Unless a family or friend gives you a recommendation (often not the right way to go), you will likely choose your lawyer by doing some Googling and possibly some guesswork.
You Google lawyers and click around. Some look good. A lot look bad. A few have five stars, which is the most appealing indication to you that you might want to call them. You call, you leave a message or maybe you get a phone consultation, and maybe you make an appointment.
At some point, if you get to talk to the lawyer, you gather some basic facts, but the two most important facts to you, whether you realize it or not, are what the lawyer’s fees are — to be specific, you need to know what the lawyer’s down payment (also called a “retainer”) is, and whether you overall have a “good feeling” about the lawyer.
In other words, you are likely to choose an attorney based on a few factors: seeing a couple of reviews, feeling out the lawyer’s demeanor on the phone or in person, and his or her price.
You will assess this information with maybe three people, and choose your lawyer.
The prospect of choosing a lawyer may feel overwhelming. Everything may feel like it is going too fast. Choosing a lawyer is hard work. Take a day off from work to focus on figuring this out. Set aside some time to confront the challenge of finding the right lawyer, head-on. This is an important decision that can make the difference between having more or less stress over your divorce.
This lawyer will be in charge of a lot of things for you, including what amount of time you get to spend with your children as you move into your new life and the amount of money you will have at the end of the marriage.
This lawyer will be in charge of changing your legal status from married to single and will be broadly in charge of how long your status is in pending divorce, which could vary from sixty days to years.
The Googling, guessing, and feeling-it-out method with three law offices is not good enough, because you could easily end up with the wrong legal service – and not know it until it is way too late.
So, instead of blindly Googling information, I strongly suggest that you be more methodical in your search. The next section discusses how you can do that, thus enabling you to make a good decision.
Lawyers are not like doctors. Once licensed, we can advertise our services in many different areas of law. So long as we can competently represent you, we can advertise to you, even if you are our first client. Wow. That should be a huge surprise. Here I am, a lawyer, telling you that there is very little protection between you and a lawyer who may have never handled a case like yours before. Maybe you feel that this is no big deal – after all, it is a lawyer who is representing you, and that person must be smart because he/she is a lawyer. Not true! What this means is that you need to hire your lawyer carefully. You need to look into the lawyer’s background. Check his/her state bar page to get more information. Check his/her website, too. Ask the lawyer direct questions about his/her experience with similar cases.
You should be aware that a person can become a licensed attorney, advertise divorce services, and not be very good at their job. Being a good divorce lawyer requires that the person can speak eloquently to a judge, understands the family code, can write well, can use technology efficiently, and is willing to take a moment to care about you and your life. If the lawyer is bad at any one of these things, you may not be happy with your divorce service. The best case scenario, if this happens, is that you can hire a second lawyer, but you are not likely to get the money back from the first one. In the worst case, you could end up losing for yourself thousands of dollars that you should have been entitled to, or even worse, losing rights to be with your children.
So to avoid getting a bad lawyer, when you interview your lawyer, assess these qualities:
When talking to the lawyer, do they speak professionally and persuasively, in a way that you find impressive? This is the same lawyer who will be speaking to a judge on your behalf, so how are their speaking skills? Can you hear them? Do you like them? Are they clear? Do they speak proper English? Are they overly emotional or too aggressive? Think of it as though you are interviewing your very own employee. What do you think of this person?
The most convenient way to check this is to ask the lawyer the most complicated questions you have, and see if they know the answers. Write down their answers, and then Google them to see if the lawyer knew what they were talking about. Beware that everything on Google is not accurate, but I do not have to tell you that. You can also crosscheck the information by interviewing more than one lawyer. Do not assume the lawyer is right. Many lawyers do not actually know the law as well as they should.
I personally think this is really important. If a lawyer can’t use technology very well, they will spend more time on your case, which then costs you more money. There are tools that lawyers should be able to use that can give you an advantage, such as the creation of visual aid evidence. Ask the lawyer about what software or technology they prefer to use in their practice. If they say that they don’t even use email, this is not the right lawyer.
While interviewing the lawyer, you should tell them something that is important to you about your case, and see if you feel that the lawyer actually heard you on that. Or were they too busy selling to you and yapping at you so much that they never actually heard you? This is your life; hire someone who will listen. You should not need to give the lawyer a lot of chances to hear you. If they don’t listen to you in the beginning, then move on. There are thousands of family lawyers, so you can be picky.
After you tell the lawyer about your case, ask them what the case plan would be if you hired them. The lawyer should lay out a plan that sounds good to you. If you aren’t on the same page in the beginning, you likely never will be.
The above few questions are basic conversational strategies that can help you avoid choosing the wrong lawyer.
Realize that a lawyer who has really good feedback on the web may still be the wrong lawyer for you. Family law is profoundly personal. Don’t depend on the recommendations of others. You are the best resource to find the right lawyer for you.