14 Questions to Ask Before You Hire A Divorce Lawyer
Obtain the Best Attorney for Your Case By Asking These Questions During Your Meeting
Hiring the biggest law firm you can afford is not always in your best interest. When you interview divorce attorneys, ask the questions below about the person’s qualifications and how cases are handled at the firm to ensure you and your case receive the attention and effort you need to obtain the best results. I suggest you interview two to three lawyers. More if you are not comfortable with the ones with whom you have spoken. I offer free consultations. Some fine lawyers do not. It is probably worth it to pay a modest amount for an initial consultation in order to select the right attorney for you. Of course, you need a good lawyer. The real issue is will your lawyer put your interests first or line her pockets unnecessarily at the expense of you and your spouse. You need a lawyer who will work hard to obtain the best possible results. Using the checklist below will help you determine whether the person is a lawyer you can count on.
- Does the county have a self-contained family law division of judges familiar with dissolution law, or is there a chance that a motion or trial will be heard by a judge with unknown family law experience?
- Are there one or two appraisers or auction houses in the geographical area that do most of the furniture evaluation in dissolution cases?
- In this county do all judges refer custody disputes to mental health professionals to prepare a recommendation to the court.
- Is mediation of custody disputes confidential or will the mediator reveal my statements to the judge.
- If mediation fails is the mediator the person who makes a custody recommendation to the court.
Did you get answers to questions 1 to 5 that make you comfortable? Not all of the questions are applicable to each county of the state, but good answers are an indication that the lawyer is capable of representing you in divorce, custody or visitation dispute and knows the county procedures regarding family law and property division issues. An attorney who does not know the local procedures for determining these matters is at a disadvantage which means you are at a disadvantage.
You should also ask about the following issues relating to your relationship with the attorney.
- Is the attorney rated by Martindale Hubbell? An A-V rating is the highest possible and only 5 percent of U.S. attorneys have the rating. It’s an indication of the highest legal skill and ethical conduct.
- Is the attorney a certified family law specialist? This doesn’t mean the attorney is great. But it is something to consider. It means the attorney passed an examination on family law and is required to take a certain number of continuing education classes in family law each year.
- Even more important is how many divorce cases does the attorney handle? Is he a “dabbler”? Is he offering to take the case as a favor to you or a friend? Or does the firm do thousands of cases; is it a divorce mill? (Not good signs.)
- Will the attorney send you copies of all letters sent to and received from opposing counsel, and copies of all pleadings filed with the court. (This office commonly sends these documents as .pdf files via email to make it easy for the client to store them.) You want this so you can remain current on your case status.
- Will the attorney personally return calls about substantive questions? If you are calling to confirm a hearing date or a location you needn’t speak with your lawyer, but if you have a question about the matter it is better to be able to speak to the lawyer or lawyers working on the case.
- What other lawyer will work on the case for you? If your spouse files an emergency motion for example (known as an ex parte motion) and your attorney has a conflicting appointment who will accompany you to court?
- Will you be charged for secretarial time? (Not at our office. I think this practice is very unfair to a client.) Beware also of being charged for paralegal time. A paralegal is not a lawyer. He or she is usually simply an experienced secretary. Paying for paralegal time is something you might not want to do. If legal work is done by a paralegal it can be add value because it is billed at a cheaper rate. (That is what we do.) Many firms bill for paralegal time spent performing clerical tasks such as “faxing, typing dictation, etc.” Make sure you are informed about the charges.
- Will the attorney be willing to suggest a settlement conference to opposing counsel as soon as possible? Usually after you and your spouse have made their financial data available. Will the attorney be willing to commit to a face-to-face settlement conference if your spouse’s attorney agrees? (Obviously, the more you can agree upon the less there is to fight about and the less traumatic, expensive and time consuming your divorce will be)
- If your spouse already has an attorney, ask if the attorney is familiar with the lawyer. Has the attorney worked with the other lawyer before? Does the spouse’s attorney normally make reasonable efforts to settle the case?
You want someone who knows the way the judges operate in your area. If the lawyer does not seem to know the answers to the first five questions above, he doesn’t know the local procedures in your area which means you are at a disadvantage. You want someone who cares about your matter. The truth is that if you have no assets your divorce will be straight forward. The people who face the most difficulty in divorce cases are middle class couples. People with assets, but who are not wealthy. In other words most people. You have to find out if the person you talk to is a figurehead, or will be doing the work. What good is it to you if you meet with a divorce lawyer with 20 years of experience, but your case will be handled by underlings–junior lawyers or paralegals? Divorce is one of the most important things that can happen in your life. Take some time to ensure the lawyer you hire is a good fit.
Usually your lawyer should invite an open exchange of information with the opposing side followed by hard negotiation aiming for a fair result. But if the opposing counsel or spouse attempts to gain an unfair advantage in a contested divorce, child custody, child support or spousal support case you need to be confident your attorney will litigate the disputed matters to ensure your interests are served.
I have 25 years of experience in divorce and family law. I have received the highest possible ratings for legal skills and ethical conduct from the two most popular attorney ratings sites–avvo.com and martindale.com (also known as Martindale Hubbell). Serving clients in Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Santa Monica, Los Angeles and Ventura County, our firm differs from its competitors in three key ways–lawyer accessibility, a unique approach to billing and fees, and substantial trial experience.
Most law firms have layers of personnel between the attorney and the clients. At our firm when clients have substantive questions, they speak directly with the attorney responsible for their case. We usually invite an open exchange of information with the opposing side followed by hard negotiation aiming for a fair result.
But, in contested divorce, child custody and support cases, we prepare every matter as if it will be presented to a judge. We have a reputation for aggressive litigation. Since most cases settle, average lawyers never think about trial until it is almost upon them. We start every case by looking at the law and facts that will govern the issues of the trial.
Everything we do is geared toward obtaining the best result for our client. By preparing for trial, we help ensure the best possible settlements in those matters that are resolved outside of a court hearing.