Finding the Right Divorce Attorney for Your Case
You’ve reached a crossroad in your relationship and you need to file for divorce. Your spouse has served you papers and you need guidance on what to do next. Maybe things just aren’t right and the possibility of divorce is sounding like a very real option.
How do you take that next step? How do you go about finding the attorney that’s going to best represent you, your interests and those of your children?
What most people do first is they call a friend or family member that’s already gone through it. They ask, “Were you happy with your lawyer? Would you recommend them? What’s their number?”
Here’s the problem with this approach.
First of all, your friend has a limited perspective. They know their lawyer, their ex-spouse’s lawyer and maybe one or two other lawyers that were involved in the case.
Second, their criteria for selecting an attorney may not be what they needed to get them or you the best representation. They may have felt emotionally supported by an attorney with excellent interpersonal skills that recommended a settlement far short of what they could have gotten. They may believe their ex’s attorney was the one to recommend but don’t because they were on the losing end of their battle.
Divorce is very emotional and that often gets in the way of getting a good referral from someone you know.
Third, you are limiting yourself to a very small pool of possible lawyers. Now I’m not saying you need to interview dozens and dozens of attorneys and complete months and months of research. I am recommending you make as informed a decision as possible. The results of your divorce will affect your life and that of your children for a very long time.
So when evaluating a family lawyer to handle your divorce case, consider the following:
Is the lawyer's practice focused on family law?
Laws change. New laws are passed. The courts interpret laws differently. An attorney that has invested years in family law and focuses exclusively in that area understand this. Make sure you look for an experienced lawyer who:
- specializes in family law,
- has experience working with complex asset divisions,
- has handled cases where custody of the children was contested and
- (a big one) they have been successful at it.
Make sure you're looking to retain an attorney that makes family law the primary focus on their practice and not one that fiddles with it among the other things they do.
Will this attorney be handling your case, beginning to end?
Make sure you understand this. The lawyer you meet in your initial meeting may not be the attorney that represents you. They may be the one that’s best at promoting the firm and other attorneys working there.
The firm may be set up so you get assigned the attorney that has the lightest schedule the week you pay your retainer. Ask if the attorney you're interviewing will actually handle your case or will it be assigned to another lawyer at the firm.
If you are interviewing one attorney, but will work with another, interview the one who will actually handle your case. Be a smart consumer.
Also make sure the attorney you hire will be there for the duration of your case. When a bigger case shows up requiring skills your attorney has, can another attorney at the firm replace them on your case? These situations do come up and you need to understand how the standards followed by the firm potentially affect you and your case.
Has the lawyer been sanctioned for an ethics violation?
Attorneys are held to high ethical standards regarding how they practice law. Each state's bar association regulates its members and, when necessary, disciplines attorneys for acts of professional misconduct.
When hiring an attorney for your divorce, child custody, or parenting time matter, make sure you understand what their standing is with their state’s bar.
- Have any disciplinary actions been taken against them and what were the circumstances surrounding the issue?
- Was the attorney disciplined for mishandling a legal matter because of inexperience in the law?
- Did the attorney fail to adequately prepare the case? Did the attorney fail to get assistance from a more experienced attorney when they should have?
- Did the attorney mishandle client funds?
Answers to these questions will help you understand how their questionable conduct comes in to play as it relates to your case.
I don’t wish divorce on anyone. My years of experience have shown me that it can be a painful process. I also know that it is necessary for many people given their specific circumstances.
If you are going to face a divorce "there is a light at the end of the tunnel" as the saying goes. But please make sure you get the right representation so the light in your tunnel shines as bright as possible.