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Interviewing a Potential Divorce Attorney

When choosing a divorce attorney (aka family law attorney), you will find there are many options to choose from, and it can be difficult to determine which attorney is right for you. While different people have varying legal needs and preferences, the first step is to determine the type of legal service that’s right for your divorce. Then, try to narrow down a list of attorneys to no more than three. Next, you will want to meet and interview each attorney, before choosing one and retaining their services.

This is an emotional time and the process is daunting for anyone! You need to select an attorney that is the right fit for you for many reasons, on many levels. To meet with a prospective divorce attorney, you will need to set up a consultation appointment. We have compiled a list of essential interview questions that you should ask any potential divorce attorney.

Before Your Appointment

Many divorce attorneys charge a consultation fee ranging somewhere between $200 and $450. This is not uncommon and should not deter you. Find out what the consultation fee will be, so that you are prepared to make the payment in advance of your consultation meeting. Also, it is smart to ask a prequalification question or two on the phone, before you commit to a consultation appointment.

If your case involves any of the following issues, make sure to ask on the phone: Do you handle divorce cases involving ____?

  • Child Custody: Believe it or not, not every family law attorney will take on a case involving children and the complexities of child custody. If you have children, you will need an attorney experienced with these issues, and willing to handle parenting plans and help you understand your rights regarding child support.
  • Domestic Violence: Some attorneys will not take on a case involving DV. If your case involves any kind of domestic abuse, be honest with an attorney up front. You need someone who is comfortable working in this kind of law.
  • High Conflict: Not all attorneys are willing to handle a high conflict, highly acrimonious case.
  • Financially Complex: If you and your spouse have complex estate issues, own a business / multiple businesses together, have tax complications, etc., it is wise to choose an attorney with experience in this type of dissolution case.
  • Mental Illness / Disability: If either you or your spouse has been court-ordered to receive a psychological evaluation and / or have been deemed legally mentally disabled, ask if the attorney is willing and able to take on your divorce case.
  • Current Legal Cases: if you or your spouse are currently involved in another court case of any nature, it’s best to bring this up right away. Ask if the divorce attorney is able to take on a divorce case with a separate court case taking place congruently.

You want to keep legal expenses reasonable and in check, but when it comes to divorce attorneys, it is often true that you get what you pay for. A “budget” attorney makes sense if your case is straight forward, little or no conflict and involves very few variables.

During Your Appointment

Here is a list of questions to ask and why you should ask them:

1. Do you practice family law exclusively?

  • Many attorneys practice other areas of law in addition to family law. If family law is not their exclusive area of practice, ask what percentage of their cases are family law.
  • Attorneys who “dabble” in family law along with other disciplines tend to have less experience in family court and, depending on your needs, may not be the best representative for you in your divorce case.

2. What is your practice philosophy?

  • It is important that the attorney has a practice philosophy that matches your needs and expectations.
  • Listen for words like excellence, commitment, advocate, communication, promptness, and sense of urgency.
  • Red flags might be: inexpensive, quick, budget or, winning is our highest priority.

You want to keep legal expenses reasonable and in check, but when it comes to divorce attorneys, it is often true that you get what you pay for. A “budget” attorney makes sense if your case is straight forward, little or no conflict and involves very few variables.

Contrarily, “winning” should incur some follow-up questions from you. Winning could translate to “winning at any cost”. Such a philosophy generally means a long, grueling, expensive divorce where the only true “winner” is the attorney.

3.  How often do your divorce cases go to trial, and how much experience do you have in the courtroom?

  • You want an attorney with significant courtroom experience should it become necessary to go to trial. Even if you are quite sure it will not be necessary. Better to be prepared than not.
  • That said, an attorney who goes to trial 100% of the time may not be the best fit – especially if you and your spouse wish to conduct your divorce outside of the courtroom.

4.  What is your fee structure?

  • Some attorneys charge a retainer fee up front, which covers a specific set of services. Outside of those services, they charge an hourly rate with a set minimum time increment (ie: 15-minute increment charge for even a 5-minute phone call.)
  • Other attorneys charge a flat rate fee for a full divorce. This is generally for straight-forward divorces that do not go to trial. Ask about the services covered under this flat rate and make sure that they will meet your needs. You should also be sure that you and your spouse are committed to coming to terms outside of a trial.

5.  Will you be managing my divorce case, or will I be working primarily with an associate?

  • Many seasoned attorneys have a staff of associates (junior attorneys) and paralegals working under their supervision. This allows the firm to take on more cases and to charge the client a lower hourly rate for staff services.
  • If you are concerned about it, feel free to ask for the relative experience of the associate and support staff who may be assigned to your case.
  • If it is important to you that you have only one designated divorce attorney on your case, ask if this is possible.

6. Are there other peripheral professionals that would likely be assigned to my case? (Example might be a CPA or a forensic accountant) If so, does the divorce attorney know them well? What do these professionals charge on average?

7. Should I need to talk with you during my divorce process, what is the best way for me to contact you? How available are you? If I leave a message or email, how long should I expect to wait for a response?

  • Like all of us, attorneys are busy. They cannot always take each and every call that they receive. That said, they should be able to tell you definitively how available they will be and when to expect a response.

8. Will I be able to act as a partner in my divorce process? Will you be open to answering my questions and providing copies of documents upon my request?

  • Some attorneys are more accommodating than others when it comes to their client’s questions and requests for information. Make sure that the attorney you hire is on board with your needs in this respect.
  • Also, because it takes more labor time to copy documents and respond to your questions, you should expect to be billed for this time, unless you’ve made other arrangements with your attorney.

Throughout the consultation meeting, take note of your gut feelings regarding the attorney and staff.

  • Do you feel comfortable in your interactions with them all?
  • Does the attorney seem engaged and transparent with you?
  • Are you satisfied with the answers given?
  • Do you feel like they are hiding something or skirting around a question?
  • Do you feel rushed or like you’re a bother?
  • Does he or she have the experience and knowledge that you are looking for?
  • Do you see yourself working with this attorney in a productive, effective manner?

The process of divorce is difficult enough. The last thing you need is an attorney who is out of touch with your legal needs and your personality. Aligning expectations and determining the best fit for you up front is essential to the best outcome for your case and for your peace of mind.

Your Trusted Partner

Whether you’re contemplating a divorce, have already started the process, or are far into the proceedings, do you wish you had someone to share with you the inside scoop on how to save money, time and emotional energy on your divorce?

We’re here for you. We help you consider your options, arm you with practical information, and strategize with you how to navigate your divorce. Feel free to get in touch with us; we are always available to help!

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