18 Oct Getting Divorced? 9 Questions You Must Ask Your Potential Lawyer
If you’re headed for divorce, one of the first things you’ll need to do is find a lawyer to help you through the process. You might ask family, friends, and colleagues for their recommendations, and inevitably, you’ll go online and do your own research. Getting information from a lawyer’s website is a great start. You can check out their fields of practice, education credentials, the associations and organizations they belong to, and their background experience.
The most important step is to meet the lawyer in person, usually at a free consultation visit. This provides you with invaluable insight into the lawyer’s attitude and behavior, something that you’d never get from just reading words on a screen. The questions below are “must-asks” of any divorce attorney you’re considering, to help you make your decision.
Question #1: How long have you been practicing family law?
Be sure your divorce attorney is well-versed in family law. There are many complexities involved in divorces, and you want someone who is equipped to handle whatever may arise. A lawyer who practices in other areas of law and only touches on divorce every so often may not have the same level of expertise or experience as a lawyer who deals with divorce on a daily basis. To handle your case as efficiently and effectively as possible, choose an attorney who has been practicing family law for several years.
Question #2: How many cases have you handled that are similar to mine?
You don’t just want to know the number of divorce cases your prospective lawyer has handled. You want to know how many divorce cases they’ve handled with facts similar to yours. If you have special circumstances to deal with, like complicated support issues, make sure your attorney has a wealth of experience representing clients with those same issues.
Question #3: How many cases have you taken to trial?
A good divorce lawyer will advocate negotiation throughout your divorce. Most cases end up settling, precisely so that trial, which is costly and draining in every way, isn’t necessary. That said, if you do need to go to court because the case is contentious, your spouse is adversarial, or you simply can’t reach agreement otherwise, you need someone who is ready, and experienced at trial.
Question #4: What’s the best way for me to contact you, and how long will it take you to respond?
Ask what method of communication your lawyer prefers you to use, and what frequency is best. Should you save up your questions and send a weekly email? Or perhaps make a phone call, as needed? A good attorney will provide personalized attention, but also do his or her best to make communication as efficient as possible. You should also find out your lawyer’s policy on the timing of his or her response before the case begins, so that you can adjust your expectations.
Question #5: Aside from you, who else will be working on my divorce case?
Find out if your lawyer intends to use any other associates at the firm, and take time to meet them. Many lawyers also have support staff, like legal assistants and paralegals, that will gather sensitive and personal information from you, and provide administrative assistance. You should know who the support staff are, since they can make your experience a lot easier.
Additionally, if your case is complex, it may require outside consultants, such as a personal investigator or accountant. If your lawyer recommends the use of such services, ask what their fees are, how seasoned they are, and how much experience your lawyer has working with them.
Question #6: How do you bill for your services?
Good lawyers are upfront about the costs involved, and their billing process. Is it an hourly rate or flat fee? Does your lawyer require a retainer? Are there other costs to be aware of, like court costs, filing fees, outside consultants, travel expenses, etc.? Does the lawyer have a per diem trial rate that differs from the hourly rate if your case ends up in court? Is there a minimum unit of time billed (like 10 or 15 minutes) even if your call only lasts 5 minutes? You don’t want to be surprised later on. Get all this information up front.
Question #7: How much do you think my case will end up costing me?
Most lawyers aren’t clairvoyants, so they can’t predict exactly what your divorce will cost, unless it’s a flat rate, and even then, costs can sometimes reach outside that. That said, they can give you a ballpark figure and explain the factors that might drive your legal fees up, such as a contentious spouse or opposing counsel. Your attorney should also provide insight on how you can best conserve costs.
Question #8: Have you heard of, and worked with, my spouse’s lawyer?
If the answer is yes, then find out about your lawyer’s relationship with opposing counsel. Good lawyers will show professional respect to each other and try to keep the case moving forward. You wouldn’t want to add lawyer hostility to an already adversarial process.
Question #9: What should I expect from my divorce case?
The lawyer you choose should give you confidence in his or her abilities, as well as reassurance, but also keep your expectations realistic. You can’t expect to get every single thing you want out of a divorce, and you will need to compromise.
Listen to the answers you get from your lawyer, and ask yourself:
- Does this lawyer seem to favor settlement or litigation?
- Can this lawyer get me to where I want to be? (Obviously, at a free consultation, you won’t get a detailed map of the divorce process, but you should be confident that you both have the same goals in mind.)
- Do I like the way the attorney speaks, behaves, and answers my questions?
- Does the lawyer communicate in a way that I can easily understand?
- Does he or she listen to me?
- Can I work well with this attorney?
Follow your instincts. Especially if kids are involved, you’ll need to maintain a relationship with your ex well after the case is over. Your divorce process will likely set the tone for the next chapter.
Whether contested or uncontested, divorce is a stressful and complicated matter. If you would like to retain experienced legal counsel, contact The Law Offices of Damian Nolan to schedule a free consultation. Our family law lawyer has litigated over 1,000 family law matters, and has the skills and expertise to help you through every step of the way.