If you are considering a divorce, you should take the time to speak with a few different divorce lawyers before retaining one to represent you. Many lawyers will offer a free case evaluation over the phone to briefly discuss your situation and this may give you enough time to develop a rapport with the lawyer. Many divorce lawyers are happy to spend some time speaking with a potential client because client representation in the divorce process is a two-way street. Not only should the client trust the lawyer, but lawyers must also have a good connection with the client since the lawyer and the client will essentially work together through the process.
WHAT SHOULD I LOOK FOR IN A DIVORCE LAWYER?
In the divorce process and especially when matters such as child custody and equitably division of the marital property are at issue, the lawyer and the client will be speaking with one another on a regular, consistent basis. The case may involve common or unique procedural and substantive matters that require a lawyer’s experience and knowledge of the law. In most cases, a settlement of the issues is usually in the client’s best interest, so a lawyer who can effectively communicate with opposing counsel can pay dividends. A lawyer must be organized since many divorce cases involve the exchange of documents including financial information of the parties to the divorce. And finally, the divorce lawyer should have courtroom experience, in the event the case cannot resolve through negotiated settlement.
10 QUESTIONS TO ASK A DIVORCE LAWYER
The following 10 questions are a good start. These questions are common, and the answers can be brief. The questions are not too intrusive and any lawyer who is not comfortable answering the questions should not be considered to help you with your case.
- How long have you practiced divorce law? Clearly, the longer a lawyer has practiced in the area of divorce and related matters, the more experience the lawyer has for your case. Lawyers who have practiced for many years have experience with other divorce lawyers so they may be familiar with your spouse’s lawyer. This can help facilitate a quicker exchange of information and a more expedient divorce, saving you money. An experienced divorce lawyer will be familiar with the nuance to the divorce laws and be in a better position to evaluate likely outcomes.
- What is your strategy for my case? In an initial call, it may be difficult for your lawyer to evaluate your case, since each case is different. Cases often hinge on unique facts and circumstances which can take some time for a lawyer to develop and understand. Lawyers should be able to explain how he or she has handled prior cases and the outcomes of those cases with similar facts to your case. The lawyer should also be able to discuss with you his or her initial thoughts on your case and how the lawyer will approach the issues in your case.
- How long will it take to resolve my Pennsylvania divorce case? Again, all cases are different, but the lawyer should be able to explain the procedures for mutual consent divorces, contested divorces, custody matters, support matters and property disputes. The lawyer should be able to give you an estimate of the length of time for your case based on different potential scenarios.
- How long do you take to return phone calls or emails? This is one of the most important questions because lawyers should communicate with you quickly. Divorce and custody matters can be emotional and issues that can be considered emergency situations often arise. Technology makes communication easy and the lawyer should be able to return calls and emails that same day.
- Will anyone else in your law firm be working on my case? Obviously, you do not want to feel comfortable with the experience and rapport with one lawyer, only to find out that a less experienced associate attorney will be the one handling most of your case. Make sure you know who will be handling your case before you retain a law firm for your divorce.
- What is your hourly rate? What is your retainer up front? Hourly rates are important, but sometimes a lawyer with a higher hourly rate can actually save you money. More experienced lawyers usually have higher rates, but they might be able to save you time on legal research or getting your case resolved sooner through a negotiated settlement of the issues. A more experienced divorce lawyer can also help you choose your battles and make wise decisions throughout the process, so you are not wasting money fighting with your spouse about a minor issue. You should not focus solely on the hourly rate. You should also ask what the up-front retainer is to make sure that you have the money for the retainer.
- What is your estimate of the total cost to me of this divorce? Do not be alarmed that most divorce attorneys will resist answering this question as the cost of divorce depends greatly on the level of conflict in your case. However, the way in which the divorce lawyer answers this question may help you size up the attorney. An honest attorney will often answer that it is difficult to estimate the costs in advance. An attorney that gives you an unrealistically low amount may just be trying to get your business.
- What costs other than your own do you expect will be involved (for example, private investigators, forensic accountants, physicians and/or psychologists), and how much will you charge me for them? Most divorce cases do not require experts, but there may be other costs such as an appraiser for the value of the marital home or an appraiser for the present value of your spouse’s pension. You will want to ask the lawyer if he or she thinks an accountant, appraiser or expert is necessary for your case and the anticipated costs.
- Are there tasks that I can do myself to cut down on the amount you will charge me? The answer to this question should almost always be “YES”. The client should be involved in the case and when the client is able to do some of the tasks, it will save the client money.
- Based on what you know about my case, how would you predict a judge would rule on it? Again, this can be a tough question to answer on the outset, but divorce lawyers should be able to give you an idea of what to expect in the case. Even if the lawyer can give you a few alternative scenarios and predicted outcomes, it will help you understand your case and give you a sense of comfort.