For most people, choosing a divorce lawyer is a daunting task. You are about to embark on an unfamiliar and treacherous journey, and, to make things worse, you have to do this while you are in the grip of extreme emotional turmoil.
Guiding you through this traumatic life experience should be a lawyer whom you can trust completely, and with whom you can establish a close working relationship.
Throughout the selection process, remind yourself that all lawyers are not created equal. Protect yourself by carefully considering the following ten questions before parting with that retainer check:
- Is the lawyer’s practice focused exclusively on family law?
Choose a lawyer who exclusively, or at least primarily, practices in the area of matrimonial and family law. This is a highly complex area of practice that is constantly evolving. You need a knowledgeable and experienced lawyer in your corner, an ally who is intimately familiar with the intricacies of divorce law and related matters. You cannot leave the welfare of your children and your future financial security in the hands of a “Jack of All Trades, Master of None.”
- Is the lawyer attentive when you are talking?
It is crucial to have a face-to-face initial consultation with any potential lawyer before signing a retainer agreement. An initial consultation is a golden opportunity to assess whether the attorney will treat you with compassion and dedication, or whether you will be just another number in his or her book and a faceless file stacked in the corner of a cluttered office. If the lawyer is checking e-mails, typing away on a smartphone, or taking other calls during your meeting, you should go elsewhere – double time!
- Does the lawyer have an office policy ensuring the timely return of your phone calls?
Communication between attorney and client is key in any divorce action. A lawyer should be reachable by phone and e-mail. Unfortunately, the main complaint of many clients regarding their divorce lawyers is that they fail to respond in a timely manner to calls, e-mails and other communications. Ask any lawyer that you consider retaining whether there is an office policy regarding the prompt return of phone calls and e-mails. If the lawyer hesitates, there most likely is no such policy, and you will be frustrated to no end in trying to get in touch with him or her.
- Is the lawyer selective in accepting cases?
Does the lawyer you are considering accept every client that walks through the door, or does his or her practice consist of fewer, but select, clients? In order to provide dedicated and comprehensive service, an attorney owes it to existing clients to be selective in accepting new matters.
- Is your personality compatible with the lawyer’s personality?
In order to work effectively with your lawyer, you must be comfortable with him or her on a personal level. Make sure that the lawyer you retain is someone with whom you can talk, to whom you can listen, and with whom you will be able to share the most intimate details of your life and finances.
- Does the lawyer treat you with compassion and empathy?
Make sure that the lawyer treats you as the unique individual that you are. A good lawyer will be eager to listen to your marital history, and will make sure to fully understand your priorities and objectives.
- Will the lawyer handle you case personally or will your matter be delegated to an associate or paralegal?
Find out who will handle your case. Will it be the attorney you are meeting with during the initial consultation? If any portion of your case is going to be delegated to an associate or paralegal, you should insist on meeting that lawyer or paralegal as well. You must be completely satisfied that any other staff member working on your case is competent and experienced.
- Is the lawyer willing to educate you and to answer your questions?
Your divorce lawyer must be a good communicator and be willing to answer all your questions. Any skilled divorce lawyer knows that educated clients are better equipped to make sound and informed decisions with regard to their own and their family’s future.
- Is the lawyer being honest with you or are you being promised the sun, the moon and the stars?
Be very wary of any lawyer who guarantees a specific result in your divorce case. Every case has strengths and weaknesses, and your lawyer should point out both. You can trust an attorney who tells it like it is – who is candid with you about your chances of obtaining a particular outcome. Think before retaining an attorney who simply tells you what you want to hear.
- Does the lawyer underscore that your children’s best interest is of paramount importance?
No parent should ever use children as pawns in a divorce action. Your children’s welfare and best interest should be your paramount priority. Any good lawyer will understand and support this objective, and will caution you that manipulating your children will be devastating to them personally and to your chances of successfully co-parenting with your former spouse.
If you need to hire a divorce lawyer, be sure to do your homework and to consider these questions before signing a retainer agreement. The last thing you need during your divorce case is to waste your precious energy on disagreements with your lawyer. So, be sure to hire the right lawyer right from the start, and save yourself the agony of lost time, big bills and endless frustration.