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So, you're facing a separation or divorce and you know you have to choose a divorce lawyer. You have heard the horror stories about high fees, bad outcomes and you are expecting your spouse to hire Attila the Hun in a suit.
The issues you face involve the most important things in your life. Who can you trust to you help protect your child custody rights, your financial future, and not bankrupt you with legal fees in the process?
The fact is that if you were to survey the satisfaction of ten people using the same divorce attorney for similar cases, you would not get the same response from each client. The reason is that people have different expectations, personalities, and opinions of value.
The good news is that with a little preparation and honest self-evaluation, you can increase the odds of finding the right divorce lawyer to help protect all that you hold dear. Below we lay out five simple steps to help you find the right divorce lawyer for you.
Divorce Lawyers are Not One Size Fits All
Some outstanding divorce lawyers I know struggle with keeping their clients happy because their personalities are difficult and they come off as either uncaring or cold. Other very likable divorce attorneys who ooze empathy from every pore struggle with convincing their clients that they are "tough" enough for divorce court. Others charge so darn much that everyone hates them.
All that being said, lets explore the best way to match you and your case with the best divorce lawyer.
5 Tips to Help You Choose the Right Divorce Attorney
1. BUDGET: What kind of attorney can you afford?
The one constant I find out there is that nobody is happy with an attorney that quits on them. I know I wouldn't be.
Unfortunately, that result is often pre-ordained by people choosing an attorney that charges $400.00 or more per hour. Unless you are simply seeking a little information or maybe a deed prepared, you are not going to be able to hire an attorney who charges this much and spend less than five or ten thousand dollars FOR A SIMPLE SETTLEMENT.
Notice I did not mention a trial or contested case above. For an actual trial of let's say, a tough child custody and child support case, you are probably looking at fifty to seventy-five thousand dollars. Double that for alimony and property division trials.
Can you afford that? If not, do not choose this attorney.
You are only going to deplete your war chest and the attorney will quit before you are finished. The fact is that price has no direct relationship with the quality of legal services you receive or the outcome. The good news is that you do not have to hire this attorney to get great divorce representation.
2. Know YOURSELF and What YOU Need
Are you a detail-oriented control freak? Maybe you are a passive person who wants an attorney to handle all the "bad stuff" and guide you towards the best outcome while you focus on other things. Maybe you want an attorney to cry with you as you explain what's happened and then help you squeeze the eyeballs out of that good for nothing soon to be ex of yours.
Perhaps you are a combination of all three, and you want an attorney that will educate and include you in the case planning, offer thoughtful guidance and encouragement, as well as actually demonstrating that they care about you and your case instead of treating you like a number.
Review your prospective attorney's advertising material and website. Speak with the attorney and determine for yourself if this divorce lawyer is a good fit for you or not.
3. Ask the Right Questions
These are the basic questions you should ask your attorney. Naturally, you need to ask many more based upon your situation but do not fail to ask these:
- How long have you been practicing divorce law in this area?
- How many cases like mine have you actually taken to trial?
- What process do you recommend for my case to reach a resolution?
- Can you provide me with a range or cost estimate for my case?
Generally you are better off hiring an attorney with reasonable work experience, a thoughtful process for handling cases, a price range you can afford, as well a willingness to take a case to trial if it becomes necessary.
4. Avoid Common Mistakes
Cowboy Dan and Calamity Jane are great characters and would really help out in a gunfight, but they don't allow guns in court.
Do not spend your money helping a lawyer deal with a Napoleonic complex or a chip on the shoulder.
My law firm motto is "aggressive representation when you need it the most," so I agree with aggressiveness, but only in the sense of aggressively pursuing our client's legal rights and remedies. I do not create fights where none should exist. I have seen some very high-priced and highly advertised firms spend tens of thousands of dollars of their client's money creating fights where none exist all because their client was angry and they were willing to spend the money.
The fighting served no legal purpose and I think it does discredit to our profession. There are enough fights to be had for legitimate reasons. Avoid gunslingers and braggards like the plague because you are the one buying the bullets and it will only make your case harder.
Being on television is a great way for a lawyer to get clients.
Up until a few years ago, television advertising was considered unethical for attorneys, but since it has been ruled ethical, divorce lawyers have taken to the airwaves like ducks to water.
TV ads are expensive, and your fees are going to reflect this fact regardless of how skilled the attorney is. Do not hire someone just because you saw them on television. You are the one who pays for television advertising, and you are much more likely to pick the right lawyer by doing your own search, checking client reviews, and meeting with that attorney face to face.
Do not expect your attorney to know your expectations or realize when and if you are frustrated, confused, or otherwise unhappy.
Most good attorneys respond well to sincere and thoughtful questions or concerns. I know as a divorce attorney I have to make assumptions about how much of what I say my client understands, and whenever two people talk about complicated issues there will also be room for interpretation and misunderstandings.
Do not let any concerns or questions you have fester into anger, resentment, or bad feelings. Just like in any relationship, express how you feel and ask questions when you do not understand. You will be surprised how happy your attorney will be to answer questions when you ask them. Any good attorney wants happy, informed clients.