How to Find a Good Divorce Lawyer
There are so many horror stories of lawyers charging astronomical fees then doing nothing. I have several friends and family members this has happened to. After paying a large retainer fee, the lawyer became near impossible to reach, wouldn’t file paperwork, didn’t think of strategies, argumentative, and encouraged ridiculous settlements. I had no idea how to find a good divorce lawyer.
So when I ended up in this mess, I was terrified. I honestly had not heard of a positive experience from friends or family. This really should be the last thing you must worry about, whether or not you are going to be taken by your lawyer. I was already a stressed out mess from the loss of my former life, being thrown into the ranks of single motherhood, and wondering how the hell we are going to make it financially.
There is unfortunately no fool proof plan to guarantee you find a good lawyer, and believe me I talked to a few turds before finding the diamond in the rough. Here are a few tips that helped me find a good divorce lawyer. I hope it helps you too.
Read reviews on lawyers & ask people you know for referrals
Yelp and AVVO are good resources. AVVO is a lawyer referral site, and is the review site where I found mine. Make a list of the lawyers with good reviews that resonate with you. Reviews and referrals are a good starting place, but don’t trust this alone. As you need to be sure you click with your lawyer. You are creating a team. Find one you are compatible with.
Call the lawyers from your review and referral list and begin interviewing them. The interview should include a brief description of your situation and what you need out of the whole mess, then wait for their response.
Questions to ask:
- How long have you been practicing family law?
- Do you handle many custody cases?
- I would like to share my situation with you and I would like to know your thoughts?
- What has been your experience and result with cases like mine?
- Are you easily reached if I have questions or concerns?
- What is typically your turn around time to respond to calls or emails?
- What are your fees?
You should feel comfortable talking with your lawyer, and feel as though they are empathetic. A sign you should run, if they share no empathy for your case and you feel rushed when speaking with them.
My infant daughter had never been apart from me, was still breastfeeding, and her absent father had just moved 6 hours away. As I was explaining my concern, one of the lawyers interrupted me in a hostile judgmental tone and said, “why don’t you just pump?” Followed by, “I’d like you to come in later this week.” Ugh, no thanks that will be a gigantic pass. He was not sympathetic or even understood my concerns as a mother. So how could I feel confident in his ability to represent me. I started feeling quite discouraged after talking to several.
Finally, the last one on my list. He was pleasant over the phone. It felt like a genuine conversation. I did not feel rushed to speak. After sharing my case, he stated my concerns were valid and the courts will likely be sympathetic too. This demonstrated he had empathy for my situation. He then asked me for a few details of my case. A good sign, that he was listening. He also shared the challenges I would face, which I appreciated his honesty in not over selling or sugar coating my worries. He was very personable, understood my worry, and was already strategizing. I finally felt as though I was being heard. My case was rather ordinary, but regardless, you don’t want to feel as though you are another run of the mill client filling the roster of a burnout lawyer.
Consult with lawyer(s)
After your phone conversation, most will try to set up an appointment to sign you on as their client. Only agree to meet with the ones you felt comfortable with over the phone.
If you can’t talk comfortably, then it’s unlikely you will have confidence in them representing your needs. This mess will make you lose a lot of sleep. You shouldn’t have to lose sleep over concerns of whether your lawyer is doing their job.
Every lawyer I called invited me to their office. Also, do not pay a consultation fee. I understand lawyers can’t fill their day with handing out free advice. However, you are not asking for advice. You are the employer and this is an interview. You are deciding if they are the right candidate for the job.
The most important part of the interview is their response to you after you summarize your case, and ask for their thoughts and experiences with similar cases. It’s an open ended question. It is their opportunity to sale you on why you should hire them. Even though it was discussed over the phone, it is good to do it again in person.
You are not creating a game plan this early on, but they should be willing to talk to you without a consultation fee regarding your case. If not, move on! If you feel like your money is more important to them than you, find someone else. You want to find someone with passion for their work.
Another Bad Call
One of my disastrous calls went something like this, she answered and I explained I was in search of a lawyer. I asked if I could ask her a few questions. She snappily said go ahead. Already there was negative energy. I rushed through my questions. When reaching the most important question, which was her thoughts on my situation. She interrupted with, “I don’t give away advice for free.” I explained, I was looking for a lawyer not advice, and would like to know your experience with cases like mine. After an extremely quick run down of my situation, she said nothing. There was an awkward silence. Again I asked, do you have experience in such cases? She said, I do. You can set up a $200 consultation with my office if you want to discuss this further.
Again, a big fat no thank you. I know I would have lost sleep with her as my lawyer. I felt uncomfortable and unimportant. Remember you will be their employer, so don’t be bullied.
So, how to find a good divorce lawyer?
Reviews: Good reviews/referrals, check for bad reviews.
Accessible: How can you reach them? Do they personally respond? What’s their turn-around time to respond?
Empathetic: You shouldn’t feel uncomfortable, judged, or rushed when speaking with them. You should feel heard. They should ask you questions, and take notes.
Honesty: They are not afraid to tell you both the good and the bad, don’t sugar coat your situation, and takes the time to also explain the potential challenges you will face in court.
Good Listener: Do they ask questions, are they taking notes, do you feel heard?
Effort: After explaining your case, they are inquisitive about details, and troubleshoot.
Gut: Trust your instincts. Always go with your gut!
Faith: Stay strong, as challenging as this experience is believe all will be okay.
I ended up with a terrific lawyer. When I met with him in person for free, he had made notes of our initial phone call. Before we met, he had reviewed his notes and re-familiarized his self with my case. It turned out he was an amazing lawyer. He was compassionate, honest, and more accessible than I would have expected. If you are as lucky as I was, be sure to give the good ones a glowing review. I hope these tips help you find a good one too!