1. Talk, talk, talk
Talk with friends, family and other acquaintances who you know have been through a divorce. Ask not only about the outcome, but about the attorney, too – did he/she return phone calls promptly? Explain in understandable terms the divorce process and possibilities of settlement vs. going to trial? Were fees explained and billing questions answered politely? Did their attorney make promises he/she couldn’t keep? Was the attorney satisfactorily able to answer questions about the kids, the pets, and anything else specific or unique to your acquaintance’s situation? Listen and develop your own opinion, and keep in mind that the emotional component of a divorce will impact the way each client thinks of his/her attorney.
2. Experience Counts
While there are few legitimate “specialties” in the practice of law, many states allow lawyers to say that they “concentrate” in just about anything. When interviewing prospective attorneys to handle your divorce, ask what percentage of their practice is in the family law field, and ask specifically what makes up the remaining percentage. There is no special certification required to handle divorce cases, so make sure you’re working with an attorney with concrete experience that is relevant to your situation.
3. How Much is This Fun Going to Cost?
Before you begin interviewing, know how much you can afford and how much you’re willing to spend. Your attorney’s “billable time” includes his/her time spent researching and drafting documents as well as time spent in meetings with you, your ex’s attorney, and other individuals such as expert witnesses. Most attorneys will also bill for time spent travelling to and from these meetings, to and from court, and time spent waiting at the courthouse for their cases to be called. Oh, and don’t forget that they’ll also bill you for time spent on the telephone and sending emails.
4. Shop Around
Most of the best attorneys will require payment for their time regardless of whether you choose them, so find out ahead of time if a fee will be required for initial consultations. Initial consultations usually last an hour, so come prepared to give a complete – yet concise – history of the marriage and why you’re seeking a divorce. Gather bank, credit card and retirement account statements as well as documentation of life insurance policies and other investments. Prepare a history of each spouse’s income, spending habits, inheritances, time spent maintaining and serving the family though child care, handling the home’s finances and maintenance, as well as time spent serving civic organizations.
Keep in mind if your spouse is unaware that you are out shopping for a divorce attorney, it’s a good idea to pay with cash or a money order rather than checks or credit cards, especially from shared accounts.
5. The Interview
The purpose of the first consultation interview is for you to discuss the attorney’s experience and how that experience and the attorney him/herself would be the best fit to represent you in your unique divorce process. This person is going to be your advocate, your guide, advisor and friend during an incredibly stressful time in your life.
Ask about experience, including specific number of divorce cases handled, and what percentage of cases like yours resulted in settlement. Ask about the attorney’s participation in CLE (Continuing Legal Education) seminars on family law. Ask about billing rates, what they expect this will cost you in the end, and the involvement of associates on your case. At the end of the interview, ask yourself if this person is going to do his/her best for you.
When you have your answer, get ready to rumble... and stay tuned for my next post! To view more tips by me, please visit Massachusetts Divorce Law Monitor.