The decision to seek a divorce is rarely taken lightly, and the step is usually taken only after considerable effort has been put into saving the relationship. However, once the decision is made, selecting the right divorce attorney is a logical next step.
The decision is an easy one if there happens to be an accomplished matrimonial attorney in the family, but few of us are this lucky. Most people start by asking for input from friends or relatives who have divorced, but an attorney that is good for one person may not be appropriate for another. A divorce can be a long and trying process, and a successful outcome is often the result of an attorney and client working well together. This is as much about having compatible personalities as it is about experience and expertise. A divorcing spouse will probably spend a lot of time and make a number of important decisions with their divorce attorney. This process is much easier when there is a pleasant working relationship.
Compassion and empathy are qualities that most people would like to find in their legal representation, but their levels should be suitable. What would be considered brusque by one person may seem perfectly acceptable to another, and what some would call sympathy others might find cloying.
There are a number of steps to be taken before meeting an attorney for the first time.
The most important of these is checking the attorney’s credentials, references and track record. While online reviews can sometimes be taken with a pinch of salt, allegations of misconduct or a record of professional sanctions should be taken seriously. A family law attorney’s area of expertise should also be considered. An attorney with a long track record in high asset divorces but little custody experience may not be the best choice for a spouse with few assets and several children.
Concerns about fees and payment should be addressed early on as these questions can become malignant when avoided. While legal representation is not an area where cutting corners is advisable, the reality is that most people must work within a budget. Asking what an attorney charges is an important early question. Other financial questions could relate to other charges that may arise as well as the likely total cost.
The first meeting with a matrimonial attorney will often begin with a spouse asking a lot of questions and end with the attorney gathering information. Initial questions could deal with an attorney’s personnel and availability. A client needs to know how they can get in touch with their attorney and who to speak to if they are not available. The caseload should also be considered. A busy attorney with a heavy workload may not be able to return calls or respond to messages as quickly as some might like.
The way questions are answered could also give valuable clues about how well a client and attorney might work together. Excessive jargon or a reluctance to be tied down may raise red flags, but straight answers delivered in way that is easy to understand could have the opposite effect.
The questions that most people find important relate to their specific case or others like them. They want to know what will happen and when. An attorney must be careful to avoid implying a certain outcome is inevitable or a result guaranteed, but they also have to be able to offer assurances. One way to avoid this balancing act is to ask about the outcome of similar cases. While an attorney will not be able to go into details about other cases, they may at least be able to give prospective clients an idea of what is likely to happen.
Understanding the boundaries set by professional ethics can lead to better communications and less conflict. Instead of asking an attorney what will happen, it might be better to ask what the best-case and worst-case outcomes would be. Once the parameters have been established, it becomes far easier to have a constructive discussion. The questions an attorney asks can also be telling. They should get to know their clients and the situations they face if they are to represent them effectively, and an attorney who asks few questions or shows little interest may not be a good fit.
Once people make the decision to divorce, they often want to get things done quickly. However, it may be better to be patient and speak to a number of attorneys before making an informed choice. Changing attorneys once a case is underway is rarely a sign that things are going well. Making a wise choice to begin with is the soundest way to avoid such unfortunate events. While a pragmatic and methodical approach is important, the decision to hire an attorney is often instinctive. A spouse considering divorce could speak to numerous attorneys who all have experience, empathy and impeccable credentials, but their choice will often come down to who just feels right.