Hiring a lawyer is one of the most important decisions you’ll make during your divorce. The wrong choice can cost you financially for many years to come. You need to know you have the best person to fight for you and your children’s settlement.
You can start your search by asking your friends and relatives who they used when going through a divorce. If you feel that you don’t want to bring your friends into your personal life, then consider asking a professional from the community. Attorneys are great resources, as are accountants, wealth managers and financial planners, therapists, even realtors. If you do ask a friend, you should ask how their lawyer was to work with. Did they return calls and keep their clients updated? Were your friends happy with their professionalism and the outcome and settlement?
You may also want to check out the National Association of Divorce Professionals. Their members have been screened, referrals were called, and they agree to a code of ethics. You will find that directory on our home page.
Once you’ve selected a few, you’ll want to set up interviews with two or three of them. Initial consultations may be free or with an hourly fee.
Here are some of the questions you should ask during the interview:
1)How long have you been practicing law?
You want a lawyer who has experience. Depending upon the complexity or simplicity of your divorce or if you have limited assets and can agree on a custody arrangement, it might be worth your while to consider a less seasoned lawyer.
2. What is your experience in family law, and what is your philosophy?
You want a lawyer who specializes in family law. Some states have certifications that a lawyer needs to work in a certain field of law. You need to know that they’re up to date on all the issues concerning family law. Equally as important, is understanding the approach they are most comfortable with. If you are looking for peace and harmony in your divorce, then you may want to stay away from an aggressive shark-like attorney. Make sure you are hiring somone that resonates with you.
3) Will I deal with you directly when I call or one of your assistants?
Some lawyers talk to you in the interview and then pass you off to a legal assistant. You may be fine with this arrangement, but you need to know in advance how it will work. You will pay less for an hour of time with an assistant on paperwork, and spend more on the time with the attorney. This is when you don’t want to spend time with your attorney, when you can be discussing minor details with the assistant.
4) How long will it take before my phone calls are returned?
You want to know you’re lawyer will return your calls within the next business day.
5) What are your fees? How much is required up front? Do you take payment plans? Do you take a set fee or bill by the hour?
You don’t want to make your decision based on price alone. A bad lawyer can cost you a lot if they get you a poor settlement, or spend enordament amounts of time on issues they have little or no experience with. If you can’t afford the lawyers fee you may need to check with organization such as Legal Aid, or even do a DIY divorce. Either way, you need to know in advance what to expect.
6) Will there be any additional fees?
This could include private detectives, accountants or psychologists. Find out when and how much these fees will cost and how soon you’ll have to pay them.
7) Do you have a way to find my spouse’s hidden assets? Have you had success doing this for past clients?
You may not worry that your spouse has stashed away cash somewhere. But if you have reason to suspect this then you need a lawyer who can find these hidden assets. Most often, that will require hiring a forensic accountant, so find out how much it will cost you to find the money. If you are looking for $5,000 and it costs you $7,000 then move on. If it costs you $7,000 to find 25,000, or 250,000, well, you do that math!
8) Will I be able to negotiate with my ex directly?
If you suspect an acrimonious divorce you probably do not want to attempt this. Let the lawyers hash it out. However, if you and your spouse can peacefully work out parts of the settlement on your own it might save you some lawyer fees.
9) What would you do to make the divorce proceedings as amicable as possible?
This may or may not be a priority for you. If you can manage to work out a peaceable settlement it will be in the best interest of all parties. A divorce settlement should be about fairness to you and your children, not vindictiveness or payback.
10) How much courtroom experience do you have?
Most divorce cases are settled out of court. But if your spouse is hiding assets, clearing out accounts, or fighting for child custody; then you need to know that your lawyer has experience in the courtroom.
Always have your questions ready before you visit the lawyer. You may want to jot down their answers or at least your feelings about the lawyer. Otherwise you might forget which lawyer gave which answer.
Also, remember that after you hire you lawyer you’re probably being billed by the hour. So keep your conversation on topic. Don’t spend time chit chatting at $400 per hour. And DON’T use your lawyer as a therapist. This is an expensive way to get things off your chest, and they are not specialists in mental health and anger issues, (only as it pertains to the law). If you need to talk to someone, talk to a friend, or seek professional counseling. It’s much cheaper and a more effective use of your time.
Don’t only listen to the answers but to the way they answer. Do they sound annoyed by your questions? Do they talk to you in a condescending way? You want a lawyer that’s professional but not intimidating or annoyed by your questions.
Also, what is his/her overall attitude? Are you looking for a “go for the juggular” kind of lawyer, or are you looking for someone that will calmly walk you through the process, trying to create harmony to the ending of your marriage. Make sure you’re on the same page with what you seek from your divorce settlement. Creating an adversarial stance can make a difficult situation even worse. You want to know in advance what you’re getting and that your hopes for your divorce will be considered.
It may be necessary to interview several lawyers before you find one you’re comfortable hiring. Don’t let a lawyer push you into a decision. If you’re not comfortable; move on to the next interview.
You can do this!