You don't have to like your lawyer, but you DO have to trust him or her. Don't settle for anyone.
Finding a divorce attorney is easy. Finding the right attorney is the trick. If you look in your local yellow pages, you will see that attorneys can have many types of specializations and there's often no shortage of them.
When most people are about to embark on a divorce and need to find a legal professional, they call their neighbor, cousin, sister or best-friend and ask for their attorney's name and number. This is the WORST thing you can do, (unless you don't mind gambling with your life!).
The place to start is to spend some time researching the various ways you can get divorced, decide which model is best for you and then find an attorney who practices the model you choose.
There is self-representation, mediation, collaborative and litigation.
If you begin by looking for the attorney first, you will end up with the modality your attorney practice, and it's possible that isn't right for your case. You can still ask others who they hired and if they were happy with their choice, but you need to ask more questions than that.
You'll want to ask your friends what their primary issues were in their divorce (custody; support; asset allocation; and special circumstances such as move away issues, addiction, and mental health problems) and how the attorney handled those issues.
Ask if they felt their attorney understood them, or if the lawyer lacked people-skills.
You don't need to get along with your attorney, but you do need to trust him or her.
You should also ask attorneys directly what they specialize in and get a sense of their personal styles. If you have a spouse who is self-employed, you want someone who understands how to handle that; if you or your spouse is dealing with some kind of addiction, it's crucial that your attorney understand how to set appropriate boundaries (or ask for supervised visits with the kids if need be).
Likewise, if you need a hand-holder but get someone who is gruff, your emotional needs won't likely be met, and you may wind up feeling beaten up in the process. If you need an aggressive lawyer but go with someone kinder and gentler, you will likely feel that your legal needs weren't met.
Is my attorney bringing out the best or the worst in my spouse?
It's a novel concept and a question that most people forget to ask, but you will do much better if your attorney and your spouse are at the same negotiating table.
One unfortunate reality is that if your spouse chooses an attorney first and chooses an aggressive attorney, you will have no choice but to hire an equally aggressive one. If you don't meet that level of aggression, you will likely get run over.
I recommend shopping around for an attorney. Call a number of different people who others recommend and see who you think is the best fit for you. If you don't feel absolutely comfortable with whomever you hire, go back to the drawing board sooner rather than later!
Remember that your attorney represents YOU.
If he or she does something that makes you feel bad or misunderstood, then you should tell him or her. If your attorney can't accommodate your needs or makes you feel bad for speaking up, then let this one go and find someone better suited for you. It's never ideal to have to start over with a new attorney, but the alternative of staying with someone who disregards your needs is a much worse scenario.
Things To Remember:
- If someone feels like a good match, they probably are. If someone doesn't feel right, he or she probably isn't.
- It's okay to make mistakes. You may misjudge the type of divorce you want or need, or you may not pick the best attorney the first time around. Let go of the bad as soon as you can and move on with choosing a new lawyer or a preferred divorce modality (mediation, collaborative, litigation).
- Don't people please! Marital dissolution is likely the biggest lawsuit you will ever be involved in. It's not the time to worry about hurting someone's feelings. It’s the time to take care of yourself.
In a nutshell, here are 8 sure-fire signs something's not right:
- You don't feel heard, understood or adequately represented.
- Your attorney doesn't return your calls in a timely fashion.
- Your attorney doesn't remember your story or important details.
- Your attorney rolls his or her eyes when you ask a question.
- Your attorney doesn't specialize in the areas you need him or her to specialize in.
- Your attorney interrupts you or in any way disregards you.
- You feel like your attorney is creating busy-work to rack up fees.
- Your fees are high but you're not sure what he or she has been doing.
Before jumping to another legal professional, we recommend that you ask your attorney to speak—off the clock—air your concerns. If he or she won't talk to you, you definitely have the wrong attorney and it's time to jump ship!