I get this question from time to time, or a person will show up to a consultation with his or her relative. Having a relative, or close friend, present at a meeting can have a few advantages for the client. First, this person provides moral support that may help the client relay emotional and difficult information that your attorney needs. Second, this person can help the client organize his thoughts so that he does not forget to provide certain information or details that may affect your attorney’s advice.
Third – and most important to consider, in my opinion – at an initial consultation, a client may be in shock, a deer in the headlights, and still trying to process what may be going on in the marriage. That makes it difficult for the client to hear, absorb and remember an attorney’s advice. A friend or relative can be a second set of ears to hear and remember the attorney’s advice and remind the client of it later. In some ways, it is similar to bringing a relative to a doctor’s appointment. It is hard to take everything in at once, and you can lose some important points due to stress.
On the other hand, having a third party present at a meeting with an attorney destroys the attorney-client privilege and confidentiality of that meeting or conversation. In a meeting of only you and your attorney, what is said in that meeting is subject to the attorney-client privilege, and your spouse cannot force either your or your attorney to answer questions about it unless you waive your privilege. If a third party is present, however, there is no privilege. If your spouse learns of that meeting or takes the deposition of you or your relative, your spouse could ask questions about what was said during that meeting, and the deponent would in most cases be required to answer as long as the questions are within the scope of discovery of the case.
In preparing for a meeting with a lawyer where you would like to bring a relative or friend with you, plan and think about whether there are things you would like to discuss with your lawyer that would be better kept confidential. That may include intimate behavior between you and your spouse, a concern or accusation you are worried about, or an incident that no one but you and your spouse knows about. You can go through the basics of your meeting with your friend/relative present, and then ask for that person to leave the room for part of the meeting. When they ask, I often tell new clients that they are welcome to have their friend/relative attend, but if there is something they would like to discuss privately, we should ask that person to step out of the room for a while. Your friend won’t mind. They are there to help and support you. Often, traveling to and from an appointment with a relative, and having your relative wait in the waiting area while you meet with your lawyer privately, is just the right amount of support.
ABOUT MARJORIE JUST
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Marjorie Just’s practice as a family law attorney focuses on the negotiation, settlement and litigation of complex family law matters in Maryland and the District of Columbia, including issues of property distribution, custody, child support, alimony, same-sex marriage and domestic partnerships. She prepares family-related agreements such as, pre-marital agreements, separation agreements and reproductive agreements. She is also trained as family mediator and collaborative lawyer.
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