Episode 130 - The Why, Hows and Whats of a Case Management Plan in Your Divorce
When was the last time you went somewhere unknown without plugging the destination address into a navigation app on your phone first? You probably can't remember because this is something you do every time, almost out of habit. Unfortunately, people often don't apply the same concept to their divorce or similar family law case. That is where the Case Management Plan comes into play. In this show, we examine why it is so important to set aside the time and money for a Case Management Plan. We discuss how to develop a Case Management Plan and what to include in it. Even if you are not a client of our firm, you can use this information to put together a Case Management Plan with your lawyer. If you are involved in any kind of litigation right now, you will want to listen to this episode.
Leh Meriwether: Welcome everyone. I've Leh Meriwether, with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether & Tharp. And you're listening to the Meriwether & Tharp Show.
Leh Meriwether: Here you learn about divorce, family law, tips on how to save your marriage if it's in the middle of a crisis. And from time to time, even tips on how to take your marriage to the next level. If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online at atlantadivorceteam.com. Todd.
Todd Orston: I said energy, you need to bring the energy Leh.
Leh Meriwether: Because this is one of the most exciting topics we've ever done.
Todd Orston: So before we get into what it is, are we just going to wing it today or, by the way I'm setting you up. Are we going to wing it today or have you prepared?
Leh Meriwether: I've prepared.
Todd Orston: All right. And of course I've read every one of your notes, and I am ready to go. So since I have prepared by reading the materials and being prepared for this show, what's the show about?
Leh Meriwether: The whys, how's, and whats of a case management plan in your divorce.
Todd Orston: Which has to do with preparation. See? I just set you up nicely.
Leh Meriwether: I just swung it, knocked it out of the park.
Todd Orston: You did. Out of the park.
Leh Meriwether: So this is one of those topics it's so important, but it's not the most exciting. I'll be honest, it's not the most exciting. You're like, "Case management plan? Are you kidding me?" But it is so critical in a divorce case.
Todd Orston: You know what I sometimes tell people anyone who works in a company, just does anything where they have to go into meetings with other people, or clients, or customers. You don't typically go into those meetings cold. You prepare. So if you're going to prepare to go into a meeting to talk about whether or not you should change the coffee vendor in your office, why wouldn't you go into a meeting that deals with a divorce, dealing with custody issues, support issues, division of property issues. Issues that can carry with you for years to come and impact your life in a material way.
Todd Orston: Why wouldn't you go in there prepared? Because that preparation hopefully is going to allow you to settle the case and avoid prolonged, expensive, draining litigation. But if you have to go to court, it's going to allow you to approach the problem in an organized manner so that you can basically get all the information you need and present your best case.
Leh Meriwether: Exactly. So I'm going to go back a little bit in time. So I may have been around-
Todd Orston: That is awesome. I am watching. Oh my God, he looks younger.
Leh Meriwether: Oh gosh. All right.
Todd Orston: No time travel. While you're choking, I guess I'll take over.
Leh Meriwether: So about 2014 ish, maybe a little after that, I read a blog article. And it was actually posted, it wasn't on our website, it was posted on someone else's website. And it was written by a project manager who apparently went through a divorce. And she was very upset because she never knew where the case was going through the whole divorce. In her world, you don't do anything without a plan. And she couldn't understand why her divorce lawyer never gave her a plan, never said, "Here is how we are going to manage this whole case." She thought the lawyer did a great job in the courtroom, thought that he did a wonderful job with the settlement. So she wasn't really complaining about his legal skills at all. In fact, she said his legal skills were fantastic. But she was filled with anxiety and stress through the whole process because she didn't know what the next step was.
Todd Orston: I've actually spoken with people on the phone who have called, they are represented by an attorney. And they call and they're like, "You know what? I have no idea what my attorney is doing. I don't think they're doing a good job. I have no idea what the strategy is. No idea what the plan is. Sometimes I have a hard time even getting them on the phone, let alone answering questions as far as where the case is going." Sometimes changing attorneys, it's warranted. But I can't tell you how many times I've spoken to someone and I'm like, "Well hold on, let's take a step back. Tell me about your case. Tell me what's been done. Tell me basically what you're trying to achieve." And I figure out very quickly, it sounds like your attorney's actually doing an okay job.
Todd Orston: So in other words, before you jump to another attorney, maybe you need to sit down and talk to them. Because it sounds like they're doing the right things. Where they're dropping the ball is communicating with you.
Leh Meriwether: Right.
Todd Orston: So case management. I'm not saying that we're the only ones that manage a case. There are a lot of attorneys out there that do a great job, but sometimes they don't communicate it well. We try to do both. We try to manage a case in a very efficient, organized way that hopefully educates the client and removes anxiety. But we also do everything we can to then communicate well with our client so that they understand, "Hey, you know all that stuff we've been doing over here. Now look at how organized things are and and look at how it's going to help us achieve your goals."
Leh Meriwether: Yeah, so what we want to do is we want to have a show to talk about what that might look like. So maybe you're on another case and we don't represent you and, but you're struggling with the attorney. So the hope is we're going to give this information in the show so that you can help develop a case management plan with your lawyer. So we're going to talk about the why, why it's so important. We're going to talk about some objections that we often get. Even when we started to roll out ... it's not that we never did it, it's just we became much more structured with how we do our case management now. It's something that's always evolving. In fact, it may have gotten too complicated, our plans. Which were great for us, but unfortunately it became too much for the clients so we're actually in the process of simplifying our plans a bit. But we're going to talk about that and we're going to take what we've learned over the years about case management, talk about it here. So that way when you go to meet with your lawyer and come up with a case management plan, you know what to do.
Leh Meriwether: I've even had people to your point, a client will call in upset with their lawyer. I talk to just like you. Often, we do not talk a client into firing their lawyer to hire us.
Todd Orston: No. Because if they're not frustrated about the right thing, then they'll hire us and we'll do something similar. Maybe we'll communicate a little bit better, but we're doing the same thing.
Leh Meriwether: And we have to charge them a bunch of money to get caught up to speed.
Todd Orston: And then maybe they're frustrated with us because they're like, "Why did I change lawyers in the first place? Why didn't you just tell me my attorney was getting it right, but maybe I just need to learn how to communicate with my attorney better."
Leh Meriwether: So sometimes we've actually, some of this stuff, we're going to talk about the show today. We shared with potential clients in the past and they'd gone back to their lawyers, and they actually got on the same page. So we know it works because they actually call us back to thank us. So that was nice. Occasionally, the lawyer calls to thank us for not taking their client. But that's doing the right thing. That's what we're here for. All right, let's start with the why.
Leh Meriwether: And I'll probably pull a step back. One of the objections, I'm going to tie this to an objection from a client. One of the big objections we get from clients is, "This is going to cost money. I can't afford this meeting." And it's more like you can't afford not to do this meeting, because let's talk about the struggles that we have as lawyers.
Leh Meriwether: Clients will send us constant emails. What are we doing next? What are we doing next? What about this? What are we doing next? What are we doing next? We're here to serve? So we answer those. And there are some lawyers that bill in six minute increments, or some that bill in 12 minute increments. Even if it only takes them two minutes to answer the email. And a lot of times those questions come in by phone or email because the client doesn't know the plan.
Leh Meriwether: And you could easily be able be billed a 1,000, $1,500 answering a bunch of simple short questions. Whereas you could come in for one meeting with a lawyer and only be charged three, $400, whatever their hourly rate is. That one meeting where almost all those questions can be answered. And you probably have many year future questions answered because what the plan is.
Leh Meriwether: So it's really to get you on the same page with your legal team. Make sure your legal team understands ... we're going to talk about when you should do this first meeting, the first case management plan meeting. But understand who's going to execute what, make sure y'all aren't duplicating efforts. Because the last thing you want to do is think I'm going to collect this data over here, but your lawyer's also collecting the data. So not only do you spend your time collecting the data, but your lawyer just billed you to collect that same data.
Leh Meriwether: So you need to get on the same page as far as when you're collecting it, what you're collecting, who's collecting it, and then when is it due to each other. Because a lot of times we as lawyers, we're waiting on our client to get us information. And so the client's like, "Well where's my settlement agreement?" Well, I haven't gotten the answers to what's your outstanding, what are the balances in your y'alls 401(k)s. I can't do a settlement agreement so I know that. So that gets everyone on those same page. So they're working as a well oiled machine.
Todd Orston: Yeah. And understand, pulling back again to a more general point of view. The case management effort, you have to understand it accomplishes so many things. Not only does it position you to get good results, hopefully. But it's going to reduce anxiety.
Todd Orston: When we talk to people on the phone that are calling just for a phone consult and we spend 20, 30, 40, 50 minutes on the phone with that person. The one thing that I'm striving for in that call is to reduce anxiety. And by answering questions and giving information, you can empower people. You as a client want to be empowered. You want to understand what's going to be done, how it's going to be done, when it's going to be done, all of those things. And by doing that, you'll have less anxiety, and you'll understand what your destination is so you know what to do to get to your destination, meaning what are you trying to achieve.
Leh Meriwether: And up next we're going to talk about the objections that some lawyers sometimes give to putting together a case management plan for their clients.
Leh Meriwether: Welcome everyone. I'm Leh Meriwether, with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether & Tharp, and you're listening to the Meriwether & Tharp Show. If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online at atlantadivorceteam.com. Today we're talking about a subject that when you hear the title, the whys, hows, whats of a case management plan, you can [inaudible 00:11:17].
Todd Orston: I'm sorry, what? You were saying something?
Leh Meriwether: You could get quickly bored. We're trying to bring the energy so you don't because this is actually really important.
Todd Orston: It is incredibly important, but it's not as exciting as talking about the fireworks in court, or the-
Leh Meriwether: Brilliant cross examination.
Todd Orston: Exactly. Exactly. But, it is the framework that can define the success or failure of a case.
Leh Meriwether: Yeah.
Todd Orston: If you go into a case and you are unprepared because you have not managed your case properly, whether you are represented by an attorney who failed to properly manage, or you are representing yourself and you have not properly managed the case, then your chances of success, and again define success, but your chances of achieving everything that you not only want to but should achieve based on the facts is going to be less. So while it may not be the most exciting of topics, it is a topic that is incredibly important.
Leh Meriwether: Right.
Todd Orston: So we're giving this information because perhaps you either representing yourself or you have a lawyer that's not ... you could be listening in a different state. We have cases in Florida and Georgia, but at the moment, not beyond there. So maybe you're listening in a different state and you have a different lawyer. Well, if you're struggling with that lawyer, they could be doing a brilliant job, but you're just not sure of what's going on so you have a high level of anxiety and stress. Or you want to make sure the lawyer's not spending money doing things that you might be able to do yourself. And so you need to develop a case management plan.
Todd Orston: So sometimes as the client, you kind of have to take control. And I'm not saying you take control of the lawyer, but you have to approach the lawyer. So I want to talk just for a moment about some of the objections we've actually had from lawyers when it comes to developing this. And even when we were trying to push this internally, there was an internal struggle for lawyers. And I wanted to take a moment, just explain where that comes from. It's not because lawyers are doing a bad job by any stretch. In fact, they're usually like you said, they're usually doing a good job or a great job. It's just the client doesn't understand that.
Leh Meriwether: One of the objections is lawyers know what to do, they're like, "Why do I need to write a case management plan out? I know what to do."
Todd Orston: Trust me.
Leh Meriwether: Trust me.
Todd Orston: "You hired me. Trust me, I know what to do." That's great. They may trust you, but that doesn't mean that building up inside isn't a high level of anxiety.
Leh Meriwether: Right.
Todd Orston: Because that's sort of like my son who is just learning how to drive, and he has read all the books. He took the test, he passed, he has a license. And when he gets behind the wheel and I'm sitting next to him and he says, "Trust me." I'm like, "Yeah, I don't." No offense son. I do trust you. But you know what I'm saying?
Todd Orston: So trust is earned, and it's not like you have a lifetime to build up that trust with your attorney. So the attorney needs to, we recognize that an attorney has to prove that they are trustworthy. Prove and show that they know what they're doing. And the best way we believe to do it is to do what is done in so many other areas of business, which is you have a case management or project management plan. "This is what we will do. It's how we will accomplish it. Here are deadlines and dates that we will accomplish things by." And by doing that, all that does is reduce and allows you to execute a plan in an organized way that hopefully will not just end in good results, but it gives your client the peace of mind they need to know they're being taken care of.
Leh Meriwether: So you mentioned something that was really on point. So another objection, and that's, "Well the divorce process can be chaotic. We don't have really great control over it." There's an element of truth to that because in that relationship, it's just the lawyer and the client working together. You don't have any control over the other side. You could come up with a plan and it just be thrown out the water two weeks later when there's a family violence issue, or somebody doesn't return the kids, or all of a sudden $40,000 is missing from the bank account. So these things do happen, but often those are more the exception. But we as lawyers, they are very emotional when they happen. So it feels like it's more the rule. And it can be tempting not to want to do it.
Leh Meriwether: So another thing that, and I'm going to defend that lawyer in that blog post from the project manager for a moment. I'm sharing this with clients too, so they understand what's going on behind the scenes.
Leh Meriwether: The project manager's job was to manage. That was their sole job. For a lawyer because most lawyers that handle family law, they're small. It's a small practice. It could be a solo practitioner, maybe a small law firm for just a few lawyers. They wear multiple hats. They're trying to manage the case, but they're also the lawyer. They have to be on top of the law. So they're doing legal research. They have to be preparing for court, making sure they have all the discovery put together.
Todd Orston: Dealing with longterm issues and emergency issues. Dealing with the things that happen on a daily basis in family law. Other areas of law, you don't have emergencies popping up every single day in some cases. You know that you're on track. And one, two, three, four years from now, I might end up in a courtroom somewhere. But other than that, you have deadlines and things like that. But there's no real emergencies.
Todd Orston: In family law, emergencies come up all the time. So an attorney can be like, "I can't deal with all of those things. Coming up with a case management plan, what does that even mean?" I recognize that. You can't deal with those emergencies, but you can deal with some of the basics and some of the standard things that come up in every single case where you can say this is when we're going to do this. This is when we're going to do that, and this is how we're going to get prepared. Okay. And obviously any emergencies that pop-up, we'll deal with it.
Leh Meriwether: And the lawyer's also dealing with, if they are the solo practitioner, they have to market, they have to get new clients, they got to pay the bills at the office. They have to make sure bills get sent out to clients. So that's the business side of law.
Todd Orston: A huge time suck.
Leh Meriwether: Yeah. And then the other thing is, and this is what I want to make sure listeners understand. Our schedule is subject to the whim of the courts and the clients. And the other side sometime like you said, like the emergencies. But a good example is you show up to court on Monday. You have been told by the judge, "We are going to try your case at 9:00 AM Monday morning. Be there sharp. You show up." "Hey, I need you to wait. We haven't finished the other trial yet." "Oh, okay. How long do you think it will be?" "We should be done by 11. So just hang out."
Leh Meriwether: So you're the courthouse with your client waiting, it's now 11. "Why don't you take a lunch break?" You come back from lunch. We're still going, 4:00. "We'll try it tomorrow at 9:00." So now that lawyer who had set, it was supposed to be especially said one day trial. Suddenly now they're there two days, and all their appointments on Tuesday they have to reschedule. So if they are solo and they don't have help back in the office, they're calling all these people that were supposed to meet with the next day to reschedule. So it throws their entire week off.
Leh Meriwether: So that is one of the challenges of practicing family law. I just wanted to give that as a background so people understood what's going on and say, "My lawyer must be a terrible lawyer because I'm having trouble coming up with a case management plan." No, that may not be the case. Because we go through cycles. You and I both had those cycles where we almost weren't in the court, in the office for two or three weeks straight because we went from court, to court, to court, to mediation. It wasn't that we had too many cases. It's just everything fell exactly at the wrong time. All right. Let's talk about the when. When should you first start talking about a case management plan?
Todd Orston: Well, I would say that it should be done within the first weeks, meaning first few one or two weeks of retaining your attorney. Understand that it's a living document. All right? When we say come up with a case management plan, that doesn't mean what you prepare can't be changed. It's going to have to be changed more than likely. But there are certain basic aspects of the case management plan that won't, certain deadlines that you know, discovery deadlines and other things that basically, "Look, this is what we're going to do. We're shooting for mediation at this point. We're shooting for a temporary hearing that we've already asked for within this range. And this is what we're going to need to do in order to prepare for those things." So that is not, a case management plan is not something that you do at the tail end.
Todd Orston: That would be like saying, I remember back, you remember those TripTiks, when we were young and we'd pull out a map but back before computers did everything for us. And that would be like saying, "I'm going to be lost for about five days." And when I finally get to my destination, I pull out that map and I highlight the route that I'm going to take.
Leh Meriwether: Or that you did take.
Todd Orston: Right. That doesn't make sense. You want to take that map out, you want to highlight, "This is going to be the best route, this is how I'm going to get to my destination." And then you can follow that. So the analogy of course is at the very beginning, you want to pull that map out, create that map, figure out what your best path to your destination is. Because that's going to help you execute efficiently.
Leh Meriwether: And as far as when, I think the very first meeting is not the time to do it. Sometimes you'll talk about the next steps. But usually you've just been, as the client have come in there and the lawyers shared a lot of information. It's like drinking from a fire hose. There's just so much information, you need time to process it and then come back and say, "Okay, let's come up with a plan." And sometimes in that first meeting, you're receiving so much information. You have more information to give, but you don't even think about it Because you're like, "How would that impact this? And what about that?" You don't think about those questions in the first meeting. So that's not this the time. And unfortunately, we're out of time. But up next, we're going to talk about the hows and the whats of a case management plan.
Leh Meriwether: Welcome everyone. I'm Leh Meriwether, and with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether & Tharp. And you are listening to the Meriwether & Tharp Show. If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online at atlantadivorceteam.com.
Leh Meriwether: Well, Todd's dying over there in the corner. He's all choked up by today's subject of the whys, hows, and whens of a case management plan in a divorce, or similar family law action. All right, so just kidding about that. But are you okay?
Todd Orston: Water, wrong pipe.
Leh Meriwether: I hate when that happens. Well when we left off, we were talking about when, when should you start putting together a case management plan? And we said that first meeting, probably not a good idea. But within the first few weeks of being retained, I wouldn't go past really the first month. The only exception might be as if you think that everything's really uncontested. And you're going to go talk to your spouse about certain items. You may not want to do it then, but perhaps they say no, I'm not willing to even talk. Maybe they get angry, whatever it may be. At that point, you want to have a case management plan.
Todd Orston: Yup. Again, you want it as soon as possible because that's going to tell you the work that needs to be done. As a client, you're going to then be better prepared to manage what work is being done by the attorney. So if the attorney says, "Well, we really need to do ABC," and that's on your case management plan. And week one, week two, month one, month two goes by and A, B and C have not been done. You know you have to have a talk with your attorney before that becomes a problem. Okay.
Todd Orston: And when the attorney starts doing those things, let's say they are not not doing what they said they would. And let's say in week one it's A, in week two it's B and then C. Then you don't have questions about why are you doing things.
Todd Orston: It's that's right, you said you were going to do A, you told me why B was important and C. So again, it then is going to hopefully relieve some of that anxiety.
Leh Meriwether: And save money.
Todd Orston: And save money because you know that what's being done is what you talked about and it's part of that plan.
Leh Meriwether: Usually I typically, depending on the case, and there are some exceptions I may give later. But do 60 days at a time because family law is a little bit chaotic. It can change dramatically based on the positions that the other side may take or the issues that develop in the case. So you try to just do it every 60 days just to update it. The first time I usually say do it in an person meeting, but it can be done over the phone too.
Leh Meriwether: But let's talk about the how now. How you do it? So in our firm, we try to call the client, let's say maybe the case started off where we don't think it's necessary just because it looks like it's heading towards an uncontested divorce. And there's a pretty good grasp on all the issues. But then it takes a turn, and it's moving more towards the contested path. That's when we bring the client in. Usually you know that in the first four weeks anyways. You bring the client in and we sit down, we schedule that meeting for the first meeting, schedule the meeting for the first case management plan meeting.
Leh Meriwether: But if it's not happening, if your lawyer is not in a firm that does this on a regular basis, then you need to take control. So call the attorney, and they could be in a crazy patch. So I call it crazy patch when you just court, court, court, court, hearing, hearing, mediation, mediation. But that's okay. So what you should do is reach out to their staff. Hopefully they have a paralegal, or a legal assistant, or secretary. Reach out to them and say, ask them to get on the lawyer's calendar. Now they're typically you're going to say, "Well, what is it you want to talk about?" Well that's when you say something along the lines of, "Look, I just want to make sure I understand and confirm what the next 60 days might look like, and make sure that I'm doing everything I'm supposed to be doing. And I want to understand what the strategy is just in the next 60 days." I just want to make sure we're both on the same page and like.
Leh Meriwether: "Oh, okay, well we can schedule that." So they put it down. And then you get to the meeting, start by just take lots of notes. Write down everything. And when you take down a to do item or whatnot, or you talk about an issue, it's important to write down who, what, and when. In other words if I say, if the lawyer says, "I need the last six months of bank statements on this bank." All right, he needs it, or she needs it, who's getting it?
Leh Meriwether: So it could be you. If you have access to those records, well then the least expensive thing is for you to get it rather than the lawyer do what's called formal discovery. Because formal discovery can be expensive. You send out all these requests. So there's a lawyer time, a paralegal time, and it's sent out, and you notify the court that it's been sent out. And you document the day. And depending on what state you're in, in Georgia they have 30 days to answer.
Leh Meriwether: So there's a lot of costs associated with that sometimes. And then processing that discovery can be expensive. So if you can get the information for the lawyer, hey, you just saved some money.
Todd Orston: Let me step back for just a moment. The way that-
Leh Meriwether: Just as long as you stay close to the mic.
Todd Orston: Yeah, I'm going to stay close to the mic. I have a long neck. Wasn't even funny. The way that we approach it is first of all, you mentioned Leh the four core areas of divorce. The whole point of a case management is to identify what the issues are, and then identify what your goals are, and then to connect those two.
Todd Orston: So in other words, if they're kids. So you know child support and child custody are two of the four core areas that you're going to need to deal with. Well as it relates to custody, or let's deal with child support. To deal with child support, you let's say are saying I want to pay as little as possible if you're the payer, or I need as much as possible pursuant to the guidelines and I need to make sure that activity costs are in there, and healthcare premiums, and some other things. Okay.
Todd Orston: Then it's what do I need to accomplish that goal? Then you and the attorney can talk and it's, "Well, I need financial statements. I need bank records to show what kind of income, any pay stubs that you might have. Any pay stubs for your spouse. I need to gather these things." So then you can come up with the discovery in other parts of the plan that will accomplish, help you to accomplish the goal.
Todd Orston: That to me is what a case management plan is all about. It is understanding the issues, coming up with what your goals are, and then figuring out how to make the two meet and, and how to accomplish your goals.
Leh Meriwether: Yeah. And that makes sure that the lawyer understands what your goals are too.
Todd Orston: That's right.
Leh Meriwether: Sometimes in that first meeting, you may not be clear or you may have said something that you didn't quite mean because you hadn't quite processed all the information yet. And then after you process it and meet with the attorney again, you have a better understanding of what's going on.
Todd Orston: Yeah. I mean look, the way that we do it, we actually will do these action plans, these case management plans in a way where at the end, we put down what goals are . And then we can print that out, give it to our clients. So it's like, "Look, are we both on the same page? Here is your goal," or, "Here are your goals." And therefore, there is no misunderstanding. There is no difference of opinion. Are we both in agreement that this is what your goals are? Done. Okay, and now we have this plan.
Todd Orston: Now just because another might not handle it exactly that way, doesn't mean that they're wrong or we're better. But if they have not made it very clear, then if you are the person walking and meeting with an attorney, then it is on you. It is for you to make sure before you walk away from that meeting, that you're looking at the attorney going, "Okay, I want to make sure we're on the same page. All right? As it deals with these four core areas, are we on the same page? These are what my goals are." And let the attorney then say, "Yup, I understand you want to accomplish A, B, C, D." Done. "Perfect. Thank you very much." And then you can walk away knowing that the attorney and you are on the same page and you both understand what you're trying to accomplish.
Leh Meriwether: But don't walk away until you've got, "All right, so in the next 60 days, I am to get you the following documents."
Todd Orston: Right. That's part of it. Absolutely.
Leh Meriwether: "You need these documents, and you really need them from me in the next two weeks. So your paralegal can start drafting a settlement proposal." "Yep. I need that. Okay. All right. But you're going to take care of, because I don't have access to these other documents. You're going to address some discovery, what's called request for production of documents on the other side. So we can get that. So we can work on the settlement proposal." "Yes." "Okay, great." And the other thing I say is if that lawyer is really busy, then go ahead and volunteer to type up all that. Type it up all for them.
Todd Orston: As I always say, the more you do, the less the attorney has to do. So you want to save money, those are ways to save some money. And again, it also allows you to review what you talked about and say, "You know hat? Hold on one second. If this is what I said, that's not really what my goal is." Or if the attorney said X, Y, Z, maybe I don't understand exactly what the attorney now wants. So it will only help you to better identify what the plan should be. So doing that work, I agree with you that that's a good option.
Leh Meriwether: And here's a little tip too. Email it to the lawyer and their staff. So if there's a particular paralegal that works with lawyer, CC the paralegal. Because sometimes lawyers may be in a crazy cycle or they had to run out to run across the street to a court appearance or whatnot. And that they didn't have a chance to relate all the content of that meeting with their paralegal. Or maybe they, like some of the lawyers in our firm, their handwriting is terrible and the paralegal can't quite read it.
Leh Meriwether: But if you type it up and send it to both of them, often a good paralegal will take that information and put all the deadlines on the lawyer's calendar so they're aware of it. Not to mention the paralegal's going to put your deadlines on their calendar. They will tend to follow up with you if you were supposed to deliver something to them.
Leh Meriwether: And up next, we're going to wrap up everything and we're going to talk about the what of the case management plan. And give a couple of examples of how we actually came up with a really deep case management plan that we followed to the letter, the whole case.
Leh Meriwether: Welcome everyone. I'm Leh Meriwether, with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether & Tharp, and you're listening to the Meriwether & Tharp Show. If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online in atlantadivorceteam.com. If you want to listen to other segments of this show, our previous shows, you can listen to us at divorceteamradio.com, where we also have transcripts of the shows.
Leh Meriwether: So we've been talking about the most exciting topic we've talked about in awhile. Case management plans.
Todd Orston: Well, when you say it that way.
Leh Meriwether: Now it's one of those things where on the surface it's just like how's that exciting? It's one of those things where it's not the most exciting topic, but it's very, very important and it can help make sure you and your legal team are all on the same page about your goals. I'm glad you pointed it out last segment, the goals as well as the action items to achieve those goals.
Leh Meriwether: And we've talked about the why, why it's so important. We've talked about the when, when you should do it, and sort of the how of making it happen. Now we're going to talk about the what. We've touched on some of the what, but we're going to really drive it home in this last segment. And the first thing is come up with a general timeline of your case. It probably will be detailed. You really only have details for the first 60 or 90 days, because human nature can be chaotic. And of course, our court system can be unpredictable sometimes, you're not sure when you're going to get a court date, that sort of thing. Whenever you're dealing with a lot of human interaction, it's more difficult to really lay out an exact precise timeline. But try to get as precise as you can the first 60 or 90 days. And if you want, you can go deeper than that. But the deeper you go, the longer out you go, the more general it's going to be.
Todd Orston: Yeah, and keep in mind if you're dealing with something, a case and it's going to be uncontested, you don't need to jump through all these hoops. We're talking about a case where at least one of the issues that are in your case are going to be contested. And that means that you're not going to see eye to eye with the other party, which means that you have to prepare your best case, make the best arguments necessary.
Todd Orston: So I agree with you. Coming up with a timeline, especially if you do the work. There are some attorneys where it'll be like, "Yeah, come on in and we'll prepare it." Okay, that's great. Fantastic. But you just spent three hours with an attorney to go over a timeline and create a timeline. Give it an effort outside of the presence of your attorney. Just try. And actually, if you know you're heading into a divorce, I'm now telling you. If you know that let's say custody is going to be an issue, come up with a timeline. People will call and they'll tell a story.
Todd Orston: "And the child lived with me, but then the child lived with her, and then the child did this, and then I did that." [inaudible 00:35:46]. And I'll look at them and I'll say, "Listen, that's great. I'm taking some notes. Something tells me you're scratching the surface. You've probably hit maybe 20% of what's going to be valuable in terms of information. Why don't you go home and sit down, it's nice, it's quiet. And then come up with a timeline, tell me when these things happened, and then give it to me. And I'll take from that what I think we need in order to properly present your case. So do that. And it can be invaluable because it really paints a great picture for the attorney when you're trying to make some of these points."
Leh Meriwether: That to do item actually will go into your case management plan.
Todd Orston: That's right.
Leh Meriwether: But I have had situations where a client came to us, it was a case involving parental alienation. So it was a modification of custody and the allegation was the father was alienating the affections of the children from their mother. But costs were a big concern for her. So she said, we talked about trying to do an estimate along with a timeline, estimate of costs. So I explained to her upfront, "This is going to cost you some money. You want me to go this detailed and do my best to predict what's going to happen in your case. I'm going to do it." And we wound up charging her about $1,500 because there was a lot of time put into it.
Leh Meriwether: But I will say we laid out her entire case, what was going to happen we thought in the next 18 months very specifically. And along with the cost associated with it. And the advantage for her was that she was able to basically get a loan on the 401(k) I believe is where it was to fund the litigation. So she didn't pay us, and I think the tally was 50 grand what I had. She set that money aside. Didn't pay us up front, I wasn't asking for it up front. But the interesting thing is we finished the case earlier, and under budget too.
Leh Meriwether: Because the advantage was she saw all the work that we might have to do, and she did a lot of it herself. And so she set herself up for success, and we won. We won that case. We were able to prove parental alienation. So that plan, that $1,500 was so worth it. I think we came eight grand under budget I think. Which is pretty impressive, because a lot of times there's a lot of chaos that goes on. It really is hard to predict it. But she was willing to pay me to sit down and really think through it, all the different scenarios. So I had a number of if this, then that, and it was worth it to her.
Todd Orston: Yeah. And again, it's not just for peace of mind. It allows you to structure the approach to the case. It allows you to basically come up with a strategy that you believe is the best one possible to gather information and present to the court. And therefore, to me and to you, it's an invaluable tool that if it's done well, it really is a recipe or a part of the recipe for success.
Leh Meriwether: Yeah. I have another case too that's just a side note where the client wanted me to give an estimate. Now he didn't want me to go deep like I did for her. And I did. This is just one of those anecdotal funny things. And the client was upset at one point and was taking it out on us. He called and said, "This is just taking too long. What's going on? What can you do to accelerate it?" Before I billed him for a long conversation. I said, "Can we pull out the case management plan we did a while back?" "Okay, I'll pull it out." I'm like, "All right, where are we in your case, what was the last thing we did?" "Well we just had mediation." "Okay. Pull out that timeline. When did I say we were going to have mediation in the timeline?" "You said it was going to be a month and a half from now." "So we're actually a month and a half ahead of schedule." "Oh yeah, we are. Nevermind then." So the conversation went from a 30 minute or an hour long conversation to really 10 minutes.
Leh Meriwether: And once he realized he just let his anxiousness take over and he forgot that we had actually talked about the speed of law and how long it would take. But he never called me again about the process and how long it takes because he remembered it ... and he told me later every time he got upset or anxious, he just went back to that case management plan. And I remember the timeline, we were still within the timeline of the events as I laid out. And he didn't spend money calling his legal team to help.
Leh Meriwether: So little particulars, we're going to wrap up with. It's important to set deadlines in your case management plan. And the reason is obviously there's court deadlines, you've got to know the court deadlines and your lawyer's got to know them. But you need to make sure the lawyer lets you know of a court deadline. A perfect example is in Georgia, you can use affidavits as testimony and a temporary hearing. It's the only exception to that. Normally a witness needs to be present in the courtroom, but that affidavit can't get into court unless you've turned it over to the opposing side 24 hours in advance. So that's a deadline you got to know about.
Leh Meriwether: But most people procrastinate. And so for yourself, if you say, "All right, I'm going to get these financial documents for my lawyer," or, "I'm going to get these medical records pertaining to the children for my lawyer." Create a deadline for yourself. Maybe two weeks out, three weeks out. But without that deadline, I could tell you that the clients that don't put the deadline down or maybe I was a little slack when I was putting together this case manager, I forgot to put that deadline down. When I have not put a deadline down for the client, I did not get the documents timely.
Todd Orston: Yeah. And understand from our point of view if we don't get those documents, that can impact our ability to prove certain things, meaning we don't have the evidence to now prove whatever it is that we're trying to prove. So that means that unfortunately, we could say something to the court, but we have nothing to back it up.
Leh Meriwether: Yup.
Todd Orston: And on top of that, if you give it to us at the last minute, we don't have the time to properly analyze the information. So your failure to provide the information in a timely manner pursuant to a schedule can really create, it can hamper the efforts of the attorney because they don't have enough time.
Todd Orston: We have had cases where, even recently. We've had cases where we have made request after request of the client. We said, "Hey, we thought we were going to get it by this date. We have court in two weeks." Then it's, "We have court in a week," then it's, "We have court in three days." Then it's, "Hey, we have court tomorrow. We need this information. Otherwise, the things you're trying to accomplish, we won't be able to accomplish because I can't prove it."
Leh Meriwether: Right. All right, so one last thing is when you're sitting down there with the lawyer talking about the next steps that may happen, lawyers get into it like things are almost habitual for us as far as the process of a case. Don't be afraid to ask questions. "Well, what happens if my husband doesn't turn over all the documents that we request? What happens if my wife won't agree to this parenting plan?"
Leh Meriwether: So ask a few what if questions. It knocks us out of the process that we may be working through. There's a great book out there called What Doctors Think, and the author was a doctor and he said, "Ask a doctor, knock them out of his trained questioning by asking them, 'What do you think is the worst possible outcome for me? Or what is the worst case scenario here?'" But so, well, the worst case scenario here is we're out of time again. Hey everyone, thanks so much for listening.