Your divorce lawyer is a big part of your divorce process, whether your divorce is relatively simple or complicated. This is the person you will be trusting to handle a very important and sensitive case during a trying and emotional period of your life. Regardless of the state you reside in, it's important you hire the right attorney for the job from the very start.
You are not obligated to use the first divorce attorney you speak to, so this means you have the opportunity to interview more than one attorney and select the person who is the best fit for your case. As you consider which attorney to hire, remember to ask the following questions during the interview process and consider the answers you receive.
What Type of Cases Do You Normally Handle?
Some lawyers are involved in many different areas of law, while others largely practice in one area. Keep in mind that attorneys who are involved in multiple areas of law may not be as focused on divorce cases as those who primarily handle them. Similarly, a lawyer who mainly handles divorce cases will often have more experience with the court system and procedures involved than an attorney who doesn't. Of course, this does not mean that an attorney whose primary focus isn't divorce can't handle your case properly, but it is something to consider, especially if your case has complex facets or is likely to go to trial.
You will also want to find out how long the attorney has been practicing family law. As with anything else, the more experience an attorney has, the better prepared they are to handle your case.
What is Your Fee Structure?
It's best to know at the start how much your divorce may cost overall. Sometimes, a divorce proceeding can go on for years, so it's wise to know how this can affect your finances. Find out the answers to the questions about costs below.
- Does the attorney charge by the hour or a fixed fee?
- For hourly attorneys, does the charge include time spent answering questions, sending e-mails, meeting with paralegals or making calls? In what increments of time is the billing done?
- Are there different rates for time in court and time spent out of court?
- Is a retainer required? If so, what is the retainer amount?
You can also ask the attorney about the costs of different experts who may be involved in your case, such as property appraisers or child therapists, and how you will be charged for those professional services.
What is Your Strategy for the Case? How Long Will it Take?
You need to be comfortable with and believe in the attorney's plan for your case. While it's normal to have some misgivings and to ask for an explanation of moves you don't understand or fully agree with, by the end, you should be on board for what your attorney feels is the best plan for your divorce. If not, it's time to move onto the next attorney on your prospect list.
Your attorney won't be able to provide an exact timeline for your divorce, but an experienced attorney can give you a general estimate. If they don't feel comfortable doing so because of certain aspects of your case, they should be able to explain that to you as well.
How Do You Communicate with Clients?
Communication between you and your attorney is very important to the outcome of your case and your experience during it. Ask how the attorney will contact you–email, telephone, letter–and how often. Ask whether they will contact you directly or via a team member, and what the most common communication mode will be. Find out what the average turnaround time is for a reply to a message or call from a client.
Who Else Will Work on My Case?
Many attorneys have professionals who assist them, including paralegals and legal secretaries. Ask if anyone else in the office will be working on your case in a significant way, and if so, if you are able to meet them. If, for example, a paralegal will be the one answering some of your questions, you want to find out that you are as confident in and as comfortable with them as the attorney before you decide to go with that law firm.
Can I Work With My Spouse?
The idea that having a “bulldog” divorce lawyer for a divorce case is the best way to go is a myth. In some cases, of course, a more aggressive, court-minded attorney approach may be needed, but rarely is that necessary all the time, and rarely is it needed at the start of a divorce. Going back and forth to court for a divorce is usually more expensive, more stressful and drags out the case longer for everyone involved. In addition, when a judge makes major life choices for you because you and your spouse can't decide on your own, you're likely to be less than happy with the outcome.
Make sure your attorney is open to working with your spouse to reach agreements so you can avoid a prolonged, expensive divorce. Of course, you still want an attorney who is willing to go to court and has experience in divorce trials in case it becomes necessary in your divorce. What you are looking for here is an attorney who doesn't believe that a very aggressive approach is the only way to go.
Ultimately, you will want to select an attorney who you trust and feel confident in, ideally one who has experience in divorce and specifically the issues that will be a part of your own case. Having the right attorney on your side won't necessarily make the journey any easier, but it will prevent the addition of unnecessary stress, frustration and other negative emotions into your case, giving you the space you need to focus on your well-being and your family as the process unfolds.