9 Questions to Ask a Divorce Lawyer
It is extremely important to hire a good lawyer early in your divorce process. But how do you determine who is a "good" lawyer? What should you ask as you seek legal representation?
1. How much of your practice is devoted to family law?
You don't want to hire someone who is just starting out in the practice of family law. There are many intricacies, "tricks" and nuances that can only be learned with experience. Now is not the time to give the "rookie" a chance to get into the game.
2. Can you explain the legal issues as well as the legal process?
A good attorney should be able to very easily identify and explain the legal issues and general concepts of your case. You are not going to want to hire an attorney who needs to refer back to the statute book every time you – or the judge – have a question.
3. How do you charge for your time?
Some attorneys have different rates for in-court time versus out-of-court time. In addition, you will want to know if the attorney is billing per hour and in what increments of time you will be billed. Some attorneys break down their time into tenths of an hour, while other attorneys will charge a minimum for drafting letters or appearing in court. You will want to know all this up front.
4. What do you expect this will cost?
Generally, the attorney should be able to give you a rough estimate and a list of services covered by that estimate. The more experienced lawyers should be able to provide you with a roadmap of the process and how much each step will cost. Do not, however, expect the attorney to give you a specific quote on fees. You should be very skeptical about an attorney who quotes you a fixed rate or guarantees that your entire divorce will only cost a specific amount. Remember, you get what you pay for.
5. Have you had experience working against the opposing attorney (assuming there is one already involved)?
It is very helpful to know that your attorney has dealt with opposing counsel in the past. You will want your attorney to know the opposing counsel's weaknesses, preferences and tendencies. A lot of times, your attorney can tell you how the case might proceed, depending on who is representing your soon-to-be ex spouse. If your attorney does not know the opposing attorney, you should ask them to do some research.
6. How much work will be done by paralegals and/or younger associates?
Generally speaking, most attorneys will work with a paralegal that is responsible for a lot of the day-to-day workings on the file. The nice things about having a paralegal work on your case is they typically charge significantly less per hour than an attorney.
7. What is your game plan or strategy for handling my case?
Your attorney should be prepared to provide you with an overall strategy. This will assure that your attorney will be proactive and not just reactive, which will save you time and money in the long run. Remember, the strategy may change during the course of the proceeding, but the overall goals should remain the same.
8. Have you ever been subject to discipline by the Board of Professional Responsibility?
Do not be afraid to ask your potential attorney this question. If the answer is "yes," you are going to want to learn all of the details before hiring this individual. You might not want to rule out an attorney just because he or she has been disciplined, but it's a red flag that needs to be scrutinized.
9. How do you communicate information to your clients?
The rules of most state bar associations require regular communications with the client, which includes, but is not limited to, receiving copies of all correspondence. Your attorney should send you copies of all paperwork and correspondence that comes in and out of their office regarding your case. Be sure that your attorney keeps you informed of all goings-on in your case.
Trust your gut!
In the end, it will probably boil down to your own gut feeling about the attorney. Trust that feeling. If you spend the entire consultation with the attorney wondering why your stomach is churning and you can't get that bad taste out of your mouth, you should probably look elsewhere.
On the other hand, if you leave the meeting with a sense of trust and the feeling that your questions have been answered, I suggest you stick with that attorney. You are going to be paying that attorney a lot of money and working very closely with them going forward, you want to make sure you can trust them.
For more information, read Jonathan's article on 5 Steps to Prepare for a Divorce.
Minnesota attorney Jonathan Fogel of Fogel Law Offices has extensive experience handling divorces involving complex marital estates, spousal maintenance, custody, and post decree matters. In addition to his successful practice, he has authored a book Preparing for Divorce While Happily Married; Tips from a Divorce Lawyer.
Note: The information here is not meant to be a substitute for legal advice, please consult with trusted legal counsel.
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