Choosing A Divorce Attorney
Eight Tips On Choosing A Divorce Attorney
Choosing a divorce attorney, the right divorce attorney, is essential if you want a successful outcome in your divorce. Choose the right attorney, and the divorce process will be as smooth and stress-free as it can possibly be. Choose the wrong attorney, and it could have disastrous consequences. You could wind up with the bombastic, litigious attorney who convinces you to continue litigating. Or you could end up with the incompetent bumbler who wrecks your case and your life for years to come. Worse yet, they could bleed your coffers dry. Here are some tips on choosing the right divorce attorney.
Did They Pay To Get Your Attention?
Not once have I seen the top – or even semi-competent – divorce attorneys appear on the first page of Google. The best attorneys get enough business without advertising. They don’t need sponsored Google results or Facebook ads to drive people in the door. If you come across a divorce attorney on Avvo.com, or LinkedIn, or Google, or Facebook, you’ve likely found the best marketer.
These attorneys appeal to the masses. Their firms are what I’d call “divorce mills” based upon turning over the most cases in the least time. Also, don’t be fooled by awards supposedly bestowed upon your prospective attorney. Most of these recognitions and awards in the legal community are paid for. They weren’t the process of peer-recognition or client satisfaction. Instead, the attorney paid a fee when a flyer came in the mail, telling them “You’ve Been Selected as a Top 40 Attorney in the Divorce Industry – for only $199.99 we’ll feature you in our 2018 edition.”
See who your friends and family who they’ve used. Ask your accountant, your estate planner, and other attorneys who they would use. And don’t just get a recommendation from one person – ask several. If you ask enough people, the same few names will start showing up. Even in massive metro areas, there are only a handful of attorneys who’ll be on the top of everyone’s list. Hell, even ask the attorneys that you interview. “If you were going through a divorce and you had to choose an attorney outside of your firm to represent you, who would it be?” Ask them their opinions about the other attorneys you’re interviewing. While some attorneys will be more than happy to bad-mouth others, there’ll be some relevant information that you’ll glean. Perhaps two or three attorneys mention another’s alcohol problem, or are complimentary regarding another attorney.
Have More Than One Consult.
Most people gather a few attorneys’ names, whittle it down to a couple after some research, and schedule a consult. If that consult goes well, they hire the attorney on the spot. Even though it takes more time, even though it may cost a little more money, and even though it requires you to recount your horror story marriage multiple times, you’re more likely to find the perfect fit if you interview at least three attorneys.
Personality Fit Is Key.
This is someone who you’re entrusting your life with. You should inherently trust their expertise and their advice. It should be someone who fits with your personality. I’ve had clients who felt I was too aggressive and clients who felt I was too soft. Have a frank discussion regarding how you would like to see your case progress and get their take. This doesn’t mean that you should hire someone who seems like they should be your best friend, but it does mean that you should find someone who you believe has your best interest at heart and who can advance those interests.
If you’re someone who needs things broken down simply, do they slow concepts down and explain them to you in a caring manner, or are they terse and short? If you’re someone who likes straightforward advice, do they provide it, or do they waffle with long-winded, unsatisfying answers? Ask them their litigation philosophy. Does it align with how you would like the case to progress? This isn’t to say that, if you want to settle your case, you should hire a pushover who settles every case, or, if you’re certain you need a final trial, that you hire the nastiest litigator in town. However, their litigation philosophy and style should make you feel comfortable with your choice.
Are They Candid?
I’ve sat in on dozens of initial consults where the attorney has told the potential client that anything is possible just to secure a retainer. You want to hear the attorney discuss the difficulties with your case and the realistic outcomes. If someone is promising you something that sounds too good to be true, it likely is. Do they talk only about themselves and their achievements, or are they genuinely trying to understand your case and what you’re going through?
Know Who Will Handle Your Case.
If you’re interviewing a solo practitioner or someone who only works with another attorney or two, it’s more likely than not that the attorney you’re interviewing will be handling most, if not all, of your case. In family law firms of more than a few attorneys, though, there are usually the rainmakers and the associates. Unless your marital estate is worth at least a million dollars, it’s unlikely that the named partner you’re interviewing will be handling your case. Likely, they have an associate or a couple of associates who will be handling the day-to-day issues of your case with some minimal oversight from the main partner.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the associate’s hourly rates is lower and will keep overall fees down, but you want to make sure that you get to meet and interview the associate as well. Since the associate will be your main point of contact and, essentially, the main attorney in charge of your case, you want to vet them just as you would any other attorney.
Hire A Specialist.
Unless you live in a small town, hire someone who only handles divorces and family law matters. If you have no children and custody isn’t an issue, and all you’re dividing up is a checking account, a “dabbler” may suffice. There are far too many pitfalls and intricacies in divorce, though. You shouldn’t put your life and future in the hands of someone who doesn’t eat, sleep, and breathe family law. Experience matters, and most “dabblers” don’t have broad and deep enough experience to know what they don’t know.
Know What You Can Afford.
Don’t let the retainer fool you. It’s not what the divorce is going to cost. Focus instead on the hourly rate.
Two attorneys may both charge a $7,500 retainer but that’s not the true cost of your divorce. Those two attorneys could bill at $300 an hour and $350 an hour, respectively, and that $50 difference will add up over the course of 20, 50, 100 hours.
Just like all products and services, there’s going to be a sweet spot where the quality of representation and the cost of that representation meet, and both are maximized. Scrape the bottom of the barrel and go with the lowest hourly rate and you’ll get what you pay for. Go with the flashiest attorney in town with the highest rate and you’ll likely just be paying for the name. It certainly is no guarantee of a greater result. Somewhere in the middle there’ll be an attorney who charges a reasonable rate and who litigates and resolves divorce cases just as well as the most expensive attorneys in town.