It’s not always in your best interest to hire the largest law firm you can afford. When you interview a divorce attorney, ask the following questions about the person’s qualifications and how the firm handles the case to ensure you and your case receive the attention and effort needed to get the best possible outcome. I suggest you interview two or three lawyers. Even more if you’re uncomfortable with the person you’re talking to. Some good lawyers don’t. It may be worth paying a small fee for an initial consultation in order to select the right attorney for you. Of course you need a good lawyer. The real question is whether your attorney will put your interests first, or enrich himself unnecessarily at the expense of you and your spouse. You need an attorney who will work hard to get the best results. Using the checklist below will help you determine if this person is an attorney you can trust.
- Does the county have its own set of family law judges who are familiar with dissolution law, or is there an opportunity for motions or trials to be heard by a judge with no experience in family law?
- In the dissolution case, are there one or two appraisers or auction houses in the geographic area where most of the furniture is appraised?
- Are all judges in this county referring custody disputes to mental health professionals ready to make recommendations to the courts?
- Is the mediation of the custody dispute confidential, or will the mediator reveal my statement to the judge.
- If mediation fails, is the mediator the one to make guardianship recommendations to the court?
- Is the lawyer a certified family law expert? That doesn’t mean lawyers are great. But it’s something to consider. That is, the attorney has passed the family law examination and needs to attend a certain number of family law continuing education courses each year.
- Are attorneys rated by Martindale-Hubbell? The AV rating is the highest rating possible and only 5% of US attorneys hold it. It is a mark of the highest legal skill and ethical conduct.
- What matters more is how many divorce cases the lawyer handles. Is he a “dabbler”? Is he willing to accept the case as a favor to you or a friend? Bad sign.
- Has the company handled thousands of cases? This is a divorce factory. This is not a good sign. If the firm is very large or handles a high volume of cases, your case will rarely get the attention you want. Most of the work is done by paralegals or junior attorneys.
- Does the company deal with celebrities and multi-millionaires? At first glance, you might think that hiring a divorce firm that works for “stars” or high net worth individuals will ensure you get excellent representation. The same is true if you are also a star or a billionaire. If not, you will be just a number. Remember, with celebrity divorce attorneys, if you are not a celebrity or wealthy, you are significantly less important to the firm.
- The attorney will send you copies of all correspondence sent to and received from the opposing attorney, and copies of all pleadings filed with the court. (My office emails these documents as .pdf files so clients can easily store them.) You want this so you’ll always know the status of your case.
- Will the lawyer personally answer calls about substantive issues? You do not need to speak to your attorney if you call to confirm a hearing date or location, but if you have questions about this matter, it is best to be able to speak with the attorney handling the case.
- Who else will handle your case besides the one you interviewed? For example, if your spouse files an emergency motion (called an ex parte motion) and your attorney’s appointment conflicts, who will accompany you in court?
- Is there a charge for secretary time? (Not in our office. I think this practice is very unfair to clients. Also be aware of paralegal time charges. A paralegal is not a lawyer. He or she is usually just an experienced secretary. Paying for paralegal time is up to you possibly don’t want to do it.)
- Is the attorney willing to suggest a settlement conference to the opposing attorney as soon as possible? Usually after you and your spouse provide financial data. If your spouse’s attorney agrees, is the attorney willing to attend an in-person settlement conference? (Obviously, the more you agree, the less fights and the less trauma, cost and time of divorce)
- If your spouse already has an attorney, ask the attorney if he or she is familiar with the attorney. Has the attorney worked with another attorney before? Does the spouse’s attorney usually make a reasonable effort to resolve the case?
You need someone who understands how judges work in your area. If the attorney doesn’t seem to know the answers to the first five questions above, he doesn’t know the local procedures in your area, which means you’re at a disadvantage. You want someone who cares about your affairs. The truth is, if you have no assets, your divorce will be straightforward. It is middle-class couples who face the greatest difficulties in divorce cases. Someone who has assets but is not rich. In other words, most people. You have to find out if the person you’re talking to is a puppet, or will do the job. If you meet a divorce attorney with 20 years of experience, but your case will be handled by a subordinate – a junior attorney or paralegal, what good does it do you? Divorce is one of the most important events that can happen in your life. Take the time to make sure the attorney you hire is the right one.
Usually your lawyer should invite the other party to openly exchange information and then negotiate hard to get a fair outcome. However, if an opposing attorney or spouse is attempting to gain an unfair advantage in a contested divorce, child custody, child support, or spousal support case, you need to be confident that your attorney will litigate the matter in question to ensure that Your interests are met.
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