It can be difficult to find a divorce attorney that is reputable, affordable, and a good fit when you are going through a divorce. So how do you find the right one for you? Below are specific methods and questions to ask when selecting an attorney.
To Find a Divorce Attorney, Gather a Short List First
The first place to start in order to find a divorce attorney is to gather a short list of family law attorneys in your area.
- Ask friends or colleagues who practice law for a referral. Lawyers frequently refer work out that is not in their specialty. The legal community is relatively small so a lawyer may have more insight into the lawyers who are well thought of versus the ones who take a scorched earth approach or do not know the law.
- Ask people you know who’ve been through this before. Be sure they were happy with their representation or note who is on the ‘do not hire’ list! This is a really good way to understand more about how the lawyer will work with clients.
- Do research. Great resources to use to find a divorce attorney are the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) and state board certification lists, if applicable. Texas, for example, recognizes lawyers who have achieved Board Certification in family law. To receive this recognition, a lawyer has to have practiced at least five years, achieved certain objective practice milestones such as jury trials and appellate work, and have passed an additional test specific to family law. Looking at a lawyer’s AVVO rating can also be helpful. This is a rating that lawyers get from clients and peers. You can search by location, read their ratings, and read client reviews. Be wary of various pay-for-play advertisements that claim a lawyer is “best.” Many local and industry publications offer lawyers and other professionals the opportunity to essentially advertise to be recognized in their field. If it is an achievement recognized by peers or clients, it is probably a good resource. If someone can pay for the recognition, disregard it.
Narrow Down Your List
Once you have your list of names, it is time to narrow it down. Ideally, you should have a short in-person conference with two of the lawyers on your list before making a selection. When narrowing the list, consider:
- Whether multiple sources recommended them.
- Whether the gender of the lawyer is important to you. Men may prefer to be represented by women and vice versa.
- Whether the lawyer charges for a consultation. There are good lawyers of each type. Your budget may be a factor in whether you want to meet with someone who will charge for a consultation.
- Have a short telephone conference. This can give you some quick insight into whether an attorney will be a good fit for you.
Meet with Two of Your Options in Person
Once you narrow down your list of candidates to two, meet with each in person. This is an important decision. It can be costly to switch attorneys in the middle of a case. Spend time on the front end to help increase your chances of a good fit. When you meet with the lawyers, consider these topics and questions:
- Make sure the Financials Add Up
- What is their hourly rate and do they require a retainer? Once you find a divorce attorney, be cautious not to assume that a lawyer’s hourly rate or initial retainer is an indication of the charges overall. Some lawyers work more efficiently, and so even with a higher hourly rate, they may handle your case more cost-effectively.
- Will they use lower rate professionals like paralegals and associates to help keep costs down?
- Will they use technology like FamilyDocket to help keep costs down and increase efficiency?
- Get the Right Team
- Who will actually work on the case? As noted above, for financial reasons you may want a junior person to do some of the work on your case. However, you may feel more comfortable if a more senior lawyer handles hearings and trial work. Every case, lawyer, and client is different. The important thing here is for you to feel comfortable with the balance of having adequate representation and the cost you are paying for it.
- Have a Strategy
- Have they handled this type of case before? If your case is unique in some way, you should ask them about specifics.
- What is their proposed game plan based on what you have told them about your case? Is that the route you want to go?
- Have they worked opposite your ex’s attorney or appeared before the judge (if the case is already assigned)?
- You may believe that the divorce will be amicable at the outset. If it turns out not to be, can this lawyer handle the tough litigation aspects of your case?
- Trust Your Gut
- Did they appear competent and confident?
- Did you feel like they were trying to help you or sell you? If you got the sense they were telling you what you wanted to hear, they probably were. Hire a straight shooter. Be cautious of the lawyer that promises you a particular result. Good lawyers are able to gauge probable outcomes based on the facts of your case ad the court you are in, but there are no guarantees.
- Did you feel comfortable? This is the single most important factor in making this decision. Divorces are highly emotional and can also have complex legal issues. Facts may be less than favorable at times and you need to feel comfortable being completely honest with your lawyer.
It’s not an easy process to find a divorce attorney. The decision on who represents you is one of the first and most impactful decisions you will make in this process. Don’t take it lightly. Your case could span several years and cost tens of thousands of dollars. Be sure you feel comfortable with your legal team.