Choosing the right divorce lawyer to represent you in your matrimonial case is important, but there is no tried and true formula. However, the following guidelines are a good start:
- Use a reputable and recognized referral source to suggest the names of several (at least three) family-law attorneys. Local bar associations and the local chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers are good resources for recommendations of family lawyers. These organizations maintain a roster of competent and experienced attorneys.
- Go to the office of each recommended divorce lawyer for an interview. Talk with the lawyer and try to learn something about his approach to handling cases. Discuss his fees. Ask about the support available to him from other personnel in the firm (junior lawyers, paralegals, law clerks, etc.). Ask about the divorce attorneys’ qualifications and experience, and look for a lawyer who is a specialist in handling divorce cases.
- After completing your interviews, give careful consideration to the strong points and qualifications of each lawyer. Choose the divorce lawyer with the best background for your case. Above all, try to choose the attorney whom you think you can work with.
- Arrange a second meeting with the lawyer whom you have chosen. Insist upon a written engagement agreement spelling out the fees and the other economics of the representation. Discuss the retainer — the amount and whether any unused portion of the retainer is refundable if you terminate the representation (generally, this is the case). Discuss the divorce attorney’s billing structure: is time billed in 1/4-hour increments, 1/10-hour increments, etc.? Insist upon monthly or other periodic billings from the lawyer. Advise the attorney that you would like your telephone calls to be promptly returned, on the same day if possible.
Even though you carefully chose your attorney, sometimes it becomes apparent that you simply can’t work with the lawyer as the case progresses. You have every right to change lawyers in the middle of a case, and it is not unusual for this to happen. Although there will be some additional expense in doing this, having the right lawyer is worth the price.
Remember that your goal is to have a divorce lawyer who is competent, experienced, and knowledgeable and who will work the case as you want.
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.