You are mad. Or shell shocked. Anyway, you’re upset and you need a divorce lawyer. Are you in a state to hire a lawyer rationally? Of course you are!
1. GET REFERRALS
Here are your sources:
A. Lawyers. Lawyers are usually in the best position to refer you to good divorce lawyers based upon their reputation for competence, ethics and professionalism. Be sure to ask how your source knows, or knows of, the referral.
B. Other professionals. Accountants, psychologists, financial planners, bankers and others often know and can recommend attorneys based upon observations of how well the lawyer represented the source’s client or friend.
C. Friends (or friends of friends). When getting names from friends, find out how happy the client was with the lawyer’s representation, not whether they “won” or “lost,” which is not often a relevant term in a divorce case.
D. Bar Association Referrals. Bar associations often maintain referral lists. The members usually pay to keep their names on the list by an annual fee or share of the fees charged, or both. These lists are not all-inclusive nor do they guarantee quality.
E. On Line Listings. There are many on-line listings of lawyers such as lawyers.com and martindale.com. These listings do not guarantee any level of quality, but are sometimes useful sources of information, including Martindale-Hubbell’s rating of lawyers by their peers.
2. INTERVIEW LAWYERS
Select a few lawyers (3-5) and interview them. Keep in mind that you may have to pay for the consultation, but be sure you have adequate time to assess the lawyer and gather the information you need.
Consider these factors:
A. Your comfort level. Will you be able to tell this person about the worst parts of your marriage? If not, keep shopping.
B. Style. No, not Armani! How does this person’s manner fit with yours? Does he/she seem confident, knowledgeable, professional and supportive? Are they in control of their law practice or overwhelmed by it? Some lawyers take on too much and cannot keep up. If you hire a harried lawyer, you may wait days or weeks for a return phone call and you may get less effective representation.
C. Information. Does the lawyer explain the legal aspects of your case in an understandable way? You should be well informed about the legal process and any unique legal issues which apply to your case. Nothing in your case should be so complex that you cannot understand it.
D. Supportiveness. Does this person listen to you? Your attorney should be willing to listen without cutting you off or dismissing your fears or your desires.
E. Decision making. Will this person share decision making with you or dictate to you? You should be a partner with your lawyer in making major decisions in how you are to be represented. Hiring a lawyer who is not receptive to such a working relationship is giving up the right to influence the outcome of your case.
F. Cost. The hourly fee is only part of the story. An experienced lawyer charges a higher fee, but often works more efficiently than a less experienced lawyer. You need to know the hourly rate, the amount of the retainer (or deposit toward fees), whether payment arrangements can be made, and the chances that your spouse will have to contribute to your fees or vice versa. How many lawyers will be assigned to the case? Your lawyer should be willing to address all of these issues in a very straightforward manner.
Warning! If the lawyer says just pay a retainer and your spouse will have to pay the balance, head for the door. He will be looking to your spouse for his fees from that day forward and may sacrifice your interests to insure that his fees are paid.
3. QUESTIONS TO ASK IN THE INTERVIEW
You will probably have many other questions, but these are questions you should ask of any lawyer you interview:
A. What is the procedure for getting a divorce?
B. Does my situation have any special legal issues or problems?
C. How would you handle my case?
D. What are your billing rates and retainer, and do you make payment arrangements?
E. Would you handle the case yourself or assign it to an associate? (If the latter, meet the associate.)
F. Describe your experience in the area of divorce law.
G. What do you expect of me, and what can I do to make the process easier and less expensive?
H. How would you describe your style as a lawyer?
I. What is your greatest strength as a divorce attorney?
4. A FINAL WORD OF ADVICE
You are the person hiring the attorney. Under the law, you can always fire your attorney for any reason or no reason. (The only exception is if the judge thinks you are doing so to delay a trial.)
You are entitled to obtain a second opinion if you are concerned by the way your case is being handled. Don’t hesitate to pay another attorney to look at the situation and give you another opinion. Remember, of course, that it is unlikely that two attorneys would handle the same case in exactly the same way. However, gaining perspective on how your case has been handled never hurts.