You just started your search for the right divorce lawyer. Odds are you have heard more opinions on the subject than you care for – after all, this is like finding a dentist for a root canal, isn’t it? But what are some secrets to hiring a divorce attorney that lawyers don’t always want to discuss? At the risk of getting some dirty looks from my fellow lawyers at the next Bar Association meeting, here are my top five tips that you should know when hiring a divorce lawyer:
1. Must be tech savvy. If a prospective lawyer is still using the leather bound books in their office, or asks you to fax them something, consider it a red flag flapping in the wind. If they don’t use the latest online tools, they are spending way, way too much time on your case. Time equals money; you pay by the hour. Bonus tip: Does the lawyer’s email end with AOL.com? Run!
2. Avoid false promises. When you ask, “am I going to win my case?” The lawyer responds “absolutely!” But really, many factors will come into play in your divorce that impact the result. Court is a gamble: you may look like the judge’s dead-beat cousin or his best friend. Steer away from lawyers with inflated promises. In reality, when you think about it there is no such thing as “winning” a divorce – there will be a divorce at the end of the case.
Bonus Tip: Some questions to ask instead of “will I win”:
- Have you seen facts like mine before and how did you approach them?
- What is the best and worst outcome I can expect?
- The state law says XYZ about my facts, but how have the judges in my county been handling that issue?
3. Does size really matter? Big firms don’t always give better service than small shops or solo attorneys. Some of the worst examples of sloppy lawyering come from the largest matrimonial dens (who I will respectfully not name, because frankly, I don’t want to be sued). Examples: I once defended against a provision in a divorce agreement that forced my client pay more than 65% of his annual income in perpetuity for the care and maintenance of six cats. Another judgment was screwed up because the firm unintentionally incorporated a lawyer’s personal instant message into the judgment! (“And finally, it is so Ordered that I’ll be right there – get me a cheezburger!”). Bonus Tip: Hire based on the lawyer who will actually be handling your case.
4. Professional jerks. I was once told by a prospective client that I’m not a big enough “a–hole.” Yet some of the ex-spouses that have sat opposite the courtroom from me would disagree! Every lawyer has different nuances in their style and approach. A big, dramatic “a–hole” may come across like a pitbull who will get you everything in the divorce. But in reality, no one gets everything. And that pitbull attorney may not know how or when to settle, which could cost you much more in legal fees or an unneeded trial. My philosophy: you are already dealing with one “a–hole” (your ex-), why deal with another one by hiring a professional jerk?
5. Show me the money! Don’t hold back your questions about invoices. Talk to potential lawyers and find out what names can you expect to see on the bills, and will you be charged for cab rides and lunches? You may think that the initial deposit for your case (called a “retainer”) may be enough to cover the whole divorce, but that is a huge misconception. Think about how much you spent on your wedding: do you really expect your divorce to cost less than the wedding dress? Ask your potential attorney how far that first retainer will realistically get you based on your facts (if you need immediate court hearings, it likely won’t get you far). Stay on top of the invoicing in your case and ask questions about the bills and the progress of your case. Your lawyer will hate that, but your wallet will thank you for it. Bonus Tip: You should never be billed when asking about an invoice!
Do you have any great questions that have given you insight in finding the right lawyer? Share them with me in the comments.