Getting the RIGHT lawyer can ensure your rights are protected every step of the way.
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.
A lawyer’s website will usually have information concerning his or her qualifications and accomplishments, but don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Some lawyers restrict their divorce practices to representing only men or only women. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, but I doubt that it gives such lawyers any additional insights or expertise. If a woman feels more comfortable with a female lawyer, fine; as I said, it’s vital that the lawyer and the client are compatible in a personal sense. But there’s no reason that a woman needsa female lawyer, or a man needs a male lawyer.
DON'T LET FEES FOOL YOU
Legal fees are a big issue in most divorce cases. If at all possible, you shouldn’t automatically choose a lawyer based on his or her fees. A higher fee does not guarantee that the lawyer is worth it, but on the other hand a low fee is not necessarily a bargain. You don’t want to overpay, but you want the case handled properly.
Because people often file for divorce when things have reached a crisis stage in their marriage, it’s understandable that the decision to hire a lawyer can be made hastily. But it’s worth taking a few days or a few weeks to get recommendations, check out websites and credentials, meet with prospective candidates, and find the person who’s going to be there for you when you need someone on your side. And, like it or not, you’ll never need someone on your side more than you will in a divorce.
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