Finding a lawyer doesn’t have to be hard, as long as you’re prepared. Find out what many lawyers might not tell you from our guest, matrimonial lawyer and mediator, Gabriella Formosa.
- When hiring an attorney, it’s beneficial to have more than one consultation.
- You don’t have to sign the retainer before leaving a consultation.
- You can “divorce your divorce lawyer” if it’s not working out.
OUR GUEST – GABRIELLA FORMOSA
Welcome to another episode of the exExperts Podcast where we give you all kinds of information and tips on everything divorce. Why? We’ve lived it, so we get it. We’re Jessica and T.H.
Jessica: And today, we’re so excited to have back with us, Gabriella Formosa, a divorce lawyer and mediator at Greenblatt Law here in New York. She is here to tell us everything that you need to know that your divorce lawyer doesn’t want you to know. So thank you so much Gabriella for coming back and giving us the inside scoop.
Gabriella: Thank you for having me. So I just wanted to say before I start talking, that I am an attorney, but that the things we talk about here don’t constitute legal advice. They’re just for informational purposes. If you’re going through a divorce, contact your own lawyer and get advice from him or her because –
Jessica: Or you, if they’re thinking about contemplating divorce, and you live in New York City.
Gabriella: Very true, and I will tell you similar things, and then that will be attorney advice. But right now, it is not. It’s just for informational purposes.
Jessica: Yes. This cannot be used in court, people. When you brought up the idea of doing a podcast with us about the things that your divorce lawyer doesn’t want you to know, TH and I were like, you’ve got to give us the scoop on that. Where do you even start?
Gabriella: I think when I was thinking about how to talk to you two about it, I was thinking why don’t we start from the beginning, which is the initial consultation. That’s when you’re googling people, and you’re trying to find someone to meet with to ultimately represent you. And that’s like an interview, like a job interview. I think that the first point that a divorce attorney wouldn’t want you to know is you should interview multiple people. You should have multiple consultations. Consultations most attorneys charge for them so that may be a deterrent financially, but I do think in the long run it’s worth it because you want to find someone who’s the right fit for you.
Jessica: But wait, so are they charging their normal hourly rate? Or do you have a consultation fee rate? And how long is a consultation? I’ve got to spend $1,000 before I even decide who my lawyer is going to be?
Gabriella: In some cases, yes. We charge our hourly rate for a consultation, and the consultation lasts really as long as the client wants it to last. Some people an hour, some people come in and have very long stories, or want to give you the rundown from when they first started dating until now, and so that will be a longer consultation. So yes, it can get very expensive, but I think it is money well spent. If you end up going on only one consultation, your friend recommended this person to you, you meet with them, maybe you don’t love them, but you trust your friend so you hire them. Then you get a couple of months into your case and you realize I really don’t like this person. I really don’t jive with them, they’re not helping me, they’re not listening to me, and they’re not my style. You will have wasted a ton more money than if you would have just shopped around a little bit and found the person that was right for you.
TH: So for me, before I actually secured my attorney for my divorce, and I was contemplating it maybe a year prior, I had gone to and it’s all word of mouth, it worked for her so it’s going to work for me, that also prevented my ex from retaining any of those lawyers because they had those consultations with me. But the woman–
Jessica: Did you really do that? You were one of those people who went to go meet with –
TH: I didn’t do it for that reason. I just didn’t know that was like a perk to paying for the consultation.
Jessica: People will legit go and meet with lawyers just to cockblock their exes from being able to use them.
TH: Right. Right. I didn’t do it for that reason, I found out afterwards. I went in really not knowing. I think what Gabriella was saying about just be careful who you pick for your consultations, and do your homework. It definitely should not just be because a friend used that person, which is what I ended up doing. It all worked out, and I had other things that I was looking for in an attorney in addition to us getting along and feeling like I was heard by her, but I should have interviewed more people at the time that I was ready to hire someone because you’re in a different mind frame. Before, you’re like I just need some information, and what does this even mean? And then when you’re ready to pull the trigger, you should still interview more than one attorney. I don’t know if I would have made a different decision, but I would have felt better about my decision because it took four years and a lot of freakin’ zeros. If I had just taken that extra step to interview one other person.
Jessica: Gabriella, is there like a rule of thumb? Like at least two, at least three, not more than four?
Gabriella: I think it depends on you. I think after four people, if you can’t pull the trigger, you might need to look internally. Maybe you’re not ready to get divorced, or using the wrong people. I would say sometimes you meet someone and you know right off the bat this is the person for me. I feel comfortable with them, and I trust them. And so maybe you don’t want to interview anyone else, but maybe one more person just to be sure. I would say in the two, three range until you find someone that you feel comfortable with because it is such an intimate relationship. People say, and TH this was kind of what you were saying, just because your friend recommends them doesn’t mean they’re the right person for you. You’re different than your friend, and your divorce is different than your friend’s. Someone could be the greatest attorney out there, but if you don’t feel comfortable talking to them that doesn’t matter.
Jessica: Right. Right.
TH: And the other thing that Jessica and I have learned is that it depends what kind of divorce you think you’re getting into.
TH: You might start in like a very friendly arrangement, but if your attorney that you’re speaking to does not deal with high conflict divorce, and you know that yours is high conflict, at least on your end and it only takes one to stir that pot, then you don’t want someone who’s just going to be ‘Kumbaya’ and let’s all hug at the end. You might need someone who’s more of a shark than not.
Jessica: But okay, what are some other things that your divorce lawyer –
Gabriella: The next step I think would be now you’ve retained someone, or let me back up. I think another thing that I was thinking of was be careful about the yeses. So, attorneys, and I think this applies to your initial consultation, sometimes you’ll get an attorney who will say they’ll yes you because they want your business. So you want 50/50 custody even though you’ve never changed the diaper, don’t know your kid’s teachers, have never been to a doctor’s appointment. Sure, I can get you that. You want all of the money because you have a better job? Sure, that’s going to work out. I’ll get you 90% of everything. Some attorneys will say yes, yes, yes, you got it and promise you the world. You’ll come out of there thinking this is great. Even if it’s just subconscious, thinking great they agreed with me, I have such a great feeling. They believe in me, and they know that I am right. I don’t practice that way. I’ve lost clients because of that, because I tell people you’re not getting that, it’s not going to work for you. That’s not a winning case. My husband says to me, you’re going to lose business that way. I’ll say, okay, it’s better that than an unhappy client who I promise the world.
Jessica: Who, by the way, is going to talk shit about you when they’re done like, she sucks. Seriously, word of mouth references, it’s the same word of mouth people that are bad references and like, stay away from that. So I feel at the end that could be more damaging.
TH: So if it sounds too good to be true, then you might want to just look into it a little better.
Gabriella: Yeah. At least maybe just gut check yourself or just know that in the back of your head, hey, this is a business transaction like any other. An attorney wants your business and you’re in there, you want something, and they want to be able to give it to you. I think TH sums it up really well that if it seems too good to be true, maybe it is. I think that’s a hard thing to do when you’re in a really emotional place because that’s what you want. You want someone to take down your ex, and you’re hearing that someone’s going to take down your ex for you so you’re going to sign on the dotted line. To that end, maybe a tip is you don’t have to sign the retainer agreement right away. You can say, great, let me just think about it, and no one’s going to be offended. Take a minute before you get into this really important relationship, and think about what it is that they had to say to you and whether or not you think it’s too good to be true.
Jessica: I can see people that I know thinking you need to sign the retainer right then and there. Like you go in, you have the consultation, I could see some people feeling pressured about that.
TH: Well, also people who are just, I mean, there are times when I’m like this when I just want to get it done.
TH: I want my lawyer, I want this done. I’m ready to mobilize. Let’s go. And you just do it.
Jessica: Even though Gabriella, you’re saying you don’t have to sign the retainer right away. Totally fair, great tip for people, take a moment and think about it. Are you saying if you go in there and you feel this great vibe, for whatever reason you totally jive with this person. Is the tip, under no circumstances to sign the retainer right then and there and to make sure you think for about at least for 24 hours? Or are there times where you’re like, okay, if you really feel comfortable, that’s okay.
Gabriella: Give a hard and fast rule. Because if you do feel super comfortable, you might just want to ask yourself why you feel comfortable? Is it because you’ve been promised the world? Or is it because you feel like you have a connection with this person? In that case, I might even say if you feel you want to sign the retainer agreement right then and there, maybe you say email it to me and I’ll sign it at home. You’re not waiting two days, but you are able to just at least walk, take a subway, take a cab, go home, and sign [process].
Jessica: Okay. All right. What else?
Gabriella: Right. Another thing is that in the case you can get a second opinion.
Jessica: Once you’ve already hired your divorce lawyer?
Gabriella: Right. You can of course. It’s another consultation, right? It’s just you already have an attorney and working with them. Maybe you keep saying to your attorney, I want to do this, I want to do this, and they’re saying to you that’s a terrible idea. I advise you against that, or we can’t do this for XYZ reason. Now, if you trust your attorney, you’re going to go with them. But if you have this nagging feeling of I feel like we should pursue it, then it doesn’t hurt to go have a ‘mid-way through your case’ consultation with another attorney. Sit down with them and say, look, I have another attorney, and this is where we are in the case. This is what her advice is, what do you think about that advice? Now, of course, they’re going to want you as a client so keep that in mind, right? They’re going to be thinking maybe this person is looking to switch. But it’s like a doctor. If a doctor is telling you, you need this surgery, you need this surgery and your gut’s telling you maybe I don’t need it. You get a second opinion.
Jessica: Yeah. But you haven’t given them a $25,000 retainer.
Gabriella: Yes, but it’s your health, so it’s really important. And this is your life, so it’s really important. Again, it’s the consultation fee, it’s another new lawyer’s hourly rate. Maybe they’ll tell you, I think your attorney’s doing the right thing. I’ve told people that before. They’ve come to me and said, I have another attorney and I said, you know what, I think they’re right. Maybe I’d tweak this or do this, but I think you’re in good hands.
Jessica: Here’s a question though. Do you tell your existing attorney that you’ve gone to have a consultation as you would with your doctor? You’re going to say to the doctor, you know what, thank you for that. I hear you telling me I need to have the surgery, but I’m just going to go get a second opinion. Are you saying that to your lawyer?
Gabriella: I think that you can and I’ve had clients, I just had a client say that to me. She said that she had a friend, I don’t know if this is true, she could have had another consultation, who’s a matrimonial attorney and she asked if we were doing XYZ. Then of course, she felt very guilty and she wrote me this whole email, like I really trust you, I just was having this conversation with her. I said, look, I’m not offended and it doesn’t mean that your attorney or the other attorney is right or wrong. There are a lot of different ways to do things. So she told me this and we discussed it and at the end of the day, actually what her friend was telling her was not so far off from what we were doing so it gave her peace of mind, but I wasn’t offended at all. The truth is, I guess this is another secret that your attorney might not tell you, is that maybe hearing that makes your attorney wake up and think, okay, maybe I need to really consider this angle, or maybe I need to give my client a little more attention. And so it could be beneficial to you that way.
Jessica: Keep them on their toes!
TH: Well, I’m just going to say, you’re talking about what Jess brought up about do you tell your current lawyer. I think one of the things I wish I knew is that you should not be afraid to tell your lawyer anything. If you want to call them out on something, you can’t be afraid to call your lawyer out. You’re paying them a lot of money, they work for you, and they’re there for you. If something’s bothering you that you don’t like that’s happening, or whatever, you cannot be afraid. If you’re uncomfortable talking to your lawyer about it, then it might not be the right lawyer. Because then you’re trapped by your lawyer and by your ex and by his lawyer.
Jessica: Yeah. But there’s something about talking to your lawyer about, this is the strategy that you’re suggesting, and I really want the custody, but I don’t know that I want to bash my ex in order to get it versus saying to your attorney, I’m questioning what you’re saying to me. I’m going to go talk to somebody else behind your back.
TH: No, you do it in front of their face.
Jessica: You know what I mean. Being comfortable talking to your attorney isn’t necessarily the same as the comfort level like telling them you’re going to go meet with somebody else and ask other questions about what you’re doing.
TH: You don’t have to say it up front, but you shouldn’t be afraid, in general, to challenge your lawyer.
Gabriella: You shouldn’t. But the caveat of that is there is a reason that you’re hiring a lawyer and not doing the divorce yourself. I have clients [that’s a podcast], who will say to me, I want you to do this. I’ll say to them, and this kind of goes back to the yet finding a lawyer who will yes you. Again, it’s not all of these rules don’t apply to every situation, but sometimes I’ll have a client who wants to take a position that I think is terrible for their case and will be disastrous to them. I know this because this isn’t my first divorce. It’s my 100th divorce, and it’s their first divorce. They’re really going to make a mistake. They’ll push me and push me, and I’m saying no, no, no. If I would say yes, then that’s going to be detrimental to their case. It’s a balance. I do think you can push back, you should push back, and you should make your voice heard and not be afraid to do that. But at the same time, you want to have a relationship where you do recognize that your lawyer has done this a lot more than you have and that they’re maybe not just yessing you to death.
TH: Right. I mean it doesn’t have to be contentious.
TH: But you shouldn’t be afraid to say I still don’t understand. I don’t understand why this doesn’t work. You have to be able to take in, like what you were saying Gabriella, you hired this lawyer to represent you for your future and what’s in your best interest. You have to take in the advice that you’re paying for. If you’re really against it then it’s not a good match. But you have to be able to take it in, but you have to be able to put stuff out there too.
Jessica: Right. Right.
Jessica: Before we wrap up, any other good tips about what your lawyer doesn’t want you – oh go ahead, TH.
TH: What about negotiating with your lawyer?
Gabriella: In terms of hourly fees? I think that there are a lot of lawyers out there who will negotiate their fees or at the very least negotiate a retainer. So a lot of lawyers ask for a large chunk of money up front, and some people don’t have that. You don’t have to walk away, that’s not going to preclude you from working with them. Again, being a lawyer, that’s a business. They want your business and so you shouldn’t be afraid to say look, $20,000 is a lot up front, can we work on a payment plan? Can we structure our deal so that the associate works on more of the matter? Can you cut me a deal on your rate? Those things add up in terms of saving you money and it’s negotiable. If a lawyer says to you, no, it’s not negotiable. Okay, so then you can find another one or you can find a way to pay. You shouldn’t be afraid. Again, I kind of think this is maybe the unintentional theme of this, that you’re the one in charge. This is your case, this is your life. Sometimes the concept of a lawyer can be really big and people get nervous. But I think at the end of the day, you just have to be confident in yourself and recognize that this is someone that you’re hiring.
Jessica: And last minute tidbits?
Gabriella: I guess my final tidbit, to come full circle of the case, is you can fire your lawyer at any time if you don’t like them. Or if their fee structure changes and you can’t afford it, or your bills getting astronomical, you don’t need a reason to leave. I think a lot of people don’t recognize that. As simple concept as it is, sometimes people think, well, I started with this person so I’m stuck with them. But you’re free to leave at any time.
TH: What happens to all the work they’ve done? All the paperwork and everything? Do you own that because they worked on it for you or does the lawyer own it?
Gabriella: It depends. Your file will go with you. Your file is anything that was filed in court, any motion papers, if there are motion papers, statement of net worth, documents, and emails. But things that are attorney work product, they own. So notes, or if I’ve gone through your discovery documents and I’ve made charts of things, that doesn’t go with you. That stays with us.
TH: But all the bank statements you have to print out and all that stuff that you handed over, they can give it to you to go somewhere else, you don’t have to do all that work again?
Gabriella: They have to give to you.
TH: Okay, good.
Jessica: But then your new person has to redo all of that analysis. So you are definitely starting over?
TH: Right. Right. Unless it’s already filed. I mean they could review it?
Gabriella: It depends what stage in the process they’re at.
Gabriella: Don’t have an unhappy relationship twice.
Jessica: [Laughs] Right. Divorce your divorce lawyer.
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