Now that you and your partner have made the difficult decision to get divorced, you have to set about the task of finding a lawyer. Unfortunately, it’s not something that you can resolve with just a simple Google search. Before settling on a divorce lawyer to oversee your proceedings, you have to make sure you haven’t left a single stone unturned.
“A divorce attorney takes on many different roles over the course of your case,” says Austin family law and divorce lawyer Abraham Kant. “At separate times, or all at once, your attorney will be your advisor, spokesperson, negotiator, and trusted confidant. They need to not only know the law, but be able to explain it clearly, without condescension. As such, they must be personable, knowledgeable and approachable.”
Keeping these criteria firmly in mind, here’s what else you should look for when finding for the right divorce lawyer.
Do. Your. Homework.
Just like any other major decision in your life, you want to make sure that you go into the divorce process with your eyes wide open and as well-informed as possible.
“You do not want to hire the wrong divorce attorney to represent you only to discover you need to change divorce attorneys in the middle of your case,” says Scottsdale-based divorce attorney Christopher Hildebrand. “You should consider how long each attorney has practiced divorce and family law. The longer a lawyer has practiced the more skilled he or should become in bringing your case to a good resolution.”
It’s also important, Hildebrand adds, to evaluate the temperament of the attorneys you interview to ensure the lawyer does not cause more problems than provide solutions in your divorce, which he adds will only “increase the time and money you will spend on your divorce.”
Know What You Want
Before you settle on a lawyer, ask yourself what it is that you’re hoping to get from them. Are you looking for a lawyer who’s emotionally supportive? An impersonal but focused attorney? Are you looking for a team or a one-on-one personal experience?
“Define what it is you want in your representation,” advises Beverly Hills divorce lawyer Sarah A. Intelligator. “If you retain a large firm, you may or may not get as personal an experience as you would if you retained a sole practitioner.” This isn’t to say you can’t enjoy a personal experience at a large firm, but you should set your expectations appropriately. “If the personal experience is not as important to you as the comfort of knowing that, at all times, one or several attorneys are working on your case, regardless of whether your attorney is out of town or predisposed with another matter,” adds Intelligator, “then a sole practitioner or a small firm may not be the right fit for you.”
If you know of friends or family members who’ve been through a divorce, definitely reach out to them and ask for advice and suggestions on who they went with and how it worked out for them. “However,” says Benjamin Valencia II, a partner and certified family law specialist, with Meyer, Olson, Lowy, and Meyers, “it is important to remember that every case is different and just because one lawyer was great in a friend’s case does not mean he is right for your case.”
Meet with More Than One Lawyer
Part of the research process for a good divorce lawyer should include multiple meetings with various attorneys. This will allow you to see how each lawyer will approach your divorce and what they will do to build the best possible case.
“People absolutely should meet with more than one divorce lawyer before deciding who to retain,” says Hildebrand. “You will likely see a variety of different personalities and responses to your questions. You should also be asking yourself whether what the different attorneys are telling you makes logical sense. If you receive advice that seems too good to be true or does not make sense, keep interviewing attorneys until you find one that does make sense.”
Ask the Right Questions
When meeting with an attorney, don’t waste time asking questions about their experience, as that is information you should have gathered already from your research. Also, don’t bother asking how many cases you’re attorney has “won,” because the term “win” is meaningless in a divorce settlement and each case is unique enough that one person’s outcome will not necessarily be reflective of yours.
“You should explain everything about your family, your finances, and your concerns about the divorce,” says Hildebrand. and ask the attorney “what is the likely outcome of the various issues in the divorce” and “what can you do to get a reasonable result for me”.
Make Sure They Stay in Touch
Lawyers are busy, obviously, but that doesn’t mean that a call or email from you shouldn’t be returned as quickly as possible. Even a simple email back acknowledging that they’ve received your message and will get back to you soon can go a long way.
“You should never feel ignored or that your attorney is so busy with other clients that he or she does not have time for your case,” says Intelligator. “Failure to promptly return calls and emails may be a sign your attorney is more preoccupied with your wallet than your human experience.”
Make sure you review the retainer agreement and that you understand everything as it relates to the costs you will incur by hiring your lawyer. This includes everything from hourly rates to office expenses.
“It is also important to see whether or not your attorney has minimal billing requirements for certain things like phone calls, pleadings, or letters,” says family law attorney Raymond Hekmat. “If so, you may want to save up a few questions to fill up that minimal time rather than making a bunch of two-minute phone calls and be billed the minimum for each of them.”
Beware of Sharks
An attorney who promises that he or she will get you anything you want in a divorce settlement is a red flag. This kind of combative approach will only lead to more headaches in the long run. Stick with an attorney who listens to the details and makes an honest assessment based on the facts instead of coming out with guns blazing. “Some of the worst divorce lawyers I have met claim to be aggressive divorce attorneys who end up making everyone’s lives significantly more complicated, expensive, and emotionally consuming,” advices Hildebrand. “Divorce is not the time to start picking more fights than you already have. Divorce is about resolving the disagreements you already have.”
Go With Your Gut
Assuming you’ve done your due diligence and research, there’s also something to be said for first impressions. And, depending on what that first impression tells you, you should pay attention. If something feels off, listen to that feeling and respond accordingly. “Nothing beats that ‘gut instinct’ when you first meet someone,” says Valencia. “Chances are you will know the right lawyer for you when you meet him or her. Don’t let plaques on a wall or an Armani suit dissuade you from your first instinct which is usually the right one.”