Selecting a divorce lawyer
to handle your family law case is a very important decision. The following are
a few important criteria to help in finding the right divorce lawyer.
Experience and Focus
Any divorce lawyer you
consider should have substantial experience in handling divorce cases in your
location. An experienced divorce lawyer will know the tendencies of the
various judges in your jurisdiction and should be able to use this knowledge
to your advantage. Additionally, that lawyer should practice primarily in the
field of divorce law. Often people will hire a lawyer who practices primarily
in some other area, thinking that any lawyer will do. However, divorce law is
a very specialized field that requires particular skills and experience in
order to have a likelihood of reaching a successful conclusion.
Past Client Testimonials
Perhaps the best way to
decide which divorce lawyer to use for your divorce case is to find out what
former clients have to say about that lawyer. While divorce is never an
enjoyable process, some divorce lawyers have more success at satisfying their
clients than others. If you do not know someone who has been a client of that
particular divorce lawyer, you should consider asking the lawyer for a list of
clients that you can contact who can describe their experience with the
lawyer. While client confidentiality is important, any good experienced
divorce lawyer should have at least a few former clients who are willing to
vouch for him or her.
When a client becomes
dissatisfied with a divorce lawyer, one of the most common complaints is that
they were unable to communicate with the lawyer. It is very important that
your divorce lawyer be accessible and prompt in responding to your phone
calls, emails, and requests for meetings. While you can ask the divorce lawyer
about their office policy, this is another area where you can best evaluate
the divorce lawyer by hearing what former clients have to say.
If a former client of the
lawyer tells you that they found it very difficult to contact the attorney, or
that the lawyer either did not return calls or respond to emails or would take
several days to do so, you should definitely avoid that lawyer. Divorce is an
unpleasant and frustrating process under the best of circumstances. If you are
unable to reach your divorce attorney, or at least someone on his or her
staff, the frustration level can increase exponentially.
When you make your initial
appointment with the divorce attorney, you should inquire about a consultation
fee. Some lawyers do brief initial consultations for free, although most
experienced divorce lawyers will charge between $100.00 and $200.00 as a
consultation fee, or will charge their normal hourly rate.
For example, I charge a
flat $100.00 consultation fee with no additional hourly charges, regardless of
the length of the meeting. Essentially, the consultation fee is to "weed
out" those people who are not serious about the possibility of hiring me.
Given that my normal hourly rate is $200.00/hour and the usual typical
consultation takes about 90 minutes, the charge for my consultation is
significantly discounted. Therefore, you shouldn't let a consultation fee
scare you away from interviewing a particular lawyer.
During the consultation it
is vitally important that you have a candid discussion with the prospective
divorce lawyer about fees and what you can expect. Typically, an experienced
divorce lawyer will require the payment of a substantial retainer up front,
against which that lawyer's hourly rate and expenses will be charged. You
should find out what that lawyer's hourly rate is, what the up front retainer
will be, whether any portion of the retainer is refundable if it is not
exhausted, and how often you can expect to receive invoices that detail their
hourly charges and expenses. You also will want to know how detailed the
invoices are. Once again, this is another area where you can get excellent
information from those people who have been clients of that divorce lawyer.
While all the above issues
are important, there is one final question you should ask yourself before
hiring a divorce lawyer. Are you comfortable with that lawyer and are you
confident in his or her abilities? If the answer is anything other than a
resounding "yes," you should keep looking. Your case is too
important to entrust to someone who does not inspire your confidence.