Any good lawyer should not only be able to give you a clear understanding of your legal rights and how he intends to represent such, but handle even the simplest of tasks, such as returning phone calls in a timely manner. Remember, the lawyer's primary function is to secure the most favorable and economic outcome on your behalf. For example, if it is both possible and advantageous for your case to be settled out of court, that should be his or her primary focus.
It is also important to clarify and understand exactly for what services you will be billed. This can also be an invaluable tool in choosing an attorney as well. Will the attorney provide you with a complete itemization of the costs involved; i.e., court fees, expert witness fees, and other related expenses? Are the time records accurate and the actual billing statement easily understandable? Does the lawyer make available all documentation relating to your case?
An attorney’s fees will be different from state to state and even in any given particular market area. It is very important to obtain a complete understanding of the actual billing process beforehand so as to avoid any potential misunderstandings or financial mishaps. For example, is there a retainer fee involved? In most cases the answer is yes, meaning a fee is required to be paid up front prior to the undertaking of any work on your behalf. As work is completed, the bill for such is subtracted from the retainer. In some cases, the retainer fee will be used up prior to completion of the divorce process and another retainer will be collected. It is always a good idea to ask for a monthly statement clearly showing for what specific services your retainer has been charged and whether or not you are entitled to a refund if all of the retainer fees have not been used.
Again, it is wise to have all these issues addressed and clarified prior to hiring of any specific representation.
Listening to Your Instincts
For example, think about whether a lawyer made eye contact with you, and if not, whether this bothers you. Was the lawyer glib, dismissive, or callous? Did he or she oversimplify the issues or make you feel your cause was hopeless? Did you hear any words of encouragement, or did you only hear about how wonderful the lawyer considers him or herself? Factors such as these and your reactions to them are legitimate considerations when choosing an attorney. Do not overlook behaviors you find offensive and hope that they will go away. They won't.
Lawyers who handle divorces come in all shapes and sizes. There are those rare, kind souls who live to help their client’s expectations by providing psychological and legal support during a stressful period in their lives. But then there are those who see divorce as a relatively simple, mechanical process that generates income; those who punish and bully their clients' spouses because of their own unresolved personal problems; and those who, unable to succeed in another area of the law not so fraught with negative emotion, are stuck doing divorces for a living.
Lawyers, like other people, have their own individual personalities and problems. Nothing distinguishes a lawyer from the rest of humanity except the act of having gone to law school and passing the bar exam. Like any other person, a lawyer can be disorganized, careless, irresponsible, overcommitted, vengeful, greedy, addicted, or otherwise undesirable. Like any other person, a lawyer can have ideological perceptions totally different from your own. No state licensing board has screened out undesirable or incompatible lawyers. This is your job, and you must do it while enduring the pain of divorce. It won't be easy. It will take guts. But by doing your homework, you should be able to make an educated choice about the lawyer who will play a very important role in how you will live the rest of your life.
Ten Qualities to look for in a Divorce Attorney
Once you have weeded out the undesirable lawyers, you can move into the next phase of selecting your lawyer. Using the information you have gathered, rate the remaining candidates on a scale of one to five in each of the following ten categories. Seriously consider the lawyer who scores the highest as your front-running candidate.
- Will this lawyer act rather than react?
- Will this lawyer control my case instead of letting the lawyer on the other side, or the judge, control things?
- Is this lawyer knowledgeable enough about the law and astute and adept enough to use his or her knowledge to control the judge?
- Does this lawyer have credibility with the judge and other lawyers?
- Will this lawyer plan ahead by devising and implementing a long-range strategy for success that includes contingency plans?
- Will this lawyer treat me with respect, care about how I feel, and help me through this process?
- Will this lawyer return my phone calls promptly?
- Will this lawyer refuse to be intimidated by anyone, including judges and other lawyers?
- Will this lawyer be cost-conscious and not spend my money without a compelling reason?
- Will this lawyer be a zealous champion of my interests?