All lawyers are not created equal. So how do you sift through the duds and find the right fit for you? The answer is simple: before you hire them, ask lots of questions. Think of your consultation as an interview, and your potential divorce attorney as the applicant.
But what questions should you ask during your “interview”?
As a divorce attorney, I’ve compiled the top 5 questions that you should ask before hiring a divorce lawyer.
1. Are you a family law specialist?
Being a “family law specialist” will mean something a little bit different depending on which state you are in. For some (like California), it is regulated by the state via rigorous testing and standards. Even if your state is a little lax on the testing, however, it’s still an important question to ask. Does your potential attorney spend only part of her/his time on family law cases, along with a little criminal defense and some bankruptcy work? Or is their time spent 100% on divorce and child custody? When it comes to divorce, the family law specialist is going to run laps around the “jack of all trades” in court.
2. Have you ever dealt with a case like this before?
This question doesn’t have a right answer, it’s more about getting the attorney talking about their philosophy and how they are likely to deal with you as a client. Are they telling you what you want to hear, or are they being honest even at the risk of relaying hard truths? A good divorce attorney will shoot it to you straight.
3. What am I going to be billed for and what is not billed?
Before you hire an attorney, find out if they differentiate how they bill for different levels of legal work. The attorney should charge lower paralegal rates for legal work that does not require the attention of the lead attorney. Tasks that do not require legal know-how or skill (administrative tasks) are not even billed by a lot of divorce law firms.
It is also important to make sure that the costs (messenger fees, court copies, subpoenaed records) are not marked up. There should be no profit to the law firm for costs unrelated to hourly billing.
Many attorneys will not charge you for billing questions that you want to ask. Check with your potential divorce attorney if this is the case and after you hire them, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification regarding your monthly invoice.
4. I want to do this amicably/destroy them. Are you okay with that?
You want a divorce attorney that is comfortable with your goals. If you get the feeling they want to fight every battle worth fighting even though you’ve made it clear that your goal is to be drama-free, think about whether you want to partner with them. On the other hand, if you need a bulldog, don’t hire a chihuahua. Unless the attorney can talk you out of your strategy (and the best ones can), don’t stumble into a mismatch, you’ll spend a fortune getting out of it.
5. How much is this going to cost?
Any halfway decent attorney won’t attempt to answer with anything other than, “it depends”. That may be hard to accept, but unless you have a full agreement with your ex and all you need is the paperwork done, the attorney can only offer a wide range that depends on almost infinite factors. If you like your attorney but they estimate a number that sounds encouraging, watch your monthly bill like a hawk and be ready to have “the talk”.
Yes, divorce is stressful, but a good divorce lawyer should ease your stress, not add to it. Save yourself time and worry by ensuring that you hire the right legal help before you are knee-deep in your divorce.