I often tell my clients that picking a divorce attorney is unlike choosing any other legal professional, because you are picking someone to live through a very difficult time with you. The first thing we always discuss is the fact that just like you should be 99.9% sure when you get married, you should be 99.9% sure when you get divorced as it will just as substantially affect your life. It is my belief that the number one decision we make in our lives that determines our happiness or misery is whom we marry. Many of my clients agree and have concluded that for any multitude of reasons they just can’t remain married to their current spouse.
However, this doesn’t mean they aren’t sad, because no one marries thinking they will some day divorce. This also doesn’t mean they aren’t mad or hurt by whatever has brought them to my office. Most often, my clients are afraid. Afraid of how they will support themselves and their children. Afraid of when and how they will see their children. Afraid of how this will affect their children’s physical and emotional security. Afraid of what the legal process will do to them and their families. Sadly, some are even physically afraid that their spouse will injure them or their children.
I find it upsetting to see how often clients come to me as their second, third or even fourth attorney. Changing attorneys during the process is time consuming and expensive. I have compiled a checklist to assist you in picking your right match in a divorce attorney. However, as my mother always told me, never forget to listen to your “inner voice.” Do you feel comfortable in their office? Do they seem to have a good working relationship with their staff (one of mutual respect)? Do they really listen to what you say when you are speaking? Do they answer your questions candidly, even if it isn’t the answer you wanted?
Checklist for Picking Your Divorce Attorney
Finding A Divorce Lawyer
1. Where To Look For That Lawyer – It always concerns me when people tell me they found their attorney (including me) from a billboard, advertisement on the radio, phone book or through a blind internet search without any additional research. Unfortunately, lawyers cannot provide you with lists of previous clients to call due to confidentiality, but there are other ways to check a lawyer out.
If you happen to find a person that raves about their divorce attorney, that is an attorney worth checking out! Everyone knows someone who has been through a divorce.
Unfortunately, you usually hear most about the divorce attorneys that didn’t do their job for their client rather than the good ones. So if you have a trusted friend who has been through a divorce, ask them. Did you like your attorney? Were they responsive to your needs? Did you get an acceptable outcome?
Good professionals have networks of other professionals they know and deal with on a regular basis. Since I practice only family law, I know many skilled attorneys that practice in other areas of law and I am always happy to provide the names and numbers of other qualified attorneys for them to check out. I also have a network of mental health and financial professionals that I deal with on a regular basis both for referrals and as experts for my clients. Good lawyers network with other good lawyers and professionals.
Quality attorneys work hard for their clients and build networks of highly-competent legal and non-legal professionals. Calling a divorce lawyer and stating you were referred by one of their network will generally give you an immediate connection to that lawyer.
So ask the lawyer who formed your last corporation or did the closing on your house, “Do you know a good divorce attorney?” or “Have you heard of attorney x who I saw in an ad?” Or ask the counselor you’ve been seeing or the accountant that does your taxes. Most attorneys advertise, including myself, but choosing your attorney from an advertisement alone is not the best way to choose someone to legally assist you during a difficult time in your life.
“Quality attorneys work hard for their clients and build networks of highly-competent legal and non-legal professionals.”
Pre-appointment screening of the Attorney
2. Additional Checks – With or without a referral, before you set an appointment, go to the Florida Bar Website and make sure the lawyer you are considering is in good standing and has a clear record with the Bar. Also verify the lawyer is part of the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar. If the lawyer is not willing to pay the small fee to be part of the Family Law Section they may not be serious about family law. The law is changing so quickly in the area of family law that lawyers who are immersed in one or two areas of law will be better qualified to keep pace with those changes.
3. Make a List of What You are Looking For In a Divorce Lawyer – Divorce lawyers are people too. Make a list of the characteristics you would like in a divorce attorney and write them down: good listener, patient, calm, soft spoken, in control, etc. Then make a list of characteristics you do NOT want in a divorce attorney and write them down: arrogant, impatient, controlling, doesn’t listen. Each individual looks for something different. Do you want an attorney who has children? Do you feel protected by a man? Can you speak more openly to a woman? Do you want an attorney who has personally been through something you are experiencing? Write it down.
4. Go to the Lawyer’s Website – Don’t just go to the website; carefully read it. The website should be a reflection of the attorney. Make sure the philosophy and goals of the attorney are consistent with your own. Compare it to the lists you made about the things you are looking for in an attorney. Check to see how many areas of law the lawyer practices other than family law. Read the bio of the attorney and see what organizations they belong to. The website should create a picture in your mind of the type of person the attorney is and what matters to them.
5. Make your list of Questions – Write down every question you can think of, every question, even if you think it is silly. I have heard every imaginable question from potential clients. If it is important enough for you to think about asking I want you to ask it! Not only does it help you, but your questions tell me what is important to you and what you are concerned about.
Setting the Appointment and Initial Consultation
6. Setting the Appointment – First impressions matter and set the tone for what the rest of your experience will be like in many circumstances. Call the attorney during office hours. Does a person answer the phone? Be aware that usually you will not speak with an attorney prior to the initial consultation unless you request it. If you want to talk to the attorney prior to the consultation, ask to set a time to speak with them prior to setting the consultation (which should be limited to ten or fifteen minutes). Remember only attorneys can answer legal questions.
7. Initial Consultation – What you come away with from the initial consultation will be based on your goals and how well prepared you are. To get the most out of the consultation, be prepared with questions and information the attorney will need.
What you should take to the initial consultation:
- Any completed paperwork sent to you prior to the consultation
- Your current driver’s license
- Any pertinent correspondence that you have had with your spouse or their attorney
- Any legal documents that you have been served with or from previous issues that relate to the divorce
- Copies of any pre or post marriage contracts
- Social security numbers for you, your spouse and all minor children
- A list of all current assets and liabilities owned by you or your spouse
You should leave the initial consultation with the following information:
- A full explanation of the law as it relates to the issues in your divorce situation (you don’t need to hear about child support if you have no children)
- A list of options available to you in reference to resolution of those issues
- The potential risk and reward associated with each option
- The initial cost of the retainer associated with those options
- Answers to all of your questions.
There is usually a fee for the initial consultation if legal information is being provided. Unless there is an urgent reason that action needs to be taken immediately such as a response to a legal deadline, a parent threatening removal of a minor child from the state or money going missing, I recommend that you not hire the attorney at that initial consultation. At least think about it over night. Go to as many consultations as you think are necessary to find the right attorney for you. The cost associated with a consultation is much less than the cost to change attorneys halfway through a case. Good lawyers educate their clients on options and are committed to helping, not selling.
8. Post Consultation – Go home after the initial consultation and find a time to sit down and evaluate what the lawyer told you. Ask yourself some hard questions. Does this person seem trustworthy? Do they seem to know the law in this area? Are they confident? Do they listen to me when I am speaking? Are they responsive to what I tell them about how I want my life’s issues resolved? Do they seem to have a network of other professionals, both legal and non-legal, if they are needed? Do they know the judges and other family law professionals in the county where I will be filing my divorce?
Hiring the Divorce Attorney
9. Legal Contract – Once you have found the right divorce lawyer, it is time to hire them. Most firms require that you set a time to go into their office and sign the legal contract and pay the initial retaining fee. Be concerned if the attorney does not have a written contract for legal services because this contract protects you as well as the attorney. The attorney or a member of their staff should review the contract with you and answer any questions you may have. Most lawyers will not start working on your matter until the contract has been signed and initial payment made.
10. Ongoing Relationship – Keep the lines of communication open with your lawyer. If something happens that you think could affect your case, don’t be afraid to call your lawyer because you will be charged for the time. I explain to my clients that I want to be consulted prior to their changing anything material to the case. The reason for this is that something done today could substantially affect what I am able to do for you down the road. If you are concerned about the cost of your attorney, ask for weekly updates as to where you stand with your retainer balance and billing statement. You should (at a minimum) get monthly statements unless you have a flat fee, phase or value billing arrangement in which case you know what your cost is upfront.
Finally, the closing meeting with my client is the meeting where they evaluate my team. It is important to me that my clients have gotten an acceptable result based upon their goals allowing them to move forward with happy and productive lives.
The reality is that divorce is often a difficult proposition for both partners and their children. If done properly with the right legal guidance, you can transition to a life full of opportunity while maintaining healthy, productive and meaningful relationships with your friends and family. At InFocus Family Law Firm, that is our goal!
Other resources on our website include more information about Orlando divorce, more details about our firm and our attorney’s, and helpful family law resource links to other websites. For specific questions or concerns or to set an appointment to speak about your situation in detail, please contact us.