How to pick a divorce attorney
Does it really matter who my attorney is?
Going through a divorce or custody battle is an extremely intimidating and overwhelming experience. It is very common to feel alone and lost throughout the entire process. The average person may have no idea what family law is or what rights he or she may have. It is important to examine how to pick a divorce attorney. This is why it is common for someone to find an attorney to help him or her through his or her case. However, far too often, clients choose their attorneys based on cost and friend recommendations and fail to hire a qualified attorney- the results can be disastrous.
I am sure many of you have heard the classic line, “I have a friend who is a lawyer. I am sure they could help you for really cheap.” What that friend forgets to tell you is that their lawyer friend is a criminal defense attorney, who has only had three family law clients in the last ten years of his legal practice. You end up meeting with the attorney. He seems very knowledgeable and willing to help you. You end up retaining him to begin your divorce process.
Does your attorney help prepare you?
The attorney drafts all your initial documents. Everything appears fine. You do not question anything, because you assume he has done his job. Little do you know, the attorney has forgotten to include your request for spousal maintenance in the initial petition. Your spouse is now off the hook, and you are without financial support. Further, you show up to your final hearing completely unprepared. Your attorney never showed you the exhibits he was using or what the opposing party was using. He practiced questioning with you for 5 minutes before the hearing, and he focused more on your expressions than what you say.
Unfortunately, in the situation above, the client received a very poor final judgment in her case. She can ask for a reconsideration, but the likelihood of things changing may be slim. Not only does this happen to clients who work with non-family law attorneys on family law matters, but it also can occur when clients work with certain family law attorneys.
Is cost the most important factor?
A big factor in choosing an attorney for many people is the cost associated with it. Many clients may think that it does not really matter who their attorney is, as long as they have one. They all went to law school and passed the bar exam, so how bad can someone really be? Unfortunately, it can be really bad. This does not mean that a cheaper attorney is worse. In fact, many lower cost attorneys are excellent. However, be wary of scenarios that seem too good to be true, as in the situation below:
Jane needs an attorney for her divorce. She finds an ad in the paper that says, “Divorce! Only $800!” Jane meets with the attorney and pays her $800 upfront. Little does she know, her divorce continues for a year, and her attorney ends up giving her a bill for $10,000. Jane attorney failed to point out the small print on the fee agreement, misleading Jane into thinking everything would be $800. In addition to the misleading price, her attorney failed to adequately represent her. She would go months without hearing from him, and documents would not be drafted for multiple weeks. In fact, she only saw her attorney when she first signed up and at her final hearing.
Choose someone who specializes in family law
Always be careful in who you decide to represent you in family law matters. Make sure to find someone who knows what they are doing, and is not simply in it to make a quick deal off of you. Be very cautious of attorneys who practice in other areas. Always ask, if meeting with an attorney outside of family law, if they have litigated any family law cases, and how many. If you don’t, you may end up with a result you are very unhappy with.
If you do find yourself with a bad attorney mid-way through your case- run- don’t walk. Switching attorneys can be hard, but staying with an inept or corrupt attorney will most definitely be worse. We often help clients clean up the messes left behind by other attorneys, and can provide clients with a list of reputable, ethical and cost effective attorneys in the area. In fact, we often suggest to our clients that their ex’s consider hiring an attorney on our list. With two good attorneys, both parties save money, time and achieve better outcomes.