Be Prepared with Your Goals
Knowing what you desire out of the divorce is important so that you and your attorney start on the same page. When discussing your goals, one of the most important aspects of the conversation is how the attorney responds. Some of your goals may not be possible due to the applicable laws or facts, and it is imperative that the attorney is honest about those goals. Not only should the attorney be honest, but also transparent. You should always leave that interview with an understanding as to why any of your goals may not be achievable. An attorney who simply promises to achieve all your goals is not being transparent.
Every attorney has a perception of their own style of practice. Ask them. Remember, there is not one specific style of practice that is “best.” It boils down to getting an understanding of who your attorney is as a lawyer. Are they aggressive trying to always be on the offensive? Are they more interested in efficiency, getting you to the best settlement possible? Are they some sort of combination of aggressive and efficient? Be wary of unwarranted aggression. Unwarranted aggression from an attorney is never the right path. Unwarranted aggression increases fees, extends litigation, unnecessarily increases stress, and is not effective.
Experience should always be a consideration, though with experience usually comes higher rates. Having some sort of idea on how much you would like, or would not like, to spend should help guide you when considering an attorney’s level of experience. Experience in practicing law is not the same as experience practicing divorce law. Divorces are a specialized area of the law; ask yourself, would you hire a knee surgeon to perform a brain surgery? Having an attorney with greater experience has its advantages, such as understanding what the Court will likely decide, having knowledge about what experts to use, and relationships with opposing counsels in the community. On the other hand, some of the best litigators and attorneys are younger with less experience, which is why age and experience should never be your only consideration. Another thing to consider is if your case involves a specialized area of divorce law such as, military benefits, pension division, businesses, stock options. These special areas need an attorney who has experience in them because they are a nuance of divorce law.
Attorneys come from many different business models, including: solo practitioners, small firms, medium firms, and large firms. How each attorney practices within their business model can vary drastically. Some attorneys in medium to large firms work more as a team and will have other attorneys look at specific areas of your divorce. Some attorneys operate very closely with their staff, such that the staff becomes your primary communication source. On the other hand, some attorneys prefer that they are the only one from their office that you communicate with throughout your representation. While there is no right or wrong way to practice, it is important that you are comfortable and know how the attorney operates.
The most common complaint about attorneys is lack of communication. Does the attorney prefer phone calls or emails? What is their response procedure? Attorneys receive numerous messages throughout the day, both email and phone calls. Attorneys are busy and unable to take many of their phone calls or immediately respond to emails. However, a good attorney will have some system so that all messages are returned in a reasonable and timely manner. You should discuss with the attorney what system he/she has in place to assure every message is returned in a reasonable amount of time.
Obviously, cost is always a factor. Attorney fees typically come out of the marital estate; any money spent on lawyers will reduce what is left for you and your spouse to divide. Knowing your attorney’s hourly rate is not the end of the fee analysis:
Know the rate of support staff such as law clerks and paralegals.
Know the policy of your attorney on billing for his/her travel time spent on your case.
If your attorney works as a team, how does the team divide the billing.
When does your attorney use their support staff and for what type of tasks?
After gaining an understanding of the facts of your case, your attorney should be able to articulate a strategy. Being able to articulate a strategy that you understand is important. Your attorney needs to launch the strategy from the very beginning of your case. Waiting to develop or launch a strategy can be devastating to your case. From the first pleading, your case will build layer upon layer and a good strategy will support the next layer of your case.