Whenever anyone asks me whether the gender of their divorce lawyer matters, my first question is always: Does it matter to whom? Does it matter to the judge, the client, the other lawyer in the case? Or is the real question is: Will I get a better deal with a male or female lawyer? While having the right lawyer is extremely important, asking about the gender of that lawyer may be asking the wrong question.
Gender and the Judge
Do judges care whether the lawyers who appear before them are male or female? Not really. Yes, in some parts of the country there may still be an “old boys network” where judges tend to favor certain lawyers over others, but that favoritism is usually based upon familiarity more than gender.
Just like every other human being on the planet, judges tend to be more comfortable with people they know rather than with people they don’t know. So, judges tend to give the lawyers who appear before them consistently the benefit of the doubt. Strangers may have to prove themselves.
Gender and the Client
Some people work better with men, others work better with women. Some clients need a lawyer to keep them in line and moving in the right direction. They need someone who is more of an authority figure, and is not afraid to be hard on them. Others need a lawyer who understands and can relate to them. They don’t want a lawyer who yells at them. (Yes, there are lawyers who regularly make their clients cry!)
While most people assume that men are more aggressive and women are softer when it comes to lawyers, that is not always true. I have known ball-buster, female lawyers, and sensitive male lawyers. The difference tends to come down to personality more than gender. But if, as a client, you are more comfortable working with a female lawyer, then by all means, hire a woman! If you prefer to work with a man, then hire a male lawyer.
The Lawyer’s Perspective
From a lawyer’s perspective, the gender of opposing counsel makes no difference at all. Male lawyers are no better, tougher, or more difficult to get along with than female lawyers. But, even though the gender of the other lawyer in a case is not particularly important, other qualities about that lawyer will makes all the difference in the world.
If asking whether a lawyer is male or female is not the right question to ask, what is? These three questions:
1. Who is the lawyer?
2. Does the lawyer have time for you?
3. What kind of divorce process does that lawyer use the most?
Who a Lawyer Is
The question of “who a lawyer is” encompasses a lot, and it is probably the single most important question to ask yourself about any lawyer before you hire them. Who is this person? What is his/her reputation? How does s/he operate? Is this person fair? Is s/he honest? Is s/he experienced? Does this lawyer know the law, the court system, and the judges?
All of these questions are designed to provide you with the information you need to answer the one question that matters the most to you: Can this lawyer competently represent you and help you achieve your goals in your case? If not, then it doesn’t matter whether the lawyer is male or female. That lawyer is not right for you.
Does the Lawyer Have Time for You?
You can have the best divorce lawyer in the country, but if that lawyer does not have the time to devote to your case, you are not going to be happy with the result. If your lawyer is part of a big law firm that has dozens of junior associates ready to handle your case, that’s fine. That means your case will not be neglected. (… at least in theory). But it doesn’t mean that you will get the attention you wanted from the lawyer you actually hired.
Solo lawyers are not necessarily better. They can be. At least, when you hire a sole practitioner you know which lawyer is going to be handling your case. But if your solo lawyer gets buried in other work, your case might take longer to resolve than you thought.
What Kind of Divorce Process Does The Lawyer Use the Most?
There are at least four different divorce processes that are commonly used in this country: litigation, negotiation, mediation and collaborative divorce. If you want to mediate your case, but you hire an ace litigator to represent you, your mediation has a greater chance of failing than it would have had if you had hired an attorney who was mediation friendly. If you hire a lawyer who is skilled at negotiation, but lousy in a courtroom, and you end up going to trial, you are going to get screwed. You have to hire the right lawyer for the divorce process you use.
Your Lawyer Matters
Other than you and your spouse, your lawyer is the person who is likely to make the biggest difference in your divorce case. In the big picture, whether that lawyer is male or female probably won’t matter much. What will matter, is asking yourself a better question: Can this lawyer help me achieve my goals in this divorce in the time frame I want, and at a price I can afford?
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