Divorce is a sad and often-stressful experience, but having the right lawyer to guide you through the process can make it much more tolerable and ensure that your rights are protected every step of the way. Of course, the big question is: how do I choose a lawyer who’s right for me?
FIRST, ASK FOR REFERRALS
A good place to start is by asking friends or relatives of yours who have been divorced what they think of the lawyer who represented them. Because everyone’s case is different, don’t focus on what their lawyer may have achieved for them in terms of alimony, child support, or child custody, but rather on how responsive the lawyer was. Did he or she return phone calls promptly, or explain things in plain English, or display a genuine sense of compassion and concern?
TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS
Your relationship with your divorce lawyer will be as intimate as your relationship with your primary care doctor --- maybe more so. You’re going to lay bare your emotions, your vulnerabilities, your fears and your finances to this person. If you don’t fundamentally like him or trust him, if something about him makes you hold back, your divorce is almost certain to be a disaster.
So, be sure to have an in-depth initial meeting with any prospective lawyer before you retain him, and pay close attention to any red flags that may come up in that meeting: he insists on doing all the talking, he pooh-poohs your emotional issues, etc. As with most relationships, if it’s not good at the beginning, it’s only going to get worse later.
Of course, a divorce lawyer is more than a hand-holder. He or she has to have the professional competence and experience to adequately represent you in what may be a complex and demanding case. You want someone who more than dabbles in divorce work; in fact, I would only hire someone who devotes at least fifty percent of his law practice to divorce, custody, or other family law matters.
It’s certainly possible for someone to handle one or two divorce cases a year and do a great job with them, but why take a chance? With any luck, this will be the only divorce lawyer you’ll ever need in your life. Go with a pro.
Even among divorce “specialists”, however, some are better than others. One indication of whether a lawyer is among the top people in his field is whether he gives lectures or teaches “continuing legal education” classes to other lawyers. Almost every state requires lawyers to take annual refresher courses, and typically only the most respected lawyers in any given field will teach them. Similarly, a position of leadership in the family law “section” of the state bar association is a good indication of professional accomplishment and peer recognition.