The divorce lawyer you choose work with, will have big impact on the legal process and outcome. Your lawyer’s skill is important, but it shouldn’t be the only consideration. If you hire the wrong lawyer for you, the relationship might end up adding to your stress rather than relieving it. Here are a few things to consider when choosing your lawyer.
- Where possible get a personal referral. Ask your friends and family members. Ask other professionals you may already deal with like your accountant, doctor, financial planner or real estate agent. If someone has a personal relationship with the lawyer, or better still has been a client of theirs, you can ask for some honest feedback to see if you think you’d be a good match.
- Don’t let charge hourly rates be the only factor. Potential clients often do the ring around of legal offices and ask only one question – what is the hourly rate. The reason this is a dangerous approach is that lawyers generally charge based on their level of experience. If the rate is cheap then it is likely the lawyer is new to the game. The likely result of hiring a more junior lawyer is that they will take twice as long (or longer) to do the same job as someone more experienced. It can sometime be a false economy.
- Approach the first appointment as a two way street. It’s not just about the lawyer telling you if they will take your case. The first appointment is an opportunity to see how comfortable you feel with the lawyer, if they are able to explain things in a way you understand, if you feel confident in their advice, if you feel heard, if your questions are answered sufficiently and if you think you will be able to work with them when things get challenging. If it doesn’t feel right from the start, perhaps consider meeting with another lawyer. It might be expensive to have a few first appointments, but more expensive financially and emotionally if you end up in conflict with your lawyer as well as your spouse. Trust your gut.
- Find out who will actually be handling your case. In larger firms it is common for a partner to oversee the file, but for more junior lawyers to do a lot of the less complicated work, in some cases this means a lot of the work. Find out what aspects of your case will be handled by who? When you call and email who will you be dealing with? Make sure you are comfortable with the answer.
- Ask questions about charging structures, payment of fees and how often you are billed, are important especially as costs disputes are one of the biggest problem with lawyers. Also ask about policies for returning calls and email, how you can minimise your costs, their attitude towards settling out of Court and anything else that might be an issue for you upfront. Lawyers are required to provide clients with detailed costs information. Read it and if you don’t understand it, ask for it to be explained to you. Get clear on your expectations and make them known to your potential lawyer, to see their reaction. Not fussed if your lawyer doesn’t return your call for a few days? Or would this drive you crazy? Having thought about what is important to you and voicing that might avoid problems down the track.