In order to choose a good family law attorney, a large part of your introductory interview will involve asking questions about their expertise, fees, and philosophy. Like many, you may find the idea of questioning a highly-trained professional intimidating.
When interviewing a divorce attorney, don’t be apprehensive or nervous, or worry that you’re insulting them by asking questions. A good attorney will value an informed and pro-active client. Also, lawyers are in business, and you are a potential customer who may ultimately pay thousands of dollars for their services. You want to act responsibly by being selective so that you feel comfortable and confident in your choice.
Some preliminary information should be obtained on the attorney you are thinking of hiring even before you meet with them. This will allow you to familiarize yourself with their practice. Visit the attorney’s website and call their office to ask a few basic questions such as:
- What percentage of their business is in family law?
- How long have they been practicing as a family law attorney?
- Does their practice include alternatives such as collaborative law, or do they encourage the use of outside alternate dispute resolution/mediation to minimize costs?
- Do they have an introductory complementary consultation? If so, how much time is allotted?
- What is their hourly rate, and in what time increments do they bill?
- Do they provide itemized invoices showing costs incurred and retainer balance?
- What is the minimum retainer and is it refundable if not used? How is replenishing that retainer handled during the course of your case?
- Are they a solo practitioner or do they have other attorneys at the firm?
Once you select an attorney to interview, prepare a brief written overview of your current situation (length of marriage, problems leading to the decision to divorce, actions taken so far, a summary of your marital assets/debts, and any other complicating issues that might apply) and a list of questions to ask the attorney before your interview. This will help keep the meeting on track and also help from getting overly emotional. During your interview, a good divorce attorney should make an effort to put you at ease, use language you can understand, listen patiently to your questions, and take the time to answer respectfully and be sure you understand their responses. Complementary consultations are limited in nature, so you may want to be prepared to pay the attorney’s hourly fee once the free period is up.
During your interview the following questions are some you may want to ask that you might not have thought about or known to ask:
- What is your preferred strategy/philosophy for handling a divorce case (a lamb, a pit-bull, or a fox)?
- What percentage of your cases end up in court? What percentage of your cases settle out of court?
- What do you think I could expect to pay (higher wage earner) or receive (lower wage earner) in spousal support, child support?
- Can you give me a realistic expectation of what is typical with cases similar to mine? Do you foresee any problems arising in my case?
- Do you charge extra for copies, filing fees, and other fees?
- What is your preferred method of communication (phone call/email), and what is your response time to communications with your office?
- Do you recommend working with other professionals such as a certified divorce financial analyst, business valuator, forensic accountant, or coach/therapist if needed?
- Can you provide long range forecasts of what my future will look like for a potential marital settlement agreement?
- May I have a copy of your retainer agreement, engagement, or other contract you require so that I can review it before agreeing to retain your services?
- Will you provide me with copies of correspondence and legal documents pertaining to my case?
- What documents do you need to have from me in order to get started?
You should never feel pressured to “sign on the dotted line” before you have educated yourself and have enough information to make an informed decision. One of the biggest determining factors in how your divorce will proceed are the choices you make in how you plan to divorce and the attorney and other professionals that you will use to help you get there.