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Finding “The One”: How to Choose Your Divorce Attorney

how to Choose a Divorce Lawyer

By Dr. Elizabeth Degi DuBois, PhD, and Christy A. Zlatkus, Esquire
 

Everyone has a favorite song, a food they hanker for above all others, and a particular set of preferences about personal style. There’s a reason Baskin-Robbins has 31 different flavors of ice cream—- each of us crazy, wonderful humans come with our own unique likes and dislikes.

 

As with ice cream and iPod playlists, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to choosing your divorce attorney. Divorce is one of the most personal experiences you can have. Standing naked in front of your spouse for the first time has got nothing on the feeling of vulnerability that comes with opening up about the questionable financial choices you may have made in your marriage, that time you flew off the handle at your toddler when you stepped on the nine millionth lego, or the evolution (ahem, deterioration) of your sex life.

The attorney who was the perfect fit for your neighbor, your sister, or your co-worker may not be right for you. And it may not just be a matter of personalities meshing: every divorce is as unique as the parties splitting, and finding a lawyer with experience in the specifics of your case— be it custody squabbles, property, or domestic violence— is key to setting up the New Normal that fits your unique goals.

 

As a former client/attorney duo who now work together in a boutique family law firm, we’ve seen a range of legal strategies and lawyers’ styles, and have learned a thing or two about what makes for a great fit for a client/attorney relationship. Here’s our best guidance on how to find ‘The One’ that’s right for you:

 

Make a List of Your Needs and Goals

Start by making a list of what you are looking for in a divorce attorney. There are four aspects to consider:

  1. First, the issues at play in your divorce. For instance: Do you have kids? You’ll need someone skilled at custody and child support issues. Own a business with your spouse? Tap someone who has experience with business valuation. If gaslighting, violence or intimidation were at play in your split, you absolutely need someone with experience in domestic violence. Jot down everything specific to your case.

  2.  

  3. Second, you want to consider the type of working relationship you want to have with your attorney. Yes, most lawyers will do what’s necessary to handle your case, but the process will go much more smoothly if you select someone who is willing to develop a relationship with you based on how you’d like to interact with them. For instance, do you want a lawyer who will run the case and consult you as needed, or do you desire more involvement?

  4.  

  5. Third, you need to consider what specifically you want the attorney to do for you. Are you anticipating things going relatively smoothly, and just need some guidance as you file paperwork? Are you interested in meditation or another type of dispute resolution, or are you anticipating full-out litigation?

  6.  

  7. Finally, consider costs. Is hiring an attorney going to be a major financial hurdle, or is money of little concern? Knowing your resources going into an initial consultation will help you hone in on an attorney right for you.

 

Finding the Type of Law Firm that’s Right for You

A big factor in finding a good fit is the culture of the firm in which an attorney practices. Consider whether or not you— and your case— are better served by a solo attorney or a multi-attorney law firm.

 

READ MORE:

 

With a solo attorney, you know exactly who will be working on your case. When you call their firm, you know exactly who will be on the other end of the line. The drawback is that you may have to wait a few days to get that attorney on the phone, as they may be in mediation, in court, or in a deposition.

 

If you know that you are someone who needs a bit more hand-holding, you may feel more comfortable in a multi-attorney law firm. Multi-attorney law firms often assign multiple attorneys and paralegals to your case, with “your” attorney calling the shots as far as goals and strategy. Going with a larger firm increases the chance that you can call and talk with someone about your case at any time.

 

There’s an important and counterintuitive cost factor that comes with a multi-attorney firm: going a with a larger firm may actually decrease your costs as paralegals, legal assistants, and associate attorneys can bill at lower rates. This can add up— the national average cost of an attorney ranges around $250 an hour, and in major cities comes closer to $500. Paralegals bill out around $150 an hour.

 

Ask Around

Have a family member, friend, co-worker, or neighbor who has been through a divorce? Ask who represented them. Find out what they liked about their attorney and what they didn’t like. If you don’t know anyone who has recently gone through a divorce, consider contacting your local bar association or conducting your own web-based search.

 

Once you’ve gotten some names, go back to your list of needs and goals. Start hitting up the attorneys’ websites and see what matters they specialize in. Carefully review websites— an attorney who pays close attention to their website will likely pay close attention to their clients. Look for an attorney for whom family law is not just a practice area, but a passion.

Kiss A Lot of Frogs

Ideally, you want to visit multiple attorneys before choosing who to work with. Some attorneys will provide free initial consultations and others will charge for their time.

 

Do not be afraid to pay for an initial consultation. Done properly, an initial consultation should provide you with value, regardless of whether or not you end up retaining that firm. You should leave the consultation knowing more about divorce laws and local norms in your area, and should have some strategy ideas for how to proceed.

 

While at your initial consultation, look around. Is the office clean, organized, and welcoming? How do the attorneys interact with the staff? How does the staff interact with you? Are files laying around on the floor? That file could be yours one day, and that snarky secretary is the one that will be calling to re-up your retainer. Find a firm that prioritizes how you want to be treated.

 

What To Ask During Your Initial Consult

The goal of your initial consultation is to understand the attorney’s strategy for your case, relative costs, and if they are a good fit goals and personality wise. Is the attorney concerned about your family relationships six months from now, one year from now, or five years from now? Does the attorney treat your case (and life!) like their own personal chess game, an opportunity to flex their ego on your dime?

 

These aren’t tongue-in-cheek questions we’re asking: the Bar is chock-full of skilled attorneys who get good outcomes, but treat their clients as cogs throughout the process. Unless you’re looking to feel like a widget, consider asking some of the following questions during your initial consultation:

  • On average, how long does it take the firm to respond to phone calls and e-mails?

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  • What strategies would you use to try to settle my case?

  •  

  • How often do you bring cases to trial?

  •  

  • What dispute resolution processes are available to me?

  •  

  • How do you partner with your clients on their case?

  •  

  • What is your hourly rate, and can I work with your staff at a lower cost?

  •  

  • What is your best guess as to the overall costs for my case?

  •  

  • Do you offer payment plans or flat-rate options?

  •  

  • Do you know my spouse’s attorney? If so, how are they likely to handle my spouse’s case?

  •  

  • What is one piece of advice you give to every client?

 

Hire An Attorney You Feel Good About

If you do not leave your initial consultation feeling well-informed and empowered, do not hire that attorney. Consider how you feel leaving their office: do you feel relieved? Empowered? Like you’ve got someone on your team, who understands your goals? If not, or if you just have a weird gut feeling, keep looking, sis.

 

The right one is out there. Don’t settle for someone that’s good. Hire someone that’s good for you.

 

 
About the Author

Christy A. Zlatkus, Esquire and Dr. Elizabeth Degi DuBois, PhD, are a former attorney/client duo who managed to have fun together while navigating Elizabeth’s particularly icky divorce. The pair were casual friends for over a decade while Christy built her family law career and Elizabeth ran several NGOs. When Elizabeth filed for divorce, Christy helped her keep her emotional equilibrium through the process. Their say-anything friendship dynamic partnered with Christy’s no-nonsense advice had a profound impact on the outcome of Elizabeth’s case, and the two decided to join forces to reach more women with tangible, compassionate advice for surviving and thriving in the midst of divorce and custody matters. Christy founded Z Family Law, LLC, a boutique family law firm that seeks to empower its clients through their family law matter. Elizabeth was a natural fit to serve as Client Relations Director to help Z Family Law, LLC provide compassionate advocacy. In addition to their legal work together, Elizabeth and Christy co-founded the Eos Initiative, a legislative advocacy group committed to making family law proceedings safer for people fleeing domestic violence. You can follow their work on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

 

Lawyer Christy and client Elizabeth weigh in on how best to choose a divorce lawyer who is best for you. Make sure they meet your needs!
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  1. Jeff Curtis says:

    Thanks for this helpful post on finding a good divorce lawyer. I like the questions you included for making a list of your needs. I also really like the questions you have listed to actually ask the lawyer. I think it is really important to ask the attorney how many divorce cases they have handled. It is really important to have an experienced lawyer. Thanks for the help!

  2. Bob Lowe says:

    Thanks for the post. These are some really great tips to consider. I agree that you really need to ask all your questions. I also agree that you and the attorney need to have a great relationship. I think that can be key for communication.

  3. I think asking questions is very important, but it’s also important to consider how well you communicate and get along. If a lawyer is hard for you to talk to, the case may suffer. If they meet your qualifications and you can speak freely with them, you’ve found a good lawyer.

  4. Kate Hansen says:

    I can’t imagine the stress and pain that can come with going through a divorce. I imagine having someone to help you do all the confusing paperwork and stuff through the courts would make it a lot less painful and stressful. I like the tip of asking a potential divorce lawyer how heavy their caseload is because I would want someone who can focus a lot of their attention on my needs.

  5. Jade Brunet says:

    I appreciate this information about how to choose a good divorce lawyer. It is good to know that asking questions is appropriate. Finding how many divorce cases the attorney has done would be beneficial. It would also be nice to find someone local to make meetings more convenient and to decrease the commute time.

  6. I love the first tip you gave about making a detailed list of the exact needs I want. I’ve heard that a big reason why cases are lost is because exact, specific needs aren’t made known to the attorney. Seems like a silly mistake to make! I’ll have to keep this great choosing advice in mind if I’m ever in need of a divorce attorney!

  7. I like how you suggested narrowing the field down to a few divorce attorneys you can interview. My husband and I are going to be separating, and I need to find a good lawyer to guide me through this situation and make sure things are split fairly. I imagine that meeting with a few attorneys would be a good way to get a feel for who I’d be most comfortable working with, so I’ll make sure to do that before I make a decision.

  8. I like that you listed a set of questions to ask the lawyer. You really do have to be sure that you are taking necessary steps in finding someone good to help you with your divorce case. The best way to do that is to ask proper questions in the hiring process. Do you have any other tips about finding a good divorce lawyer?

  9. These are some great ideas for hiring a good divorce lawyer. My cousin is wanting to go through a divorce, so I know he would like to read this. I’ll make sure he at least makes a list of all the needs he has in this battle.

  10. Gloria Durst says:

    I agree that you want to check how many cases a divorce lawyer has handled. It would seem that knowing how much experience they have would help you know if they are right for you. My sister is looking for a divorce lawyer so she’ll have to find someone who has handled plenty of cases.

  11. Thanks for the interesting read. I particularly liked what you said about asking the lawyer exactly how many divorce cases they have handled in the past. With plenty of experience, they are likely to have learned how the cases usually go and what to look out for. Especially with how much is on the line during some divorce cases, having that experience could make the world of a difference.

  12. Amanda Drew says:

    My husband and I have been growing apart for a little while, and we have both decided to get a divorce. So I like how you suggest researching lawyers and finding out what they specialize in so that they will meet your needs. I’ll keep your tips in mind as I find a good attorney.

  13. I appreciate your tips for hiring a good divorce lawyer. My brother is about to go through a tough divorce, so I thought I’d do this research for him. I’ll be sure to tell him to make a nice, detailed list of the needs he has.

  14. Jeff Evans says:

    My parents got divorced about 13 years ago and it’s interesting to hear my dad talk about it now. At the time he didn’t worry about getting a good divorce attorney and he paid the price for it – literally. He had to pay a fortune, and he lost the home as well as custody of his children. Being raised without a father around really took its toll on us, his children. I greatly appreciate this article because choosing a divorce attorney isn’t just about you, it’s about your family. You should take great care when looking for an attorney. http://www.bayerjergerunderwood.com

  15. Amanda Drew says:

    Thanks for pointing out that you should find just a few that you can interview after you make a list of lawyers who you think will meet your needs. I came home early from some errands, and I was surprised to find that my husband had brought some girl home and was cheating on me. I’m not going to stay with a man like that. Thanks for your tips; they should help me find the right divorce attorney for me.

  16. I couldn’t agree more with what you said about the importance of choosing a divorce attorney that you will feel comfortable dealing with. It also makes sense to make sure that you’re confident enough with your attorney’s abilities to help you. My best friend and her husband decided to end their marriage, so she’s looking to find a good divorce lawyer. It’s important for her to make sure that she’ll be granted the primary control of their son’s custody. For me, it’s necessary to find a lawyer that you can share personal information with that can help the case and someone you can trust to fight for your right to have the primary control of the custody of your child. I will make sure to consider all your tips.

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