Selecting the right attorney for a divorce is an extremely important and personal decision. Take the time to properly pick your attorney. The outcome of your family law case will impact your future dramatically!
The following are some key considerations in selecting the “right” divorce lawyer:
Most attorneys these days have narrowed their practice to one or a few areas of the law. Divorce law is a very specialized field. It is important to find a lawyer that concentrates his or her practice in the particular area of law that you need – whether it’s divorce, child custody, domestic violence or another family law category. An experienced divorce lawyer will understand the philosophies and tendencies of the judges in the various jurisdictions. That knowledge is extremely valuable and should be used to your benefit.
Past Client References
An extremely valuable manner to gain insight about a particular attorney is to find out what former clients say about the lawyer. Ask family, friends, church members or co-workers if they know of a good family law attorney. Also, most lawyers can give you references of former clients who have agreed to serve as a reference for the lawyer.
Professionalism, Reputation and Integrity
Some people facing a divorce initially think that hiring a “shark” type lawyer who will “fight dirty” is best. Ethics, professionalism and integrity are important. Consider this, if an attorney is willing to be unethical in some situations, what makes you sure that the attorney will deal honestly with you? Has the lawyer adopted the American Bar Association Civility Standards for Family Law Practitioners? Click here to see the ABA Civility Standards. An excellent way to check out your attorney’s professional integrity is to check his/her Martindale-Hubbell rating as to both ethics and legal ability. Martindale-Hubbell ratings are a well-respected source based upon confidential ratings by an attorney’s peers. To research your prospective attorney’s ratings, click here. Reputation can be a tricky subject. Be cautious about “high profile” lawyers. Many have reputations cultivated through specializing in criminal law, not family law matters.
A lawyer’s website can be useful to learn a lot about the lawyer. Review the website from top to bottom. You should be able to learn a great deal about the lawyer and his/her philosophy about the services offered. How does the lawyer differentiate his/her services from competitors?
Communication and Access
Schedule an initial conference and meet and talk with the attorney. Do you like his/her communication style? Some attorneys may appear great on paper or have a recognizable name in the community. Every lawyer has unique traits, which you may or may not like. It is extremely important that you are able to communicate together well and that the lawyer is willing to listen. Many lawyers like to talk but fail to adequately listen. Lawyer dissatisfaction is often rooted in communication problems. Unlike lawyers who practice in areas other than family law, divorce lawyers spend much of their time in court and their time at the office is often consumed with client conferences. Learn about the office policies of the lawyer. Are phone calls returned promptly? Does the lawyer utilize email? Be sure that the lawyer has experienced support persons available to assist. You should always be able to schedule phone conferences to be able to discuss details of your case. Divorces are often very emotional. Without attorney access, clients’ frustrations can multiply unnecessarily. You want an attorney who can help answer your questions and help counsel you through the difficult times. Good family law lawyers have figured out procedures to maintain client communications despite often being scheduled very tightly.
Many traditional family law attorneys still believe that their obligation to their client is a narrow one, which is to essentially resolve only the legal issues and leave the matters pertaining to the client’s emotional stress and anxiety, taxation, financial/budget concerns and divorce transition issues to other professionals. This approach, while typical with many lawyers, tends oftentimes to leave a client paralyzed for months and even years after a divorce. Some family law lawyers, however, view their role very differently and have forged strong relationships with various professionals from other disciplines including accountants, mental health counselors, social workers and financial planners. These independent affiliates can assist to provide a multi-disciplinary team approach to resolve clients’ legal problems. Taking this more holistic view of clients’ needs can help clients avoid unnecessary emotional distress as well as save money and time.
To be continued.
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Robert L. Mues
Robert Mues is the managing partner of Dayton, Ohio, law firm, Holzfaster, Cecil, McKnight & Mues, and has received the highest rating from the Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review for Ethical Standards and Legal Ability. Mr. Mues is also a founding member of the "International Academy of Attorneys for Divorce over 50" blog.