In my last post, I discussed some important factors to consider in selecting a divorce lawyer. A few readers complained that I should have focused on how to preserve marriages, instead. Believe me, if I knew how to guarantee a successful marriage, I would write a series of best-selling books and quit my day job as an attorney.
Unfortunately, I work in a legal system which rarely gets involved in marriages until they fail. And when they do, people need good legal representation. Therefore, here are a few more things to look for if you need a divorce lawyer to help you through the process.
Billing and costs - Always discuss in advance how fees are calculated. Some lawyers charge by the quarter-hour, meaning that you get charged for 15 minutes of the lawyer’s time, even he if spends only five minutes on a phone call. Other attorneys charge in tenths of an hour, which means your charges more closely match the actual amount of work done.
Be sure to ask how often you will be billed and how detailed the statements will be. Some attorneys have been known to submit bills that state, “For Services Rendered: $1,500,” with no explanation of what those services were or how the amount was calculated. A client should expect a detailed explanation of the attorney’s charges.
Don’t be afraid to ask for an estimate of how much the legal fees for the divorce will cost. It may not be possible for the attorney to give you an exact figure. Many factors impacting costs are not within the lawyer’s control. A lot depends on how reasonable the opposing party and counsel are willing to be. In more complicated cases, there may be significant charges for things like experts, psychological evaluations or property appraisals.
No lawyer can guarantee the cost of a divorce, but an experienced family law attorney should be able to give you a cost range, and should advise you on the factors that will affect final cost.
Beware of guaranteed results – Once an attorney has a solid understanding of the facts, he or she may be able to tell you whether your case is strong or weak. An attorney may be able to tell you that you are likely to get some or all of the things that you want out of the divorce. But no attorney can guarantee what a family law judge will do, or how a divorce case will end. If an attorney is willing to make such a guarantee, especially at your first meeting, you should seriously consider retaining a different lawyer.
The personal connection – Because of the issues involved, you should be very comfortable with your divorce attorney as a person. Some clients want a purely professional relationship, while others need an attorney who provides more personal and emotional support. Neither style is better or worse; it is purely a case of what works best for the individual client.
No matter what style you prefer, though, your attorney must be able to communicate with you effectively. The attorney must be committed to returning telephone calls and emails promptly. More importantly, he or she must be willing to actually listen when you talk. A lack of communication is the number one complaint that clients have about lawyers in general and about divorce lawyers in particular.
Finally, because the personal connection is so important in divorce cases, be sure that you are hiring a specific lawyer, and not just his “firm.” A divorce case should not be shuffled between several lawyers, even if they all work for the same firm. Get a commitment that your case will be handled by the lawyer you selected, and not by his partners or associates.
In the best of all possible worlds, you will never need a divorce attorney. But if you ever do, take the time to select one that will take the best care of you and your legal interests.
Have a question or a suggestion for a topic? Email dspirgen@SpirgenLawFirm.com.
Patch posts are general discussions and should not be used as advice on any specific legal matter. If you need legal advice on a particular situation, please consult an attorney.