With a few exceptions, most divorce lawyers can adequately get the job done. The vast majority of divorces never go to trial; spouses generally come to terms regarding a settlement with the help of their attorneys. A lawyer’s courtroom savvy and expertise may not be as important as her ability to negotiate and to communicate with you. Before you consult with anyone, make sure she specializes in family law. Then ask questions to determine whether she’s right for you and your particular case.
What Kind of Cases Do You Mostly Litigate?
Divorces come in all shapes and sizes. Some are battles over the family business and others focus almost entirely on custody matters. If your divorce is one of the latter and the attorney you’re consulting with tells you her favorite cases involve high-stakes financial issues, you might want to think twice about retaining her. Make sure your greatest concern is a challenge the attorney enjoys working with. If she prefers money cases and you need to prove that your child’s other parent is unfit, she might not have the necessary compassion for your situation.
When I Call Your Firm, Who Will I Most Often Speak With?
Your divorce process is probably going to be an emotional rollercoaster and you might find yourself reaching out to your attorney on almost a daily basis. You'll have questions, problems and even emergencies. In all likelihood, you will not get through to your lawyer all or even most of the time. That’s OK; in most cases, her paralegal or associate can put out a fire for you just as well. If they can’t, they can get in touch with the attorney to find out how she wants to handle the situation. You problems will usually be resolved much more quickly than if you have to wait for a return call from your lawyer between appointments. If this bothers you and if you think you’ll feel neglected if you can’t speak with your attorney regularly, ask about her procedure for taking clients' calls.
What Happens When My Retainer Fee Runs Out?
Divorce lawyers usually charge a retainer fee up-front and they bill their time against it, as well as that of their paralegals and associates. An experienced attorney will have a good idea of how much time her firm is going to have to invest in your divorce. She’ll set a retainer fee to adequately cover that time. However, she has no way of anticipating emergencies, such as if your spouse begins liquidating your investments and hiding the money. These issues might require an unplanned court appearance and a lot of her time to straighten out. Find out what her policy is when and if your retainer fee is exhausted. Some attorneys require you to put down another retainer. If you’re only midway through your divorce and you’re out of cash, this could be a big problem. Find out how she handles these situations at the beginning so you can be prepared and have a plan in place to cover extra fees.
How Many of Your Cases Go to Trial?
If the attorney you’re consulting with tells you that a high percentage of her cases are resolved in a courtroom, that could be a bad omen. It might mean she’s not able to successfully negotiate settlements on a regular basis, and negotiations are a major part of the divorce process. If you go to trial, it’s going to cost you a lot more money and it will add more stress to an already stressful situation. Unless you’ve got nerves of steel and deep pockets, you might be better off bypassing the aggressive “shark” and retaining someone with a reputation for orchestrating fair and equitable settlements.
References & Resources
- Stephens Margolin P.C.; Top 10 Questions to Ask a Divorce Lawyer in the First Consultation; C. Sean Stephens; February 2008
- Dishon & Block: What to Ask a Divorce Attorney Before You Hire a Firm
- Attorneys.com: Questions to Ask Your Divorce Lawyer
- Law Offices of James C. Sansone: Questions to Ask Your Divorce Attorney
- Celli & Schlossberg: Frequently Asked Questions
- Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images