Most law firms offer some type of legal consultation to prospective clients in which the attorney provides advice about the individual’s matter. When people reach out to attorneys they want to know if their case has any value, and if it does, is the attorney competent enough to advocate on their behalf. A typical consultation spans 30 minutes to an hour and ranges from complimentary to approximately $350.00. During a consultation, the person seeking legal advice is expected to provide the attorney with all documents pertinent to the case including any previously filed court documents. If no such documents exist the attorney may still be able to explain the relevant law and the intended and possible unintended consequences of such lawsuit. But what happens if the prospective client asks the attorney to provide him with a written case strategy to supplement the verbal discussion of the pertinent law?
It is a common practice for my law firm to provide complimentary legal consultations. The reason I freely give these types of consults is because an attorney is like a product. An attorney is a representation of its sum total parts including education, experience, writing ability, listening and communication skills, emotional intelligence, associations, and most importantly, its moral compass. So when people seek an attorney, they have an immediate need. Their need is based upon their circumstance which is usually wreaking havoc on their lives. Think about it. When your car is inoperable you are unable to complete basic, essential tasks such as shopping for food, attending appointments, and visiting those who are in need. In Atlanta, it is almost impossible to navigate through the city without a vehicle. The sentiment is similar when faced with a legal problem.
People want an attorney who can troubleshoot their issue on the fly and with precision. Ultimately, the person will hire you if you prove to be a product that can get rid of the problem. In legal terms, this translates as not just knowing the law but knowing the procedural avenues to take to effect the outcome your prospective client’s desires. Recently, I had an individual call me from another state. She was significantly behind in her child support payments and had not been exercising visitation. The father had hired a powerful, well-known attorney in Atlanta who was ready, willing and able to advocate for his client. The initial child support order had been issued by a Kansas court, a state that neither the prospective client, the dad, nor the child were currently living. In fact, the dad and child lived in Georgia and the prospective client/mom lived in Vermont. She was afraid and distraught but still level-headed enough to know this was a serious matter. I provided her with a 30-minute complimentary, telephone consultation addressing all pertinent issues. After the conversation she stated, “I have an unusual request. I would like for you to provide me with a case strategy. You give me a price and if you will deduct that amount from the retainer upon signing of the contract, I will be more than happy to hire you.” I was somewhat flummoxed by the request but surprisingly excited about the challenge. The prospect was “pulling my legal card” so to speak. She merely wanted to know if my free consultation was full of smoke and mirrors. Every attorney on planet Earth should be smiling from ear to ear when you get a call such as this one. As a product, the attorney is summoned to display what it is made of. Those “ingredients” are what separate the generic brands from those with name recognition.
As I began to draft the case strategy I realized how much more “meat and potatoes” were needed during the verbal consultation I rendered for her. Fortunately for the prospective client she didn’t get what she paid for because, remember, the consultation was free. The case strategy, however, was sure to give her the most bang for her buck. In my writing I began by addressing the jurisdictional issues (Georgia’s authority to hear the case and to compel the prospective client to appear before its court). I had to explain to the distraught mother that this case could be properly heard by the court under the Uniform Child Custody and Jurisdictional Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). Under the UCCJEA, the dad was able to register the Kansas court order in Georgia and such registration permitted him to seek enforcement of the order. Upon registration of the order, Georgia recognizes and enforces the out-of-state or foreign order and gives full, faith and credit to the findings articulated in the Kansas order. What does this mean for my prospective client? Well, I explained to her that she would be found by Georgia courts to be in contempt of the foreign order. Technically, however, she could have disputed the validity of the Kansas order and its applicability to the parties. The prospective client would have had to file such dispute within 20 days after receiving notice of the filing of the registration. Unfortunately, she made contact with me after the 20 days and was therefore unable to dispute the registration. She also indicated to me that she didn’t believe Georgia courts had personal jurisdiction over her to require her to appear for this matter and she wanted to file a motion to dismiss the case for lack of personal jurisdiction. In effect, the mother would be telling the court, “You can’t touch me! I’m not in Georgia so screw you!” I advised her that although she may be within her legal right to respond in such a manner, it is not prudent to do so since the late child support payments will continue to accrue and any efforts to seek visitation through the dad may be stonewalled. Running from the obligation simply exacerbates the underlying conditions and does more harm than good to the developing parent-child relationship. Furthermore, this is the prospective client’s opportunity to establish a new parenting plan with her child and have an opportunity to bond while moving forward, not backwards.
Lastly and most importantly, I included in my case strategy that it appears that Georgia could establish both subject matter and personal jurisdiction without the assistance of the UCCJEA. Remember, this child custody action was initiated in Kansas. The parties no longer live in Kansas so Kansas won’t have an interest in hearing the case. Because the dad and child live in Georgia and have significant connections with the State of Georgia other than simply living here i.e. other members of the family live in Georgia, the child is enrolled and attends school in the state, the dad has established residency by paying property taxes, ad valorem taxes and registering to vote, etc., then in all likelihood Kansas would decline to hear the case and Georgia would now be the more appropriate forum for all parties involved.
After explaining the legal and procedural intricacies of dealing with a foreign order and its subsequent registration in another jurisdiction, the client trusted in my professional decisions to choose how to attack the case in terms of filing an answer to the dad’s complaint and any counterclaims, motions for temporary relief while the case was pending, motions to recoup attorney’s fees and expenses of litigation, and any and all objections to questions submitted during the discovery process. At the end of it all, the free consultation proved to be sufficient but not comprehensive. Therefore, The Barnette Law Firm, LLC has dedicated itself to provide case strategies to any and all prospective clients irrespective of securing a signed, professional agreement in the future. It is essentially what keeps our team knowledgeable and capable during the litigation process. Contact us to receive your free consultation and a case strategy which will be only 10% of the projected retainer fee!
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