In Part 2 of “How to Select a Divorce Lawyer” attorney Robert Mues continues his key considerations in selecting the “right” divorce lawyer:
The “Hot Potato Shuffle”
Some family law firms shuffle clients between lawyers in the firm like they are “hot potatoes.” Clarify at the start of the representation the firm’s policy on the subject. While this type of treatment may work on a personal injury, criminal or insurance defense matter, it rarely results in high client satisfaction at the conclusion of a divorce case.
The objective in hiring your divorce lawyer should be to find excellent representation not specific results. Be leery of any attorney who makes broad guarantees at an initial conference. There are many shades of gray in family law litigation. The ultimate results in any divorce case are impacted by the facts and oftentimes which judge is assigned the case. Therefore, it is usually premature to make definitive representations at an initial conference. Watch out for the “bait and switch” tactics!
How Much Will the Divorce Cost?
This is one of the toughest questions a family law attorney is ever asked! The unknown variables make it truly impossible to predict with any true certainty how many hours will be invested into a case. Many factors impacting costs are not within the lawyer’s control. How efficiently will the discovery process go? How reasonable will the opposing party and counsel be? Will trivial matters be hotly contested? Which judge will be assigned to the case? Will the trial date be delayed multiple times even over objection? Will additional costs for experts, psychological evaluations or appraisals be necessary? Despite these unknowns, an experienced family law lawyer should be able to give you a cost range and set forth the conditions affecting the final figure. While even the most experienced family law lawyer is not clairvoyant and won’t be able to guarantee final costs, your conversation on the subject should be able to help you analyze the cost range and evaluate the lawyer’s candor.
Always discuss in advance how fees are calculated. Is there an initial consultation fee? Some lawyers provide an initial conference for free. Most experienced divorce attorneys charge an initial conference fee ranging from $100 to $200 or may charge their normal hourly rate. You should not let an initial conference fee deter you from considering the lawyer who charges one. Charging a discounted initial conference fee helps busy experienced family law lawyers eliminate people who are not serious or do not have the financial ability to ultimately retain the attorney. Also, you will typically obtain a longer and more detailed conference if you pay for it.
Attorneys’ hourly rates typically range from $150 to $300 per hour. A lower hourly rate doesn’t mean the cheapest or best selection. Many times the attorney with a higher hourly rate will complete the representation at a lower total fee because of the lawyer’s experience and competence in dealing with like cases. Most family law lawyers do not handle divorce work on a fixed fee basis. This is due to the many unknown variables in divorce cases such as whether items which may seem clear cut will ultimately be contested, who the opposing party hires as his/her counsel, asset valuation factors and the direction the case may take because of unreasonable demands or the emotions involved.
Most lawyers will require a substantial retainer (deposit) to be paid up front by the client before they will undertake an individual’s representation in a divorce. Be sure to find out the amount of the retainer, hourly rate(s) and whether the unused portion of the retainer is refundable. How often will you receive statements and in what detail are they itemized? The Ohio Code of Professional Responsibility strongly encourages lawyers to set forth the retention agreement in writing so as to avoid potential confusion. Read the fee agreement carefully and if any parts are unclear, be sure to ask questions.
Spend time and exercise due diligence in selecting your divorce lawyer. Interview several. You need to find the “right” attorney for you. You should feel that the lawyer is experienced, empathetic, has an adequate support staff, and is a good communicator. The trust and comfort level between both of you is fundamental to a successful representation. Make sure you are totally confident in the selection because your life is too important to entrust it to any lawyer. Divorce lawyers vary greatly in style, philosophy and ability. Realize that changing your lawyer midstream is costly, can damage your case and be emotionally traumatic.
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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.