Over the weekend I watched a few movies with my husband and cats. While I was watching movies, I heard at least 4 times a character state that they would call their lawyer. Each of the times, the character did not seem to have a previously existing lawyer-client relationship. Additionally, they called a lawyer after business hours or on the weekend. Each of the times the movies showed the character getting immediately in touch with a lawyer. In the real world, this is not how it works -- and I wish Hollywood would show more often that lawyers are not accessible all the time to non-clients. Here's a few of the reasons why Hollywood is so wrong about lawyers-on-demand being able to answer any egal question thrown their way:
- Lawyers are licensed by the state to practice law in that state. This means that they have passed a rigorous exam and are qualified to practice law in that state (and probably only in that state). However, they cannot practice law in other states without being licensed there – and to do so might be a crime and will probably jeopardize their license to practice. Moreover, if a lawyer is licensed in Illinois, she might not know anything about the law in another state, like New York.
- Lawyers might not know anything about areas of law they do not practice. If you have a legal question that falls outside of a lawyer's area of practice, they may not be able to answer it at all, and if they do, they are probably doing so on the basis of classes they took many years ago. It's always best to consult with a lawyer who practices in the area of law you need help with. You would not go to the dentist to have them deliver your baby. Lawyers are similar in that they know about the type of law they practice, and usually not much else about other areas of law.
- Lawyers have a personal life. Just like everyone else, lawyers have families, friends, and hobbies. They can't be expected to be available to answer your calls or emails at all hours of the day or night. If they do, they will probably charge 2 or 3 times their normal hourly rate to answer your middle-of-the-night calls -- if they even take them. Additionally, there is almost nothing an attorney can do (at least a divorce attorney) when the Courts are closed other than charge you to calm you down. Lawyers do not have magic wands to make police release you from custody, to make your ex give you the children or to fix your problem immediately.
- No lawyer is "your lawyer" until such time as they have agreed to represent you. This means that you cannot expect a lawyer to give you free legal advice or to represent you without first signing a contract and paying them.
It's important to remember that lawyers are licensed and regulated professionals that are also people. We do not sit by our phones 24/7 waiting for the next person to call and ask for our help. Instead, we keep regular hours, want to be paid for our efforts as professionals and want to go home in the evenings. Moreover, we are not required to represent any person and can turn down any case we do not want to take on. No matter how Hollywood portrays lawyers, we are not, as a general rule, available on demand at all hours of the day and night for non-clients. I certainly am not. I keep regular hours and rarely have the ability to answer questions (or produce work) on demand.
As for me, I only take uncontested divorces in Illinois. That means I help people turn their agreements with their soon-to-be-ex into the paperwork that gets filed with the courts in St. Clair and Madison Counties, as well as many of the other counties in Southern Illinois, such as Macoupin, Clinton, Washington, etc. I do not take on any cases where the judge will have to determine issues such as who gets the house or the equity in the house when it sells, who spends time with the children and the like. If you can work through the division of your things and time with your kids amicably, reach out through my website or call my office. I work differently than most of my colleagues, as I charge a set price for most of the work I do, rather than bill by the hour.