Divorce can be a highly emotional, stressful, and intimidating process. There is almost no area of the law which requires as much paper work or the filling out and filing of forms and other documents. This process can be confusing and costly, both financially and emotionally.
As a result, your choice of a divorce lawyer may be one of the most important decisions you make in your case.
Not every lawyer will be right for you. You must be sure that your philosophy of how to handle your divorce case matches that of your lawyer, and that the two of you are ‘on the same page.’ Because of this, you must ask questions and gather information which reveal the attorney’s philosophy for handling divorces.
This guide will help you understand the important facts and questions you must know and deal with when selecting your divorce attorney. By understanding how to select the right divorce lawyer for you and your special case, you will get through your divorce with the least amount of cost and stress.
Researching Your Lawyer
Once you have selected a lawyer to meet with, the next thing you should do is to find out about the lawyer’s professional experience and background. There are several ways to do this:
1. Search the Internet: Make a Google search for your lawyer. Look for a legal blog, a website, news stories quoting or featuring the attorney, and other online information. Ideally, your lawyer should devote almost all of his or her practice to divorce law.
2. Contact the New York State Office of Court Administration: This office can tell you when the attorney was admitted to practice law in New York, where he or she went to school and when he or she graduated, and whether the attorney is in good standing or has a record of disciplinary actions.
3. Ask Around: You should ask your circle of friends and professional advisers (accountants, attorneys, marriage therapists, etc) what they know about the attorney, or if they know someone who does know about the attorney.
Contacting the Lawyer’s Office and Scheduling Your Initial Consultation
Now that you have selected a lawyer to interview and have done research on him or her, the next step is to contact the lawyer’s office and schedule an appointment. You can learn a lot about how your lawyer will behave if you retain him or her just by how he or she handles the simple but important task of scheduling a meeting with you, a potential new client.
You should first contact the attorney’s office by telephone or e-mail and request an appointment. When you do this, it is important to tell the lawyer’s office that you would like to discuss a divorce case.
Take careful note of how quickly your message is answered. Your inquiry should always be answered promptly, and that means within 24 hours. If the lawyer you contacted cannot manage to reply to a potential new client who is bringing him or her a new case and therefore new fees, that fact should tell you something about how he or she will behave once he or she already has your money.
Also, pay close attention to who you deal with in setting the appointment and how you are treated. Most good divorce lawyers rely on an assistant to schedule their appointments, and that person is very often responsible for much of the day to day communications and interactions with you once you hire your attorney. If you are not comfortable with the assistant who sets your appointment, it is a sign that the attorney may not be right for you and your case.
Finally, you should ask about the cost of the initial consultation. A good divorce lawyer will often charge an initial consultation fee equal to one hour of his or her time at their usual hourly rate. This fee usually is credited to your account if you eventually hire the attorney.
Visiting Your Lawyer’s Office; What You See and Hear is What You Get
The experience of meeting your lawyer at his or her office is critical to determining whether this attorney is a good fit for you and your special case. An attorney’s office is, in effect, his or her professional home. And the rules that apply to a lawyer’s professional home are the same as those that apply to your own home. So, you should pay careful attention to what you see and hear in your lawyer’s office.
1. Visit during normal business hours. I try to encourage my potential new clients to visit my office during normal hours when my staff is present. Why? Because I want them to meet my staff and see just how well they take care of clients. While I also keep night hours for the convenience of some potential clients, those clients do not get the opportunity to observe the office fully at work. So, in order to be able to observe the attorney, the office, and staff in their normal work routine, I suggest you schedule your appointment during normal business hours whenever possible.
2. Is the office neat and clean? This tells you something about how organized and focused the lawyer is. If the office is a mess and there are papers and files everywhere, imagine how that will affect the lawyer’s ability to find your file and deal with your case at critical moments.
3. How does the attorney and his or her employee’s behave towards you and each other? It is important to observe how the lawyer’s staff treat you and each other during your visit. What you see when you are there is likely to be their best behavior. If you are not well taken care of during your visit or you observe inappropriate behavior during your visit, you can be certain this conduct will get worse once you are a client of the firm and the attorney has your money in hand.
Interviewing Your Lawyer; 9 Questions You Should Always Ask
Preparing for your interview with your lawyer will help you make a better and more informed decision. You should organize discussion topics prior to meeting and bring with you any relevant paperwork. Your lawyer may need some of the documents you bring with you so be prepared and retain copies for your own records. If you can, you should write down dates and times of events, the names and addresses of any witnesses and any other important facts.
You should try to understand that lawyers have professional and ethical commitments to all of their other clients, so you should expect your interview to last about 30-45 minutes on average.
During the interview, you will be able to tell your attorney why you are getting divorced, and what problems need to be addressed regarding your children, your property, and your debts.
At some point during the meeting, you should be able to ask questions about your case. You should try and write down as many of your questions as you can before the meeting so that you make sure you remember to ask them.
In my experience, there are nine questions you should always ask a divorce lawyer during your interview. The answers to these questions will tell you a good deal about your attorney and if he or she is right for you.
1. How much experience do you have with cases like mine?
2. How much of your practice is devoted to divorce law?
3. What other types of cases do you handle?
4. How do you communicate with clients? For example, e-mail, text message, telephone, regular mail?
5. How fast do you answer calls and other communications from clients?
6. How much will your services cost me, and what is your upfront retainer fee?
7. Do you bill for normal business ‘overhead’ such as faxes, postage, and photocopies?
8. How long does a case like mine usually take if there are no unusual developments?
9. What is your philosophy or style of handling divorces? Why?
Deciding Which Lawyer is Right for You
While you are interviewing a lawyer, you should listen carefully to the answers provided. You should also pay extremely close attention to your lawyer’s personality, his or her manners and behavior, and how you feel during the interview. How does the attorney make you feel? Comfortable? At ease? Does he or she treat you as an equal and with respect? Or do you feel like the attorney has a superior attitude and talks down to you? Has the lawyer spent meaningful time with you and provided answers to your questions and concerns in a friendly and appropriate manner?
How you feel about your lawyer and how he or she behaves towards you will absolutely affect your ability to trust and communicate effectively with that person over emotional and highly personal matters. After the interview, assess the strengths and weaknesses of the candidate. Did the lawyer listen to you? Did the lawyer provide enough information to make you feel comfortable that he or she knew the law and procedure in your county? Did you feel confident?