Information is the currency of democracy. ~Thomas Jefferson
By jennifer j. rose
Divorce is a lot like childbirth. Concerned and well-intentioned friends, maiden aunts, friendly bartenders and a constellation of others dole out generous portions of misinformation. It seems like everyone wants to get in the act of educating your client, and the client is often unsure whom to believe. Clients may not believe what you tell a client in your office and in writing is the gospel truth, but the same advice authored by other experts may carry more weight. Use other sources to create a Client Divorce Kit or information packet.
In addition to firm brochures, copies of pleadings and your own in-house product, rely on the efforts of others to educate your client. Depending upon the client, either prepare an initial Client Packet or dole out materials on an as-needed basis. Here are just a few:
1. Divorce Manual - A Client Handbook, published by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. Perhaps the most elegant of the lot, this 64-page handbook covers the basics in an easy-to-read format. Also available in two 45-minute audiotapes. 1 to 10 copies are $10, but quantity pricing is available. Contact 1-800-522-7656 or write American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers at 150 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 2040, Chicago, IL 60601.
Other audiotapes available from AAML are: Understanding and Combating Domestic Violence, Understanding the Psychological Issues of Divorce, Watch Out for Wiretapping, Retirement Plans at Divorce, Who Educates the Kids?, and Planning for Your Health Care Future at Divorce.
2. Divorce: A Handbook for Clients, published as 13 Family Advocate 1 (Summer 1990), by the ABA Family Law Section. This issue focuses upon stress, coping and quality of life issues confronted by divorcing clients. Available from ABA Order Fulfillment #513, 750 N. Lake Shore Dr., Chicago, IL 60611. $9.50 for one copy. 51-100 copies are $3.00 each.
3. Your Divorce: A Guide Through the Legal Process, published as 15 Family Advocate 1 (Summer 1992), by the ABA Family Law Section. This issue contains forms and checklists, giving the client a generalized step-by-step detail of the divorce process. Available from ABA Order Fulfillment. Pricing structure is the same as Your Divorce.
4. You're Going to Trial: A Litigation Manual for Clients, published as 10 The Compleat Lawyer 1 (Winter 1993) by the ABA General Practice Section. This all-purpose manual discusses the attorney-client relationship, discovery, pleadings, trial procedure, the verdict (what does a judgment mean), and the appeals process. Available from ABA Order Fulfillment. $9.50 for one copy, $3 per copy for orders of 51 or more.
5. You and Your Lawyer, published as 11 The Compleat Lawyer 2 (Spring 1994). This discusses confidentiality, legal ethics, the attorney- client relationship, and attorney's fees. Available from ABA Order Fulfillment. $6.50 for one copy, 51 or more copies at $3.50 each.
6. Gardner, Richard. The Parents Book About Divorce. A good all- purpose thick paperback which addresses nearly every aspect of child custody and visitation. A child psychiatrist, Dr. Gardner is the "Dr. Spock of Divorce" and has published a number of popular works on stepfamilies, single parent families and divorce from a child's perspective. Retail price is $4.99, although quantity discounts can usually be negotiated through a local bookstore.
7. Your state's child support guidelines.
8. A form for the affidavit of financial status. My clients always seem to lose or misplace theirs, and an extra copy can be helpful.
9. A summary of your state's dissolution law. The technical points can usually be omitted, but synopsis of child custody, visitation, alimony and property distribution guidelines can be remarkably helpful. Keep the summary brief and succinct---no more than two pages if possible.
10. The client's own folder. Encourage the client to create a "mirror file" of yours. Your client will take his or her case more seriously once the client watches the "home file" grow.
Avoid information overload. Some clients are receptive to a all of the information once; others can take only small doses at a time. Even if you're not retained, consider giving the client some general materials at the first meeting. After you're hired, then become more generous with educational materials.
Give yourself credit for what you give the client. Have a sticker
imprinted that reads Compliments of [Your Name] displayed prominently on
client publications. Clients often circulate literature received from
you. You should reap the benefit of this marketing opportunity.
jennifer j. rose practices matrimonial law in Shenandoah, Iowa.
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