I’m hoping that this article will provide some valuable intelligence as to what a person should look for in a divorce attorney. When I read other articles discussing the subject it seems that every article is really nothing more than a marketing piece which invariably ends up with the attributes recommended being the attributes which the firm writing the article proclaims they have. I firmly believe that law firm articles should inform the reader not just advertise services. That is what I hope the articles on this website do.
Spoiler alert. I am not the best lawyer for every divorce or every situation. No lawyer is the best lawyer for every divorce. So here are my tips on how to find a lawyer you are comfortable with and that has the competence to handle your case, because those two attributes are truly the two most important qualities for anyone you end up hiring.
Tip No. 1 - What type of personality do you have? Do you want a lawyer that will not only perform the necessary legal services for you in a cost effective manner, but will also be there for you, even on off hours, on an emotional or quasi-therapeutic level? By quasi-therapeutic I do not mean offering you advice in that regard, but making you feel better by listening to you, empathizing and allowing you to really believe that your concerns, fears, and goals matter to the lawyer. If a lawyer’s bedside manner is important to you then you will very likely be unhappy with a gruff or “just the facts, ma’am” and only between 9:00 and 5:00 type personality. Each of these two lawyer types can be equally effective and competent. However, clients who end up with similar results may still feel like they picked the wrong lawyer if they preferred one personality type over the other. The sensitive client who needs a little bit more handholding may feel misunderstood or taken advantage of if they choose the gruff lawyer. The client who wants to approach the divorce as nothing more than a business negotiation may feel that the lawyer who talks about goals, co-parenting, and fairness was not “tough” enough and therefore must have been taken advantage of by their spouse’s attorney. This is the case even if the exact same result would have occurred with either type of attorney. Figure out what type of attorney is best for you and seek out that person. Perception matters.
Tip No. 2 - Don't hire sight unseen. People who have gone through their own divorce can offer invaluable advice. People who have gone through their own divorce can also offer incredibly biased advice. Be careful or wary of placing too much emphasis on a person who tells you “this is the person you have to go to.” Every divorce is different. Every client is unique. The person that was right for your friend or colleague may not be the person that is right for you. It is a great starting place, but you need to do your own homework. Most competent divorce attorneys charge for an initial consultation. In the towns where I practice those fees range generally from $250-$500. It is worth spending a little bit more money in order to get the correct person who you will feel comfortable with during one of the most difficult and stressful periods of your life. Don’t sign up with the first lawyer you visit simply because you don’t want to pay another consultation fee if your gut is telling you it is not the right person for you. Any competent attorney should be able to give you the general information you are looking for by the end of an hour to an hour and a half consultation.
Tip No. 3 - Different skill sets will be applicable based upon the divorce process you and your spouse choose. I will discuss those choices in more detail in later articles. Deciding upon mediation, collaborative or adversarial divorce can alter the skills you will find most important when choosing a lawyer. However, I believe there are certain basic skills that are common and necessary for all of those different divorce processes. Those skills are persuasion, dress and appearance, communication skills (both oral and written), empathy, professionalism and practicality are critical attributes regardless of the process you choose. These are basic skills. If any of them are lacking, then it should be a red flag in your hiring decision. Does the person provide you information about what documents will be necessary to have the most productive consultation? Does the person provide detailed, case specific information during the consultation? Is this a person with whom you will be comfortable revealing personal and emotional information about your life? If an adversarial divorce, then when is the last time the person has tried a case to verdict? Come to your consultation prepared with a specific list of questions that you want answered. This your future. Preparing for it begins with choosing the right person to represent your interests. If the person can’t answer your questions, or simply won’t answer them, then that should be another red flag.
I really could go on and on about the importance of this decision. I have tried to distill a very difficult process down to a few actionable and practical thoughts. I hope you find them helpful. As mentioned above, I will discuss in more detail the different types of divorce that are now available to parties other than the traditional adversarial divorce process.
Please contact me at 203-762-0751 if you have any further questions!