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.