Choosing Your Divorce Lawyer: A 9 Point Checklist
Author: Brian Pearlstein
Selecting a divorce lawyer is a very important decision. After all, this person will chart your strategy and help guide you through one of the more difficult periods of life. Too often however, the high drama of the moment prompts a rushed or impulsive decision that you can later come to regret. Before you sign that representation agreement step back, breathe, and consider these nine factors:
- Do I Feel Good Rapport Between Me And This Lawyer? – There must be rapport between you and your lawyer if you are going to build a solid and trusting relationship. If you don’t feel comfortable communicating with each other it will be difficult to set clearly defined goals and impossible for your lawyer to achieve the goals that are set.
- Will They Tell It To Me Straight? – If you feel like what you are hearing from a prospective attorney is too good to be true, it probably is. It never serves the client well when a lawyer tells them what they want to hear. The best lawyers tell their clients the good, the bad, and the ugly of the situation. This may be harder to hear, but it puts you in a position to choose the most cost effective and practical approach.
- Do They Set Clear Goals? – Defining goals early in the attorney-client relationship is critical to determining the most appropriate and effective course of action. Look for a lawyer who is focused from the outset on understanding your priorities and setting goals that are clear and attainable.
- Will They Manage My Expectations? – This may sound like an odd thing for you as a client to want—but it can’t be stressed enough. If what you are hearing sounds too good to be true, assume it is. Never choose a lawyer who promises you the moon. The lawyer who is realistic with you up front will be realistic with you during the high stakes process of negotiations and litigation.
- Are They Clear About Communication Protocols? – Ask your prospective lawyer how much access to them you will have and what you should expect in terms of response times to your calls and correspondence. Divorce is emotional and hours can feel like days during tense points in the process. Your lawyer should be able to tell you what to expect as their turnaround time for both non-urgent and emergency matters. Make sure you have a comfort level with their stated availability and then abide by it, even when things get tense and you want an answer “right now”.
- Will I Be Able To Tell This Lawyer Everything? – It never serves a client to withhold information, even the really embarrassing stuff. If it may come up at some point in the process of negotiation and/or litigation, your lawyer needs to know about it. “Surprises” damage cases because an unprepared lawyer has a hard time being effective. Make sure you choose a lawyer to whom you’ll be able to tell your whole story.
- Are They In It For The Long Haul? – You and your lawyer need to be aligned on where the horizon is. Are the goals and strategies you’re discussing focused on right now, or on what life looks life for you and your family two, five and even ten years from now? A lawyer who can help you to take the long view of your case will deliver more value in the end—long term security rather than instant gratification.
- Are They Organized? – Getting your “ducks in a row” is a critical first step in an effective divorce representation. Look for a lawyer who seems to have an organized approach, a clear course of action, and a solid handle on the administrative details, i.e. information gathering, securing of monies, etc.
- Can I Afford Them? – Choose an attorney that you can realistically afford for the entire process. If you don’t have the cash on hand to afford the quoted fees, inquire about payment arrangements and be sure you can meet the terms before you commit. While it might make you feel good to walk into that first negotiation meeting with a well-known “big gun” at your side, there’s no point unless you can also afford to keep them in your corner to the end. And remember item 7 above. The end, especially if small children are involved, may not be when the ink dries on the divorce decree. It could, in fact, be a decade away. The best attorney for you is the best attorney that you can afford.
An objective and thoughtful approach to selecting your lawyer will pay off in the end. If you are currently seeking divorce counsel we hope this list is helpful to you. To learn more, contact us. We would be happy to explain our approach to the issues on this list and help you determine whether our firm would be the correct choice for your situation.