7 Critical Questions To Ask Your Divorce Lawyer (So You Don't Get Exploited)

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Woman talking with her lawyer

Wrapping your head around the fact that you’re getting divorced (or even thinking of divorce) is no small thing. It's traumatic! Making an appointment to consult with an attorney is generally an emotional experience for most people. I remember one woman telling me she sat in her car outside the lawyer's office crying before she went in. Let’s face it: Growing up, you probably never fantasized about going to a lawyer’s office to discuss your divorce. It’s heavy, and it's real. 

A typical divorce consultation with an attorney lasts an hour. That goes by very quickly, so you must stay organized and know what questions you want to ask. A good lawyer can anticipate your questions and will address them whether you ask or not. But if there are specific things you want to know, write them down ahead of time so you don’t forget to ask. However, in addition to your list, make sure you ask the following questions in any divorce consultation.

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Here are 7 critical questions to your divorce lawyer so you don't get exploited:

1. Is divorce law your specialty?

Many generalist attorneys out there practice in more than one area of law. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I suggest finding a lawyer who only does matrimonial law. Think of it like going to the doctor. If you have a problem with your foot, are you going to your primary physician or an orthopedist? 



2. Do you prefer to litigate or attempt to settle amicably?

Every lawyer has his/her style. Litigators love the fight and want to win. That's their nature and going to court is what they do. These types of lawyers are good at what they do, but it's not necessarily what's best for you and your situation. Going to court and fighting about things costs money. An attorney who's reasonable, fair, and looks to amicably resolve issues first is an attorney who will keep your interests in mind and at the forefront of the case. Sometimes, you have no choice but to fight it out in court, but most of the time, there are resolutions using other methods.

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3. Do you do a lot of mediation? 

If so, what's your settlement rate? An attorney who participates in a lot of mediation is an attorney you want to consider for your divorce. Keep in mind that many courts require parties in every case to attempt mediation in good faith. That's not what I'm talking about here. Ask if he/she suggests to clients that they mediate before the court requires them to. And what's the attorney's rate of settling cases that go to mediation? An attorney who mediates a lot but is never successful at settling is a red flag. 



4. How do you bill?

This is a very important question! Most attorneys bill on an hourly basis. You will most likely have to provide a substantial retainer from which the lawyer will receive payment. However, dig deeper. Does the attorney bill for each phone call and email? Ask if there are any ways to keep the bill down. The more work you do, the less the attorney has to do and the less they will bill you. Don't expect any attorney not to bill you for phone calls, but a 2-minute call is different than a 20-minute call. Don't be afraid to ask!

5. Will you work on my file personally? 

Is the attorney a name partner of the firm or an associate?  Many firms have partners and associates who work under them. Often, more than one attorney will "touch" your file during the process. Some people like it if the cheaper associate works on their file because they get billed at a lower rate. Others only want the partner to work on their case. There's no right or wrong answer to this, but if you only want the name partner to work on your case, expect to get a high bill in the mail.

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6. How well do you know the family law judges in my county? 

More times than not, attorneys work in multiple towns or counties. However, most of his/her clients and cases are likely in the town where his/her office is located. Ask how well the attorney knows the family law judges in your county. It's always nice to have a familiar and welcome face appear on your behalf in the courthouse. That's not to say a well-known attorney will get special treatment, but they may get some leniency on certain issues when they come up, and that's never a bad thing. 

7. Now that you’ve heard my story, how do you see my divorce going?

After you've told the attorney your story and he or she asked you questions, you should end the meeting with this question because the answer will give you insight into his/her thinking and approach to your case. If he/she responds that you will have to go to court and battle it out, just know that you're going to have a high legal bill. If the attorney talks about mediation and settlement options, this is a good sign that he/she will work to minimize court appearances and costs.

The bottom line is that when you consult with an attorney, it's your opportunity to get it all out there and gain some clarification on your questions. If the attorney says something that confuses you, speak up and ask them to explain it again. Whenever I don’t understand something, I say, “Talk to me like I’m a three-year-old.” If you’re going to retain an attorney, you have to feel comfortable with them. That’s the most important factor.

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Jason Levoy is a former divorce attorney turned coach who teaches people how to navigate the divorce process and represent themselves in court.