If you are in the market for a divorce lawyer, you would be wise to interview five to ten attorneys about your case. These interviews help educate you about different lawyering styles and will help avoid the unpleasant and costly problem of starting over with a new lawyer in the middle of your case.
Some domestic relations lawyers take a very aggressive and hard line approach, while others prefer negotiation, collaborative divorce or alternative dispute resolution. Some lawyers handle a few divorce cases a year and would not be the right choice if your spouse has hired an aggressive divorce litigator. Your goal, as the prospective client, is to find counsel whose approach and fee structure make sense to you.
As you meet with various lawyers about your case, recognize that you are being interviewed as well. You may find a lawyer who meets your criteria, only to discover that he does not want to accept you as a client because he perceives you to be a “problem client.” Here are some of the factors that make lawyers wary about accepting a new divorce client:
- avoid bad-mouthing other lawyers you have met. Every attorney who has been in practice for even a few years recognizes that a certain percentage of clients will turn and attack the lawyer if things do not go well. Not every case goes exactly as planned and sometimes, a judge will make an unfavorable decision. The lawyer sees his job as creating reasonable and logical arguments on your behalf and presenting those arguments to a fact finder (judge or jury) clearly and forcefully. Clients who bad mouth other lawyers generally have unrealistic expectations or demands and good lawyers avoid taking on these clients.
- avoid excessive focus on money. Assuming the lawyers that make your initial cut are reasonable, fair people, they recognize that you want to spend no more than necessary in pursuing your case. An ethical, competent lawyer will not run up time on your case to increase his fee. Along those same lines, good lawyers will not be offended if you ask for more detail about an entry on a bill. Most divorce lawyers end up spending time on your case that does not get billed at all. No one can predict exactly how divorce litigation will proceed or what your spouse’s lawyer will do. You should listen carefully when the lawyer you are interviewing discusses fees and payment requirements. You may find, for example, that during the course of your interviews, several lawyers suggest a similar fee range for your case. You may need to adjust your own expectations. If you come across as a penny pincher who will question every entry on every bill, you may find it difficult to find the right lawyer.
- avoid blaming others for all of your problems. Your life will not be pleasant during your divorce proceedings. You will be under a great deal of stress and irritants that otherwise would not be a problem will bother you. Your lawyer’s job is not to make you happy, but to represent your interests in an organized and determined fashion. Since you will likely take the witness stand, a potential lawyer will look at you as a witness. Do you come across as reasonable, logical and likeable? Or will you turn off a judge or jury by whining, complaining and blaming your ex-spouse for all your problems. Your lawyer wants a good outcome in your case – if you are not a likeable witness, he will be less likely to take on your case.
- recognize that there are no “winners” in a divorce case. If your express to a lawyer your desire to “win” your divorce case by getting your way with every issue, your lawyer will conclude that you live in a fantasyland. Experienced divorce lawyers recognize that a divorce trial necessarily involves two angry and bitter people, operating at an emotional low point of their lives who are asking a stranger to make far reaching decisions about money and parent child relationships based on limited and conflicting information. The best you can hope for is to come out with as little damage as possible. If the end result if even slightly fair and reasonable, you are ahead of the game. Clients who understand this reality are much more desirable than clients to are looking for a big win.