Choosing a Divorce Attorney
This post is in response to the question I find being asked on Facebook, on Google, amongst friends and to me in confidence. These are my opinions as a 35 year old, 10 year lawyer (5 years in family law) and married mother of three. I say again, these are my opinions, this is NOT legal advice. If you want legal advice, hire a lawyer.
- First – Do not look for a lawyer who will fix your problems. Look for a lawyer who will get you a divorce and what you are entitled to under the law. Your problems will work out through therapy, prayer and time. Do not search for a lawyer that will “defend a mother/father’s rights”, that will “stand up to him”, that will “fight for you”. These concepts are marketing plans, not legal strategies. Of course your lawyer will stand up and fight for you, that’s a lawyer’s job period. Looking for a lawyer to represent you strongly is like looking for a pediatrician who vaccinates.
- Get recommendations from like minded people and interview a few. That doesn’t mean ask your friend who is all drama for one of her attorney’s names. Ask someone who is like you, who has the same temperament, budget and life goals as you. Then interview those people in person or over the phone. See if you are going to feel comfortable telling this person both sides of the story, including the one you’d rather not admit to yourself. You have to be comfortable, because if you are not, you will doubt the agreements, strategies and decisions you make later in the process. If you do end up doubting the path you’ve chosen in the process, it’s a time bomb waiting to explode and the subject matter of a different post.
- Reputation = Value. There are lawyers in town that will charge $70k-$100k in less than 90 days making an absolute scene at the courthouse, all in the name of “fighting for their client”. Well, their client might feel empowered to hear their lawyer accuse their spouse of this, that, and the other, but they look like a fool to everyones else, including the judge. And, the community estate is wiped out before the ball even starts to roll. Like preschool, you need a lawyer that plays well with others even when they are opposed on a material issue. Its about communication, respect and ethics.
- Lawyers aren’t like shoes – it’s not “you get what you pay for.” In Tarrant County, lawyers typically charge between $200 and $750 per hour with a $2,500 to $50,000 retainer. Initial court costs/fees are in the $500 range. In many cases, there isn’t a difference between a $250 lawyer and a $750 lawyer. Don’t feel empowered just because your lawyer is more expensive. I hear spouses accusing the other of being “stupid” in their choice of an attorney simply because of the hourly rate. Don’t feel ill-prepared if your lawyer is less. When you interview the lawyer, ask if he/she can estimate the range of fees they typically charge in your type of case. A smart lawyer will not guarantee anything, but can at least give you a worst and best case scenario. Board Certification is a great thing and qualifies that lawyer as an expert in the field. But if you ask some of the best lawyers in town, they will say Board Certification doesn’t have anything to do with it.
- “I’ve never lost.” If a lawyer says that, run. RUN! This means 1. they’ve never fought over close calls and therefore would be too risk averse to be aggressive when it matters and 2. they are liars. No, liars and lawyers are not synonymous.
- Know this before you chose: At some point, YOU WILL HATE your lawyer. That’s because, at some point, you will hear news you did not want to hear. You will find out about debt, you will learn you have to share your kids, you will discover that your lifestyle is out the window, you will find out he or she doesn’t want you back or you will be on the losing end of the judge’s order. Remember that the lawyer you choose wants to avoid surprise. My worst case scenario is when a client is shocked by a bad ruling. My job is to prepare him/her for all outcomes, good and bad, so that he/she can make an informed decision on what they want to fight for. That means, I’m going to sucker punch him/her with the truth so that he/she is prepared to hear it from the judge, when and if that happens.
- Stop comparing. Just stop. Don’t. You do not have the same marital troubles, kids, religion, family support, career and so on as the person who said she got $10,000 in spousal support per month and was able to move the kids to Canada. After you have picked your lawyer, tell him/her everything, and then follow his/her advice.