Someone recently asked me to provide the names of a few divorce lawyers for her to consider. I gladly provided her with the names of three reputable lawyers whom I know well. After thanking me for the referrals she asked “What should I look for? I don’t know anything about hiring a divorce lawyer– I’ve never done this before!” We have all been in the situation of hiring some kind of professional for the first time. Perhaps it was a CPA when you finally stopped preparing your own income taxes, or a general contractor for an upcoming home renovation.
In each of these situations, you need to know the right questions to ask. Selecting the right lawyer for you can be one of the most important decisions you make in the divorce process. When deciding which lawyer to choose, people have different priorities. Some focus on finding someone with the ideal expertise, or someone who they will connect with personally while others focus on managing the overall legal costs. Keep in mind that there are several items to consider in your decision.
- Gender/Personality–Do you have strong feelings for/against working with a male/female based on prior life experiences? Will you be able to open up and confide in this attorney in the months to come?
- Experience– How long have they been practicing family law? How many cases have they handled? How many of those cases went to trial? What is the experience level of each person on the team?
- Expertise– Some options for divorce settlement methods include collaboration, mediation and litigation. Is the lawyer experienced or trained in the specific divorce method you are pursuing? Do they only specialize in one method? Can they provide guidance on the best method for you? Do they have expertise in a specific client profile?
- Process– What is the role of everyone on the team? What work will be done by the lead attorney versus another team member? Is everyone on the team involved throughout the whole process? When are they available to speak and when should you contact someone else? How often are they out of the office in court? Will you be kept informed of all developments? Will you have input regarding strategy in your case?
- Location– Unless you choose to pay for their travel time, chances are that you will most likely meet at their office. Is their office location convenient for you? Are they equipped for “virtual meetings” or conference calls when necessary?
Fees– What is the hourly billing rate for each person on the team? Do they charge for travel time, photocopies, overnight packages, etc.? What other out-of-pocket expenses would be reimbursable by you? How much of a retainer is required? How often are you billed once the retainer is depleted?
You should also ask if they have any personal feelings or opinions on your case that would affect their ability to represent you. Do they foresee any potential problems given your specific circumstances? Be sure to read any written agreement completely before signing. If you are so inclined, you may wish to have your personal lawyer review the agreement to provide feedback.
In the many months to come, you will need to establish an open and trusting relationship with whomever you choose to represent you. You will discuss very personal information as well as detailed financial information that isn’t usually shared with many. In any advisory relationship – whether it is an attorney, a CPA or a Wealth Advisor – if you don’t have a strong sense of trust then you should be in the market looking for a new one. Asking all these questions early in the process can assist in establishing this trust and reduce the likelihood of miscommunication, which will allow more time for working on your case.