“Hiring a good attorney was money well spent. My attorney made all the difference in making sure the right thing was done for my daughter.” – A divorced father (Frieman, 2005)
Anyone can find a divorce lawyer simply by picking up a phone book, but choosing the best lawyer for your situation is a more complicated task. The following advice will help you find the best lawyer possible:
- Shop around for divorce lawyers
Don’t hire the first lawyer you meet with. Take the time to look around and meet with several different people. Lawyers tend to be high-pressure salesman: they’ll try to persuade you into signing with them before you walk out the door. But this is no small event in your life. Just as you wouldn’t buy the very first house you looked at, take the time to sample several different lawyers so that you have an understanding of what’s out there and can choose the best fit for you. Before you walk in the office, make it clear that you won’t be making a decision today, but within the next few days.
- Focus on hourly rate, not cost estimates
Pay attention to the hourly rate a lawyer charges, not their estimates about how much it will cost to litigate the case. Many lawyers will throw out estimates about what it will cost for the divorce – $20,000 for the whole process, $15,000 to litigate the case, etc. These guestimates are always low-balled, and by the time it’s all said and done, it can be triple or more the original estimate. Lawyers know that once you sign, you’re unlikely to switch in the middle of a case. So they’ll quote you a low number at first and then continue to bill for an amount well-exceeding that.
The amount it costs to divorce depends on the work needed to be done, and a lawyer who bills at $150 an hour will always be cheaper than one who bills at $250. So don’t fall for this trick and sign with the $250/hour lawyer just because he lies and says you can get divorced for $15,000, whereas the $150 an hour lawyer told you $20,000. You may still decide to go with a more expensive lawyer because you believe they are better, but based on price, all lawyers will need to do the same prep work, and so the one billing at a lower hourly rate will always be cheaper.
- Hire a lawyer you like
You should have good rapport with your lawyer. Some people may want to just hire someone and say, “Here, you take care of it.” But this usually isn’t the best approach. Not only is back and forth communication important, and your input often a vital part of success or failure, but this can also make the costs go up in a hurry. The more you leave things to your lawyer, the more it will cost. You also need to be able to follow your attorney’s advice, which means they have to be someone you trust. So choose someone you’re comfortable with.
- Ask questions
Don’t just listen to a lawyer’s speech; ask questions of them in return:
- How much experience do you have?
- How long have you been practicing in this area?
- How do you typically handle cases like mine?
- What’s your philosophy in divorce cases?
- Do you have any children of your own?
- How do you focus on the interests of children?
- What percentage of cases do you end up taking all the way to court?
These types of inquiries will help you learn more about this person so you can decide whether they’ll be a good match to your personal goals.
- Ask about their methods
Lawyers may specialize in particular methods of divorce, such as collaborative law, mediation, arbitration or traditional divorce. Therefore they are likely to fit your case within that method, whether it is best suited for it or not. Therefore you should have some idea about what you need/want before you start calling around.
- Wait to hire a divorce attorney until you’re sure it’s necessary
Don’t hire a divorce lawyer until you’re sure you need one. Often times, the spouse who files for divorce may instantly retain counsel, only to find out that the other party is not going to fight the divorce and is willing to work out an uncontested divorce through mediation. So postpone hiring a lawyer until you’re sure it’s necessary.
Divorce legal tip:
Once an agreement is reached, one of the lawyers will draft a separation agreement, putting the deal into legal terms. Let your spouse’s lawyer draft the agreement, it will save you some money on legal fees.