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Overwhelmed: Where Do I Begin?

Overwhelmed: Where Do I Begin?

Overwhelmed: Where Do I Begin? By Amy A. Edwards First: The Consultation A consultation is not the same thing as hiring an attorney. It is simply a meeting with an attorney, who should then give you legal advice and tell you what the cost is to hire that attorney. After the consult, it is the client’s decision whether to hire the attorney. The client might choose to do nothing at all after a consult. In fact, a number of people having problems with their relationship have consults because they want to know what their options are if the relationship deteriorates in the future.  The meeting is a chance for you to bring a list of questions you have so that you can get the answers you need to make serious decisions in your life. It can be helpful to do some research to get a general information about the process, but the attorney gives you legal advice based on your specific situation. After a consult, it is common for clients to say that they feel so much better knowing what the real issues are, and what the possible solutions are. They’re sometimes surprised to discover that threats or information from the other parent or spouse is not accurate or even feasible, which can be a big relief. Second: After the Consult Once you have a few answers, you can then decide whether you are ready to move forward with the separation, custody case or other important legal matter. However, if you have been served with a lawsuit or motion, that first decision is made for you. To begin working on your case, our office requires an advance of funds to be placed in your account. Sometimes, people refer to this as a retainer. If money remains in your account at the end of your case, our office returns it to you. More often, things take longer than anticipated. This is partly because it is difficult to tell how much the other party will truly dispute. If the dispute ends up in litigation, we cannot control the court system and whether there are trial dates, civil discovery, and other litigation events. The attorney your ex hires can also make a big difference, including whether he or she is willing to make any good faith efforts to settle the case before there is a trial.  Third: Relief of Sharing the Burden The next phase after your...

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Keeping Secrets: the Attorney Client Privilege in North Carolina

Keeping Secrets: the Attorney Client Privilege in North Carolina

Keeping Secrets: the Attorney Client Privilege in NC By Amy A. Edwards When someone is served with a subpoena to testify in court, he or she generally must go to the courthouse and testify in open court at the risk of being held in contempt of court, i.e., incarcerated, for failure to do so. And the witness must answer all of the questions from the attorneys while on the witness stand. There are only a handful of times when the court says a witness can’t be forced to testify, or when a witness may testify only about certain things. One of these times is when you tell your lawyer something that qualifies as attorney-client privilege (ACP). A privilege is a special right, the ability to avoid testifying, or testifying about a certain subject. North Carolina Privilege North Carolina has privileges for communications with physicians, nurses, clergy, psychologists, school counselors, licensed marital and family therapists, social workers, counselors, optometrists, peer support group counselors, agents of rape crisis centers and domestic violence programs and limited protection for journalists and spouses. [1] One case explains that the ACP is “. . . an established rule . . . that confidential communications made to an attorney in his professional capacity by his client are privileged, and the attorney cannot be compelled to testify to them unless his client consents.” [2] The Policy Behind It ACP fosters crucial trust between the client and the attorney. It is a time-honored tradition that encourages people to be honest with their attorneys so that the attorney can effectively protect that person’s civil rights. Otherwise, the attorney would potentially have to testify about conversations with his or her client. This is particularly important when a client who is accused of a crime faces the threat of incarceration or even death if there are pending capital murder charges. What’s Required to be ACP? There are five requirements for communication to be protected by ACP. [3] The first is that the attorney must have the relationship of attorney and client when the communication is made. If you are talking with your cousin, who happens to be an attorney, about your other cousin’s new boyfriend, that is not a privileged communication. Second, the conversation must be made in confidence. Generally, the only people who can be present during the conversation are the attorney and the client. Someone else’s presence while communicating...

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Checklist for Hiring a Family Law Attorney

Checklist for Hiring a Family Law Attorney

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Clients and Attorneys Going in Different Directions: Marital Fault or Bad Behavior by the Other Parent

Clients and Attorneys Going in Different Directions: Marital Fault or Bad Behavior by the Other Parent

Clients and Attorneys Going in Different Directions:  Marital Fault or Bad Behavior by the Other Parent In the Beginning . . .  By the time someone talks with an attorney about a divorce or a custody case, it is safe to say that it isn’t because something great just happened. Most people are struggling to make sense of what has just happened to them, or what finally became the last straw. Clients are devastated, shocked, angry, traumatized and anxious to vent about how the other person has betrayed and hurt them. Each case is unique but this article is a general response to a common question that clients ask me: Why are we worrying about this [insert something that’s tedious and dull] when I can prove my ex did [insert something that’s awful and life-changing]. What’s Your Attorney Doing? Meanwhile, after you have bared your soul to the attorney and handed a check or credit card to the receptionist, the attorney and his or her staff members are doing lots of busy-work.  All they appear to be doing is wasting time, filing court paperwork, gathering tons of financial records, drafting financial affidavits (budgets for court), listing details of property and debts, and perhaps doing discovery and then mediation. Clients quickly become disappointed and frustrated once they discover that fault and bad behavior won’t usually be addressed in depth until after all of that is completed, and then a trial. Unfortunately, it can easily take a year after you start the court process for a judge to make the final ruling on your case.   What Are Your Attorney’s Priorities? It might seem like your attorney isn’t really listening to what’s important to you, or that his or her goals appear to be at odds with yours. This legal process is backwards in the sense that clients have to deal with serious emotional turmoil and upheaval at the beginning of a case, but your attorney must work with an eye towards the end of a case. This means that the attorney might have to set aside what’s right and wrong at the beginning of a case to start building a foundation for the case before reaching those matters. One of the hardest lessons I learned upon my arrival at law school was that courts don’t dole out justice. In fact, they usually don’t focus on justice. Instead, courts apply the law to the facts of each case. The law must be your attorney’s priority. Attorneys...

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My Ex Is Using the Attorney That I’m Paying For!

My Ex Is Using the Attorney That I’m Paying For!

My Ex Is Using the Attorney That I’m Paying For! By Amy A. Edwards The Attorney Client Relationship Clients can be resentful that their attorney is wasting time dealing with the pro se person. In most family law cases, each person has an attorney. When the other person is pro se, Latin for representing himself or herself, lawyers aren’t working for the pro se person and charging you for it as clients sometimes think. That is prohibited. An attorney may represent only one person in a family law case, such as a divorce or child custody case. Failure to do that is usually a conflict of interest. That means what is good for one person might be a bad thing for the other person. For example, if one spouse gets alimony that’s a good thing for him or her, but it is might be a bad thing for the other spouse. The lawyer has to choose one person or the other as a client. What’s Different? If your ex had an attorney, your attorney would have to talk with the other about settlement, discovery (documents, etc.), trial matters, and logistics of court events such as depositions. In other words, your attorney would still be taking time to talk with the other attorney. It doesn’t always take more time than it would to negotiate with an attorney. In fact, some people without attorneys are anxious to get down to business instead of posturing the way other attorneys will because they want to avoid court. The Law and Equality The law requires everyone to be treated in the same way, regardless of whether they have an attorney or not. The same deadlines, rules, laws and other requirements apply to both sides. In the eyes of the law, people shouldn’t be penalized if they cannot afford an attorney. But the judge is still bound by the law. Judges have to walk a fine line in these cases. Attorneys also have to be very careful when communicating with a pro se person. We certainly can’t give them legal advice but sometimes we do explain the reasons why the offer we are making on behalf of our client is a good one. Depending on the circumstances, the attorney will tell the pro se person that he or should talk with an attorney. Same Rules as Everyone Else But . . . Attorneys have specific...

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Is My Attorney Friends with My Ex’s Attorney?

Is My Attorney Friends with My Ex’s Attorney?

Is My Attorney Friends with My Ex’s Attorney? By Amy A. Edwards When I was a law student, I remember tagging along for a trial and being shocked that my mentor was talking and joking with the attorney who represented the opposing party before court. In my mind, court was a war and the opposing party was the enemy. It wasn’t until I began trying cases myself that I had a context for that event. Lawyers by definition are zealous advocates for clients. However, clients sometimes think that means an attorney must be rude, loud and hostile. When I became a lawyer, I realized that is not the case. In fact, cordial relationships can benefit both parties. As “officers of the court” attorneys are expected to have a respect for everyone, including the opposing party. Professional relationships among attorneys are often long-term. A trend for attorneys is to choose an area of law to concentrate in, or even become a board certified specialist, as I am. As a consequence, more attorneys practice only family law, spending years or even decades litigating or negotiating cases with each other. And a smart attorney makes efforts to keep a cordial relationship with his or her colleagues.       But more to our point, attorneys who are professional and have a basic level of respect tend to cooperate when it is necessary, even though they are deeply divided on the disputed issue. They return calls to each other and try to determine whether there are issues that can be resolved outside of the courtroom. They can actually have conversations about the case instead of just “performing.” A frank conversation before the trial could lead to a stipulation to certain things, for example, giving the judge a written agreement saying they agree to those things. Such an agreement might reduce a three day trial to two days, benefiting both parties. On the other hand, the attorneys lacking the cordial professional relationship with colleagues tend to be the same ones who drive up billable time with a big displays of bravado even when it isn’t really necessary. That often translates into a long, hard and expensive road.  When that type of attorney is in a case, I can tell my client to count on the case costing twice as much what it should cost.  There are cases that absolutely have to be litigated tooth and nail. But...

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