Hiring a divorce lawyer is an intimidating process. Most likely your spouse says he or she wants out of the marriage, your case is in the courts, or you are thinking of separating and want to know your legal rights and obligations. How do you go about finding a lawyer?
1. Ask several of your friends. Many people have been in the same situation and either hired a divorce lawyer or know someone who has. This is a good place to start. If you hear the name of one particular lawyer several times that is a good sign. If you know any lawyers or judges ask them if they know of the lawyer or can find out. Hearing from several sources that a lawyer has or does not have a good reputation is good information. Remember, though, every case is different and that what happened to your friend in his or her divorce does not mean that the lawyer will obtain similar results for you.
2. Google the lawyer’s name or firm name. If the lawyer has a website you will find it. A website will tell you a lot about the lawyer’s experience, achievements and ability as well as provide information on the divorce process. Be wary of websites that have hundreds of pages and videos – so much that the information is overwhelming. This is about marketing the lawyer’s services more than providing information so you can make an informed choice about hiring an attorney. Experience counts.
3. Find out if the lawyer is a Board Certified Family Law Specialist. Lawyers who are Board Certified must have a certain number of years of experience in the practice of divorce and family law and generally devote over 50% of their practice to divorce and family law matters. The most important and prestigious organization that certifies divorce and family lawyers is the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML). Fellows elected to the AAML are Board Certified by their state bar, have a substantial number of years of experience, show the ability to litigate complex cases, have outstanding references from judges and other lawyers and make significant contributions to the profession by way of teaching or writing about divorce and family law issues. Lawyers who are Fellows of the AAML are the best family and divorce lawyers.
4. Check with the State Bar and find out whether the lawyer has ever been reprimanded or censured for unprofessional or unethical behavior. If so, you need to carefully consider the choice of this lawyer to represent you.
5. Before you call to make an appointment for a consultation, ask yourself what kind of person you want to represent you and what you want from your relationship with your lawyer. Do you want a partner in the process or just to turn over the case to the lawyer and let the lawyer handle it. Some lawyers are good listeners – even after the initial interview – and will return phone calls. Other lawyers will turn your case over to an associate and rarely take your phone calls. Some lawyers are patient and don’t mind explaining things three times, others are impatient and annoyed if you ask too many questions. My advice is that you look for a lawyer who, on a gut level, you like and feel is trustworthy. If you feel at all intimidated, or your gut instinct is that this is not a good working relationship then listen to your gut. There is nothing worse than having to fight your ex-spouse and fight or be angry or annoyed with your lawyer at the same time. You need to have confidence in the lawyer you choose to represent you.
6. Consider having consultations with two or three lawyers. You will get a perspective on how each lawyer thinks about your case and proposes to handle it as well as a sense of how you and the lawyer relate to each other.
7. Make an appointment for your consultation(s). Do not try to “interview” the lawyer over the telephone. You will miss a lot of important information – the kind you get from talking to someone face to face. Ask the person setting the appointment what the consultation fee is and how you pay for it (cash, check or credit card). Expect to pay the consultation fee at the time of the consultation. Ask what the lawyer’s retainer fee is. Generally, there is a range of what the retainer fee is depending on a number of factors including the nature and complexity of your case and whether it is in litigation. For instance, you should expect that a contentious custody case will be more costly than a case where the children are not an issue. Or a case where you and your spouse own significant assets or a business will cost more to resolve than a case where there are few assets. Finally, ask the person setting your appointment what documents you need to bring with you.
- Facebook May Threaten Your Marriage, But It May Also Be Hazardous to Your Divorce (psychologytoday.com)