I can’t tell you how many times I have received phone calls from prospective clients who tell me that they gave their existing attorney a lot of money to represent them in a DCF case and/or a probate court (divorce, custody disputes) matter–often upwards of $10,000.00–and yet they can’t even provide me very basic information about their case and about what their lawyer is doing for them. And these same folks are often unable to provide me any documents to review because, of course, their attorney has not provided them. They have been completely left in the dark and are utterly afraid of what they don’t know. And what’s worse, they are made to feel like they can’t ask questions and are told to just trust their attorney. It drives me crazy hearing these stories, so I can only imagine what they are going through. Obviously they are calling me because they are unhappy with their present attorney and are getting increasingly more frustrated and concerned about the quality of their current representation, which, of course, I completely understand. After all, I cannot conceive of giving an attorney that kind of money and yet be left in the dark about my case.
In fact, just recently, a client who has both an open DCF case and an active divorce case did not even know when his fair hearing was and has received no documentation from his now former attorney. To make matters worse, he was advised not to communicate with DCF–that is, to meet with the investigator or response worker, or to participate in the family assessment. That should be absolutely unacceptable to any parent who finds themselves the victim of horrific and false allegations of abuse and/or neglect. After all, how are you ever going to win your case–or at least level the playing field–if you don’t get in the game? Surely, if DCF is only getting one side of the story–and not your side!–how can you expect to win at a fair hearing or in probate court? (Remember, probate court judges rely on what DCF does and says.) In cases that involve related criminal matters or Abuse Prevention Orders, sure, the parent must be very careful about incriminating his or her self, but an attorney experienced in both DCF and criminal cases such as myself am able to navigate those waters so as to prevent that from happening.
This is not how I work, or how I treat clients. First, I carefully take into consideration the anticipated work involved before I decide how much I am going to charge someone or how much of a retainer I will need. In many cases (like 51B responses and assessments) I charge by the hour and I come up with an amount for the retainer that I believe will cover my time, not unlike a contractor or plumber, frankly. In this regard, I can assure you I have never charged anywhere near $10,000 for a DCF investigation and/or representation during an assessment. This is also true for fair hearings, which I usually charge a flat fee for. That said, admittedly, representation of a parent in a Care and Protection petition, which can take years to complete, might just cost more than that, but that is quite seldom. But I always do my best to keep the cost of my services under control and often will not bill for small stuff, like quick calls with a client. This is because I know that most of my clients aren’t swimming in money and that it is often difficult for them to pay for private representation. I get it.
Second, I always take the time at the very first meeting, to explain to my clients exactly what the process is going to entail so they know what to expect moving forward. I also often have to explain what has already occurred since I am so familiar with the process I know when things are supposed to happen. Many clients who meet with me often tell me that they learned more about their case from me then they ever did from their current attorney. Most of these parents end up switching attorneys and don’t regret it.
Third, not only do I provide a copy of pretty much every document I generate or receive I also copy my clients on most emails I send to DCF, opposing counsel and other parties, often in real time, meaning I always keep my clients in the loop.
Lastly, I always make sure that my clients are satisfied with any significant document or letter I generate before it goes out, and I often have them participate in the drafting of same. That is because not only do I want to make sure that I get the details right I also know that they often can provide critical or intimate details that I would never know because I haven’t lived it like they have. And I can’t tell you how valuable it is to work so closely with my clients to get a finished product that is going to change the trajectory of their case in their favor. I have gotten so many supported 51A’s reversed before a hearing using this method that I have lost count.
I hate to hear these unsettling stories, frankly, and would much prefer that these clients hired me first to save them the grief and aggravation, not to mention the financial cost. But I understand that parents are often frantically scrambling to find an attorney to represent them where time is of the essence. But what I really hate is when other attorneys take advantage of them in such stressful and difficult circumstances. I would never do that. That’s not how I work. JMI