The first step in the process of hiring a divorce lawyer is to identify several lawyers for you to meet and interview. Recommendations will be available from your local bar association, not-for-profit groups that specialize in assisting people involved in matrimonial litigation, and from friends and family.
Then, there are three important factors to consider in order to select the family law attorney best for you and your case: (1) credentials, (2) case and client approach, and (3) working relationship.
1. Regarding credentials, you should focus on hiring a divorce lawyer who has demonstrated experience and expertise in the area of family law. Look for a lawyer who specializes in family law matters, rather than a general practitioner. The lawyer should have at least 5-10 years of experience. He or she should be a member of one or more professional associations that require a high degree of competency in order to become a member (such as the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers). He or she should also be recognized by his or her peers as an expert (such as being selected a “Super Lawyer”).
2. The lawyer’s approach to your case and to you as a client is best determined by an interview. Meet the lawyers you have selected and see their offices. Find out if the lawyer will be aggressive or conciliatory. Will he or she abide by your instructions? Will he or she prioritize issues which you feel to be most important? Will he or she use cost effective methods in advancing your case.
Find out if his or her approach to you be “client friendly.” Will phone calls be returned promptly? Will you be sent copies of court papers that he or she prepares, and that he or she receives from the other lawyer? Will you be sent copies of letters? Will you be advised on a periodic basis regarding the status of each phase of the case? Will he or she discuss strategy and options with you so that you can make informed decisions as to the direction of the case?
Also, before hiring a divorce lawyer, ask about his fees. Don’t be bashful. What is the retainer and the hourly rate? Will other lawyers in the firm be working on your case, and if so, what part of the case will they handle and what is their hourly rate? What is the minimum time that is billed (1/4 hour, etc.)?
3. Lastly, a close working relationship between you and your divorce lawyer is essential. You should have frequent contact with your lawyer as the case progresses. Telephone contact, e-mails and office meetings are the best way to handle this. You should be able to confide in your lawyer — remember anything you tell him or her is privileged and cannot be repeated. Your lawyer should understand your goals and desires, and also understand how you want the case handled. Your lawyer should understand the issues that are most important to you. Bottom line: this is your case; not the lawyer’s. You will have to live with the results, and therefore it’s important for your lawyer to work the case so that you are satisfied.
Your lawyer should be honest and open with you regarding the strong points and weak points in your case. Every case has its problems. You should be made aware of these. Experienced matrimonial lawyers will tell you what they can do for you, and what they cannot do. They will evaluate your goals in a realistic way, and advise you of the winners and the losers.
You and your lawyer have to be a good fit. You need to be able to work together, and have a good “give and take” relationship. If this isn’t the case, then you should change lawyers. You may not get the right fit the first time around, so look for someone else. It’s not unusual for clients to change lawyers during the case. In fact, it can be easier the second time around because you know what to look for.
Jay A. Frank is a senior divorce practitioner with Aronberg Goldgehn in Chicago. He has been selected as one of the top family-law attorneys in Illinois. With more than 35 years of experience, he focuses his practice on all aspects of Illinois family law.