Selecting an Attorney

Although it can be overwhelming at times, one of the most important parts of beginning a divorce proceeding is selecting a skilled and knowledgeable attorney. The decision of selecting an attorney can be daunting, but it is the single most important decision in pursuing divorce. Capable and experienced legal counsel can make a world of difference during a divorce in the form of both ultimate results and peace of mind from understanding the process.

What Should I Look For?

When looking for an attorney, look for an attorney you connect with and believe will be responsive to the needs of your particular case. Selecting an attorney should be a process, not a spur-of-the-moment decision. In ages past, this meant several meetings with a variety of attorneys. However, the internet has made the task of selecting an attorney much easier. The website for a firm can and should convey the information needed to make an educated choice in selecting legal counsel. Every website will likely describe the firm’s practice, name the lawyers that work there, and provide information about the firm’s experience.

Type Of Practice

Some attorneys specialize in certain fields of law, while others run general practices and practice numerous areas of the law. It is important to find an attorney that practices mostly, if not all, in the domestic litigation arena. Laws continue to change in domestic litigation and keeping up with one area of law is difficult enough. Finding an attorney who is able to devote all of his or her attention to the type of law you need representing regarding, is priceless. 

It may be surprising to learn that not every lawyer that is licensed to practice in a state is capable of representing an individual in a divorce. Though all lawyers take a single bar examination and complete a common curriculum to become licensed, each lawyer will develop his or her practice in a specific field of law. This is true because the law is exceedingly complex. Fields of law can include a myriad of rules, statutes, and cases that control the outcome of legal problems based on specific details of each case. Additionally, the law continues to evolve and change. Each law passed and each new case decided has the potential to shift and sway the landscape of an area of law. Mastering this ebb and flow is a career-long endeavor. Trusting an attorney that specializes in family law isn’t just a good idea—it is essential to getting high quality representation.

Simply stating that the firm specializes in an area of law is one thing. A website should go beyond this by displaying information to common questions. It is impossible to address every issue that may come up, but the website should explain what types of cases the firm deals with within each area of law. A large part of what an attorney must do is to educate: to explain why the law dictates a result to a judge or to explain how the law can help a client solve a complicated problem. A firm’s website should show this ability to educate as well. If there are no answers to any questions about a given area of law, it is impossible to know how well the firm’s attorneys can explain these issues during a divorce.

Information About The Attorneys

Look at attorney profiles when searching for information about prospective counsel. You can tell a lot about an attorney by searching them in the age of the internet. You can usually find out where a person attended law school, what accomplishments they have, and what are their primary areas of practice.  

Law firms come in a variety of sizes and styles. Large law firms (typically 20 or more attorneys) generally specialize in hundreds of areas and divide attorneys into groups based on which area of law they practice. Larger law firms have to take more clients to support themselves. Supply and demand inform how much attention each client can possibly receive under such a model.

On the other hand, close-knit firms work quite differently. These firms have lower costs, which translates into fewer clients and less division of attention. Additionally, the attorneys in these firms are able to “cross fields” as needed. If a case requires particular attention for an important filing, rather than increasing the hours of the attorney in that group, the firm can work together to meet the task. This ensures things are less likely to fall through the cracks, as the firm can focus its workforce on the projects that need it. Large, compartmentalized firms lack the flexibility to make these types of adjustments.

Experience

Having an experienced attorney can be a great advantage to a client. Knowing the opposing counsel, the judge on the case, the staff, and personnel involved can be a tremendous advantage when in comes to litigating your case, and when it comes to the cost of that litigation. If an attorney has had a case similar to yours numerous times in front of the same judge assigned to your case, you may be able to gain a good idea of how your case may pan out at trial and enter into informed settlement agreements without the need for costly trials. Divorce may culminate in a trial before a judge. The attorneys may have to prove to the judge that property should be divided in certain ways, child custody should be awarded to one spouse over the other, that one spouse should be entitled to maintenance payments from the other, or that certain debts should be the responsibility of one spouse. These decisions will have long-lasting and crucial effects on the lives of the parties involved. The only way an attorney can develop the skills required is through practice. This is why trial experience is so important for a family law lawyer. Divorces are not tried by juries, but judges. And judges, unlike juries, are aware of an attorney’s repudiation before the case ever opens. Rules exist to ensure that judges don’t punish clients for their choice of attorney, but having a solid reputation as an attorney that knows how to try cases sets a good starting point for a judge-tried case. In fact, if the decision regarding legal counsel was based on one thing alone, experience would be the safest factor to choose.

What Should I Ask?

Calling a perspective attorney to get information about your case and setting up an initial consultation are good ways to begin the process of hiring legal counsel for your divorce. Consults are not necessarily free, however experienced firms will listen to your issues in a short, free consultation. This gives clients a chance to ask questions about how attorneys would handle their case. Ask your perspective attorney what he or she thinks is a good plan for your case, what are your realistic options, and what will it take to get there. An experienced attorney should be able to provide you with a thumbnail sketch of how your case may play out and what options are available to you.

Just as important as what to ask is how are you able to ask it. A phone consult with an attorney is a great way of confirming what you have learned from the firm’s website. A quick phone consult allows for you to present your concerns and get any additional information from the attorney before you extend an offer to hire the firm.

As far as content, each divorce will be different and likely produce different questions. Two main points should be considered. First, is the attorney able to set out a timeline of the process? The attorney will not be able to set hard dates, but he or she should be able to outline what exactly to expect throughout the process. Predictions are also appropriate. A good, experienced attorney will know when the answer is uncertain, but will be able to make an education prediction. Second, the attorney should be able to ask you questions. These questions may seem a bit strange, even giving the impression that the attorney is focused on the wrong issues. But if you ask why the question matters, a good attorney will be able to explain how the answer is effected by the law. Again, the law is complex and can turn on seemingly unimportant factors. It is the job of an effective attorney to know what these details are and to flesh them out to get a true, accurate picture of a client’s case.

What If My Divorce Is Uncontested?

Uncontested divorces involve a couple that has already come to agreements regarding the key elements of their divorce before retaining counsel. In most uncontested divorces, the attorney involved is simply used to draft paperwork for the parties and attend any necessary court dates. It is essential to recall that divorces are high stakes and even spouses that are on good terms can rapidly betray each other when the division of property comes up. Obtaining an attorney is always a good idea, even if you do not think you need one.

Sometimes couples can maturely and honestly agree that divorce is the right option. These uncontested cases can be extremely tempting to pursue without legal counsel. Options even exist for “divorce in a box” and other package-type forms. However, it is important to remember what has been discussed already: divorces are high stakes. Even spouses that are on the best of terms can quickly turn against each other when the issue of dividing debts or property comes up. Additionally, the law is simply too complex to be handled by fill-in-the-blank forms. Lawyers spend entire careers perfecting the practice of family law. These lawyers would be instantly driven out of business if “divorce in a box” documents were sufficient to achieve the goals of spouses.