Choosing a Divorce Lawyer: Things to Consider Before Signing the Retainer Agreement


Divorce proceedings themselves can be daunting, and shopping around for the right lawyer is part of the process. Before you dive into signing a retainer agreement with any lawyer, there are some things you should take into consideration so you don’t feel “stuck” with your divorce lawyer.

Do you feel comfortable with this lawyer?

In a contentious divorce it’s possible that you will speak to your lawyer almost every day for the next year (or two or three). You will share the most intimate details of your life with him or her. You will trust him or her to help you make decisions about your finances and your family. If you don’t feel comfortable with your divorce lawyer, the process will be unpleasant at best and impossible at worst. The divorce lawyer you meet with could be highly recommended, but if you walk out of the office feeling like you didn’t connect with him or her, trust your gut. Cut your losses on the consultation fee and meet with someone else.

Have you met an associate?

Your initial consultation probably will be with a partner. However, it is likely that the partner will not be the only person working on your case. Depending on the firm structure and the complexity of your matter, an associate often will be brought in to assist the partner and handle “day to day” issues. For example, an associate may answer your e-mails, work with you to create first drafts of court documents, and review documents sent by opposing counsel. This isn’t a bad thing. Work done by associates can drastically cut costs and can insure that you always have access to someone who knows about your case. Since you probably will be working closely with an associate as well as a divorce lawyer, you might find it helpful to meet him or her at your initial consultation.

Is this lawyer in your budget?

Most lawyers charge by the hour and will take an initial lump sum (often called a retainer) upfront. Many people become fixated on the retainer. If they believe it to be high they will try to negotiate it down or ask about installment payments. They forget that the retainer payment may only be the tip of the iceberg. If the initial retainer is far too high for you to pay, then the divorce lawyer is probably out of your price range.

Is your lawyer trained in mediation or Collaborative Law?

Initially you might seek out a “bulldog litigator” who promises to “take down” your spouse and fight to the death for you. While the prospect of a lawyer tearing your spouse apart on the stand may seem nice, the reality is that 95% of matrimonial matters settle before trial. In many cases litigants never even see the inside of a courthouse. This means that your case probably will be settled through a series of negotiations. Often “bulldog litigators” when it comes to divorce lawyers are not the best people for the job of negotiating. Their harsh demeanor and fondness for running into court can stall your case and drive up fees. If your divorce lawyer is trained in mediation or Collaborative Law he or she probably understands the value of negotiation and is experienced in reaching favorable outcomes without the high cost of full blown litigation.

Don’t worry if you hire the wrong person.

Signing a retainer agreement does not mean that you are beholden to this divorce lawyer for the rest of your case. If he or she becomes unresponsive, isn’t listening to you, or isn’t managing the case the way you feel it should be managed, you can let him or her go and hire someone different. You can change your divorce lawyer at any time in your case, but you’ll save time and money by making the switch early on.

Choosing a Divorce Lawyer: Things to Consider Before Signing the Retainer Agreement
This blog post contains attorney advertising. The information in this post is for general information purposes only. Nothing in this post should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation.

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21 thoughts on “Choosing a Divorce Lawyer: Things to Consider Before Signing the Retainer Agreement

  1. I do like that you suggested choosing a lawyer that you can be comfortable work with because it’s likely that you have to speak with your lawyer almost every day. Now that my husband and I decided to end our marriage. I want to make sure that the divorce process is going to be easy and smooth for me. This is the reason why it will make sense for me to find a divorce lawyer that I can easily get along well and share the important information of my divorce case with. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. I like that this mentioned that divorce is a hard experience, so you will want a lawyer you feel comfortable sharing with. My friend is currently going through a divorce and wants to find a lawyer. I’ll share these tips with her, so she can get help.

  3. Hi Gabriella, your words are very true! My twin brother, who just came out of a messy divorce, could have used a mediator to help with the whole process. I agree with you that a lawyer and a mediator have very different roles. One helps with the law, while the other helps with coping with the process. Nonetheless, they can both help with the negotiation and litigation process. Thanks for the great read!

    1. We are glad you enjoyed the article. Unfortunately a lot of people go through messy divorces like your brother’s. But sometimes the right lawyer can help take a messy situation and make it better.

  4. I appreciate that you say it is important to feel comfortable with your lawyer because you will be communicating with them almost every day throughout the divorce process. My sister and her husband and planning to get divorced and I will make sure to tell my sister to find a lawyer who she feels comfortable with and who is a great communicator. Also, I think it is important to make sure you ask about any extra fees upfront so you can know the lawyer is within your budget.

    1. We are glad you found the post helpful. Your sister is lucky to have you there for her during the process. It is important to have as much emotional support as possible.

  5. It’s unfortunate that a close friend of mine and his wife is going to separate paths. But, as a friend, I will support them both to whatever decision they have as long as they think that it is the best for them. They will be hiring an attorney to help them out with the processes. It would really help them when you said that they should find one who will make them feel like the attorney is connected with them. Thanks!

  6. I agree that you need to feel comfortable with the lawyer, especially in a divorce case. They can be contentious cases, like you said. You will need to make sure your lawyer can handle this and will bring you more peace of mind and ease in the process.

  7. It’s great that you’ve mentioned how one should choose a divorce attorney that is trained in mediation or Collaborative Law, as these people understand the value of negotiation and are more concerned with reaching favorable outcomes for their client and their former partner. My friend said that he and his partner have decided to pull the plug in their relationship because of personality differences. I’ll share this with him so that he can start searching for a divorce attorney that is focused on getting compromises.

  8. I appreciate how you said that a divorce lawyer should be well trained in their field. I also like how you said that they should respond to you and communicate with you quickly. My husband and I are looking for a divorce attorney to help out my aunt in this rough process.

    1. We are glad that our tips were useful to you as you assist your aunt in this process. If your aunt is here in New York, feel free to reach out to us.

  9. I have been looking for an attorney just in case anything happens. I really appreciated the part that talks about if the lawyer is in my budget. Its good to know that most lawyers charge by the hour and will take an initial lump sum upfront.

  10. I do like that you pointed out the importance of choosing a divorce lawyer that you’re comfortable with because you will be needing to share the most intimate details of your divorce with them. This is something that I will be sure to remember because I’m looking for a divorce lawyer that I can hire. This divorce process that I will go through involves personal and private details of my family, so I only want to trust a divorce lawyer that I can get along well with.

  11. Thank you for pointing out that you could be talking to this lawyer every day for the next year so you want to make sure you are going to be comfortable with them. My sister is wanting to get a divorce and I think she needs to find a lawyer as soon as possible. Hopefully, she does her research and finds the best one in her area.

  12. I hadn’t considered that you should feel comfortable with your lawyer. My husband and I are going to be separating. It’s going to be a pretty sensitive case, so it makes sense that I would want to be comfortable talking to my lawyer and sharing details.

  13. Thanks for the advice about choosing a law firm that is within your budget. It is a good idea to consider that if the cost of the retainer is your of your budget, the rest of the legal fees may be too high as well. In my search for a divorce attorney, I will be sure to consider the retainer costs while I weigh the expertise and experience of the people I talk to.

  14. Thanks for pointing out that you will share intimate details of your life with your lawyer, so you’ll want to find someone who you feel comfortable with. My best friend is getting a divorce after being married to her high school sweetheart for five years. It’s been a really hard process, and I think she would really do much better if she had a lawyer to help her through it all.

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