*This article was originally written for and published on Yourtango.com.
Getting divorced (or even thinking of divorce) is no small thing. It’s traumatic and probably the most stressful time of your life.
Making an appointment to consult with an attorney is not an easy task. I remember one woman telling me she sat in her car outside the lawyer’s office crying before she went in. Getting divorced is heavy and real. It’s not something we dream about as little kids.
A divorce consultation doesn’t last that long (about an hour) and the time goes quickly, so you must stay organized and know what questions you want to ask. Divorce lawyers are used to the common questions, but if there are specific things you want to know, write them down ahead of time so you don’t forget to ask.
No matter what questions you have on your list to ask, during your consult, make sure you ask the following questions:
1. Is Divorce Law Your Specialty?
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? When you can, get a specialist for your special problem.
2. Do You Prefer To Litigate Or Attempt To Settle Amicably?
Every lawyer has his/her own style. Litigators love the fight. Some people going through a divorce want that. 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. If you want a litigator, I suggest looking in the mirror and asking yourself why.
An attorney who knows his/her options looks to amicably resolve issues first. This is someone who will keep your interests in mind and act in a responsible way to get the best outcome for you. Sometimes, you have no choice but to fight it out in court, but the most of the time, there are resolutions using other methods.
An attorney who participates in a lot of mediations is an attorney you WANT to consider for your divorce. Make sure to ask if the attorney uses and endorses mediation as a primary method for dispute resolution. 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?
Most attorneys bill on an hourly basis and require a retainer from which the lawyer gets paid. It’s okay to ask if there are any ways to keep the bill down. Ask how the attorney bills? Every email? Remember, the more work you do, the less the attorney has to do and the less they will bill you. It’s one think for an attorney to nickel and dime you, but you are paying for their time, so remember that every time you use their time.
5. Will You Work On My File Personally?
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. What do you want? 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.
6. How Well Do You Know The Family Law Judges In My County?
This is not the most important thing, but it’s good to know. In sports, it’s referred to as home field advantage. 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 I say it’s better to have a local attorney with a good reputation than someone from “out of town.”
7. Now That You’ve Heard My Story, How Do You See My Divorce Going?
When the consult is over, ask the attorney what they think about your case, your chances, etc. You want to hire somebody who believes in you and thinks you have a chance at success. Remember, the facts are the facts and the law is the law, so it’s not about what you WANT, rather than what the law is and what is reasonable.
The bottom line is that when you consult with an attorney, it’s your opportunity to speak up and ask them to explain what you don’t understand. 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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