Q: Do you charge for a consultation?
A: Yes. Currently, the case assessment fee at the Divorce and Family Law Center is $200. Most people assume lawyers do not charge for consultations. This is true if you are talking to a personal injury attorney. Most personal injury attorneys screen their calls through an operator or secretary and only consult with clients who meet whatever criteria the attorney has established. Personal injury attorneys take their fee from the recovery on a contingent fee basis. In other words, they are paid from any settlement or award. Normally the payment is one-third of any recovery.
On the other hand, a Divorce or Family Law attorney is paid for their time and their expertise. No one goes to the doctor for an examination and expects a free consultation. The same concept applies in the case of a domestic and family law attorney meeting with a potential client regarding a legal problem. As Abraham Lincoln once stated: “A lawyer’s time and advice are his stock in trade.”
Some divorce and family law attorneys will meet and not charge for a consultation. That is their right. I am of the belief that you get what you pay for. I try to give value for a consultation.
Q: What kind of cases do you handle in your practice?
A: I am a Divorce and Family Law attorney. This essentially means I handle any case involving domestic relations law or any case that is covered by Title 6(A) of the Tennessee Code Annotated.
Essentially, I handle divorces, post-divorce issues, custody, visitation, child support, paternity, contempt actions (petitions for contempt for failure to allow visitation or a petition for contempt for failure to pay child support), adoptions, name change, conservatorships, simple wills, living wills, and powers of attorney.
I do practice criminal law or criminal defense as well. Most of my criminal law practice involves crimes of a serious nature. For example, most of my jury trials have involved charges such as murder, attempted murder, rape, sale and delivery of a controlled substance and DUI. You may contact my office and set up a consultation if you have a criminal law matter. If it is a case I choose not to handle, I would be glad to refer the case to a competent attorney.
Q: What are the office hours at Divorce and Family Law Center?
A: The office is open Monday through Thursday 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. except for Friday when the hours are 8:30 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. Generally, the office is closed between 12:00 and 1:00 p.m. for lunch. I do make appointments after hours and on the weekends depending upon the client’s or potential client’s needs and my availability.
Q: Why do you have a communication policy that states you do not take unscheduled phone calls?
A: Essentially my communication policy and the policy at Divorce and Family Law Center is I do not accept inbound unscheduled phone calls or walk-ups during the day. This policy makes me much more productive and focused on my work. Focusing on a case or problem without interruptions will result in better quality work and sometimes fewer billable hours. That saves the client money.
You can always schedule an in-person or phone appointment, usually within 24-48 hours. My staff is experienced at recognizing true emergencies and will bring true emergencies to my immediate attention. The best way to contact me is to call the office and make a “phone appointment”.
If there is one thing I dislike more than anything it is playing the “phone tag” game. If you call my office expecting to speak with me, more often than not you will be disappointed. I am usually in court, meeting with a client, or preparing for court, etc. If you leave a message and I call back and you are not available, we have begun the “phone tag” game which can last for hours or days. Therefore, schedule a phone appointment.
Knowing when to call or to expect a call is much better and satisfying than calling each other and missing each other. A phone appointment insures you and I both know for sure when we are available to speak on the phone. It saves us both time and money.
Q: Where is your office located?
A: We are located at 140 North Ocoee Street which is directly across the street from the Bradley County Courthouse in Cleveland, Tennessee. The Bradley County Courthouse has two entrances: one on North Ocoee Street and the other on Broad Street. The Ocoee Street entrance has the large handicap ramp and the memorials dedicated to our veterans who have served our country. My office is located in what used to be known as the Bell and Associates Law Office and two doors down from what used to be known as Diamond Lil’s Restaurant. It is now known as the Cobblestone Grill. The office is marked with several signs with “Jerry Hoffer Attorney at Law” or “Divorce and Family Law Center”. We have a map on this website marking the location of our office.
Q: How come you cannot tell me with certainty what will happen in my case, or how come you cannot guarantee the outcome of my case?
A: A good attorney will never make a guarantee about the outcome of a case. No attorney should tell a client exactly what will happen in a given case. An attorney should only tell a client the best case scenario, the worst case scenario, and the most likely scenario and then advise the client. The client makes the final decision.
Some judges are very predictable with reference to a certain set of facts. Some judges are unpredictable no matter what kind of case is before them. What I generally do is take all factors into consideration and evaluate your case based upon the facts. We can then talk about what a judge may or may not do and your options. Every case is different. Do not compare your case to others.
Q: How much will my case cost?
A: Our office receives numerous calls every day from individuals asking about the price of a divorce, the cost of a custody fight, the cost to establish child support, the price of a petition for contempt, etc. Everyone wants to know the “cost” or “price” with reference to their particular Divorce or Family law problem. That is a natural question and I would probably want to know the same thing. I know when I go to the dentist for dental work I want to know how much it is going to cost.
Uncontested divorces, name changes, uncontested adoptions and the like are usually quoted as a flat fee. The flat fee will also include a filing fee the court clerk requires.
Contested matters are different. I generally charge a retainer which is designed to encompass all of the costs and billable hours, if possible. Sometimes the retainer is exhausted. If this happens, I reevaluate as to where the case is and require another retainer unless other agreements are reached between my office and the client. You may request a copy of the retainer agreement I use.
Q: What is mediation?
A: Mediation is a process required by law in all divorce actions and post-divorce actions. (By “actions” I mean lawsuits). Simply put, mediation is where the parties and their attorneys meet with a person designated as a mediator in order to attempt a settlement of some or all issues with reference to the case.
Most mediators are certified by the Tennessee Supreme Court pursuant to Rule 31 of the Tennessee Supreme Court Rules. Mediators cannot represent either party in the process. Mediators do not advocate a position for or against either party. Rather, mediators are independent, unbiased individuals who attempt to facilitate communication in order for the parties to reach a settlement between the parties. Mediation is a confidential process. No discussions or communications arising during mediation will be presented to the court in any shape, form or fashion. No communications or discussions can be divulged by the mediator, counsel, or parties after mediation. All of what is said is confidential and inadmissible evidence. The only communication mediators have with the court is a report that is filed which notes for the court whether or not mediation occurred and whether or not any issues were settled.
Should a settlement be reached in whole or in part at mediation, the settlement will be reduced to writing and the parties and their attorneys will sign the agreement.
It is well settled in Tennessee case law a signed mediation agreement is a binding agreement. In other words, you cannot change your mind after walking out of mediation after signing an agreement.
The only people allowed in the mediation process are the attorneys, the parties and the mediator. New wives, new husbands, family members, other relatives, and other well-meaning friends or individuals shall not to take part in the mediation process; they will not be allowed in the rooms used for mediation. Generally, most mediators will separate the parties into different rooms while the mediator travels back and forth between the rooms to communicate offers and counter-offers. There are a few mediators who mediate with every party and attorney in the same room.
Mediation costs money. Both parties are generally expected to equally divide the cost of mediation.
Q: I notice you used to be a Rule 31 Mediator. Can I use you as my mediator as well as my divorce attorney? Why are you no longer a Rule 31 Mediator?
A: No. A mediator cannot be your divorce attorney. This is a pure conflict of interest. Mediators are independent and unbiased third parties who facilitate communication between parties in an effort to effectuate an agreement. When I act as your attorney, I will be an advocate for you. When I am a mediator, I am a disinterested their party. I cannot do both.
I am not longer a certified Rule 31 Mediator because I simply got tired of paying the fees. Some of the best mediators I have experienced are not Rule 31 Mediators. They are just good lawyers. After several years of being certified, I felt like I was paying an annual fee for nothing more than a title.