find out the date for some future hearing, 24 hours is not unreasonable. Your lawyer should have systems in place to distinguish between an urgent call and a routine question. His staff should be trained to ask enough questions to ascertain the urgency of the matter and to respond appropriately. In a large firm it would not be unusual for an associate to return your call and provide a response, only taking the matter to the partner you hired if it is beyond the associates scope. So inquire who will respond to you if not the lawyer. If an associate or paralegal screens calls ask to meet those people. Ask the lawyer how long you will have to wait and how much the call will cost.
There is also the question whether your calls are appropriate? Some insecure or needy clients call their lawyers twice a day about things that are minor and could be resolved by the client. If you are one of these don’t be surprised if your calls start to languish without being returned.
And because lawyers usually charge for every phone call don’t be surprised when you see the bill. How calls are handled is one of the things you should discuss the first time you meet your lawyer and before you pay the retainer. Some lawyers are more sensitive to the insecure client than others. You should tell the lawyer that you are anxious and need frequent reassurance.
Finally, ask how the firm uses other types of communication with clients. Do they email, do they text or do they write hard copy letters. Find out if one costs less than another, and discuss your preference for how you want to be informed. Many firms routinely send letters so they can have a copy in the file but this is more costly than email. Communication, or the lack of it, is one of the most common causes of client dissatisfaction with divorce lawyers. It is far better to investigate this up front than to be disappointed later.
Future posts will address some of the other questions I receive. Reach out to me anytime you have questions about how your divorce is going. I’ve been working with divorcing couples for over thirty years and can answer your questions about negotiation, lawyers, and give common sense advice to approaching and managing your divorce — so that it doesn’t manage you.
Sam Margulies, Ph.D., J.D. is one of the most experienced divorce mediators in the United States. Since 1980, he has mediated hundreds of civil disputes and approximately four thousand divorces including many complex multi-million dollar matters.
Author of several books on divorce, Sam Margulies is an empathetic and knowledgeable guide through the difficult journey of divorce. Residing in North Carolina but helping clients all over the world, contact Sam with your questions and to talk about your divorce.