Choosing a divorce attorney can be one of the most important decisions you ever make. This may seem like a drastic statement, but if you have ever seen someone financially ruined by the poor drafting of an Order, someone without the portion of the assets they deserve, or even someone without their children due to the ineptitude of their counsel, you will realize what I am saying is true.
Recently, I was asked what criteria I considered to be important when it comes to choosing a divorce attorney.
1. First and foremost, what is their area of practice?
If they are not committed to family law, they may not know the applicable law or the implications of certain decisions. Would you hire a Podiatrist to perform open heart surgery? Similarly, why hire a real estate lawyer to represent you in your divorce?
2. How long have they been practicing family law?
If they are a new attorney and not directly under the tutelage of an experienced lawyer they will not know how to navigate a courtroom, divorce appeals, alimony, child custody, tax laws, and child support. Also, they may be bullied by more experienced attorneys and fail to get the information submitted into Court you need simply by not knowing how to submit the applicable evidence.
3. Do they practice law in the jurisdiction where the case is filed?
I learned this the hard way when I was a new lawyer (See reason 2). I took a case in Cullman County. Despite a clear understanding of the law I was thoroughly trounced by a cowboy boot wearing, tobacco chewing veteran. My client and I were dismayed to learn that the law did not count for much in this Court. It would have been too costly to appeal, but the case would have been far easier had I known the lay of the land.
4. Will you be able to communicate with your lawyer?
One of the biggest problems people cite regarding dissatisfaction with their attorney is poor communication with them. I make it a habit to answer emails daily. Returning phone calls daily can be difficult due to obligations of court and client meetings. Thankfully, I have a highly competent staff to assist with communicating with clients. (It is a red flag if the attorney does not have an assistant.) Clients can make huge mistakes during their case if they do not consult with their counsel. Cases often need critical care. Twice in the last year, I have had to call clients who needed assistance while I was out of the country.
It goes back to how important the divorce process can be. If you cannot reach your lawyer when you need them, you have a problem or will have one soon thereafter.
5. Lastly, how well do you relate to your lawyer?
Or how comfortable do you feel with them? This person is going to hear your deepest secrets and listen to you at your darkest hour. You have to feel at ease with the person you are choosing to represent you. You are going to be paying your attorney a great deal of money. You want to make sure this is money well spent. If your attorney makes you feel as if they do not care about you or your case, then you are in the wrong place.
All of this to say, you can find great attorneys who are just starting out, and maybe that is all you can afford. But I urge you to stick as closely to my guidelines as possible. I have never heard anyone say, “I wish I had hired a worse attorney.”
On the other hand, week after week, I have to repair the damage done. Sometimes it is too late, the woman who did not realize she was entitled to one half of her ex husband‘s retirement and will never be able to get that $50,000 back. The sad thing is, she thought she was saving money.
– Leigh Daniel
Attorney, Mediator & legal advocate for positive change!
Ph: (256) 551 0500