June 7, 2022
The lawyer you choose for your divorce could make the difference between a fair (or even winning) outcome and a decree you will complain about for the rest of your life. Divorces trigger intense emotions and require fact-intensive investigations. You need someone who can provide steady, objective guidance and fierce advocacy in your case.
But most people go through life without ever hiring a lawyer, let alone a divorce lawyer. Finding the right lawyer for your divorce will require you to seek out someone with the personality and legal skills that match your needs and goals.
Here are some steps to take when choosing a divorce attorney.
Identify a Pool of Candidates
You can end up with the wrong lawyer for your case by not talking to enough lawyers. Lawyers have different personalities, skills, and experiences. The lawyer who handled your cousin’s case brilliantly might not have the right knowledge and temperament for your case.
You can begin to build a pool of potential lawyers in many ways, including:
Referrals from Trusted Sources
Clients often seek a referral from friends, family members, co-workers, or neighbors when looking for a lawyer.
Referrals provide a wealth of information about a lawyer that you cannot get from other sources, including:
- The ease or difficulty in working with the lawyer
- The responsiveness of the lawyer and law firm staff
- The cost of hiring the lawyer
- The satisfaction level with the outcome of the case
If you know a lawyer or a judge, they can often provide a useful referral. Even if they do not practice in the same field, a divorce attorney who does good work will become known within the entire legal community.
A non-referral can also provide valuable information. You might want to think twice about hiring a lawyer if a client was dissatisfied with the services received or the outcome.
Lawyer Referral Services
Lawyer referral services match a client’s problem with a lawyer who practices in the field. A lawyer referral service can help you identify some divorce attorneys in your area who have signed up to take referrals.
The Florida Bar runs the state’s largest lawyer referral service. You can submit a referral request online or by telephone. The referral service sends you the contact information for a lawyer who matches your needs.
The match must provide you with a 30-minute consultation at a low cost or no cost. Most lawyers provide a free consultation, but the referral service allows them to charge up to $25.
Legal directories usually provide paid listings for lawyers. In this respect, many legal directories operate the same way phone directories once functioned.
But some legal directories provide additional useful information. For example, Avvo rates lawyers using a proprietary formula, and Martindale-Hubbell rates lawyers based on client and colleague surveys.
Search engines can give you pages of potential lawyers for your divorce case. The benefit of search engines is that they will often include client reviews.
This method also allows you to narrow your search by location or issue. For example, if you want to find only divorce lawyers who talk about pet custody on their web pages, a search engine can provide that information.
The drawback of search engines is that client reviews might provide false or misleading information. Opposing clients and their lawyers can submit reviews to drag down someone’s review rating.
Narrow Down Your Search
Now that you have a pool of candidates, you should narrow down the pool. A few ways to get closer to your final selection include:
Disciplinary Record Search
You can contact the Florida Bar to ask about disciplinary records. Lawyers make mistakes and clients file frivolous complaints, but you should avoid a lawyer with a troubling history of complaints. Avoid any lawyer who was disciplined previously.
Your most effective tool for choosing a divorce attorney is the initial consultation. Most divorce lawyers offer a free consultation to prospective clients. During the consultation, you can get some preliminary feedback about your case. You will also gather information about the lawyer so you can decide who to hire.
Some topics you should discuss with the lawyer include:
Lawyers usually charge an hourly fee for divorce cases. Some will charge a flat fee if your case is simple and uncontested. Florida prohibits lawyers from charging a contingency fee for divorce cases.
Many disputes between lawyers and clients center on legal fees. You should discuss the lawyer’s fees during your consultation. You should also discuss any anticipated court fees and other costs. Without this information, you cannot plan for the total amount you will pay for your divorce.
You should also discuss the services included in the lawyer’s fees. The lawyer’s billing practices will influence how you interact with the lawyer. If the lawyer charges for phone calls and emails, you will need to find ways to communicate efficiently.
Most complaints about lawyers involve responsiveness. Under the ethical rules, a lawyer must keep the client reasonably informed about the case and respond promptly to reasonable requests for information.
But good lawyers often have a full caseload. As a result, you might not get the updates you believe you deserve.
During the initial consultation, discuss how you will get case updates. Also, get a list of other people in the lawyer’s firm who can provide information about your case. You will often find that paralegals and legal secretaries will provide information about your case much more quickly and cheaply than the lawyer can.
Because divorces involve so many financial and personal details, a lawyer cannot tell you exactly what will happen in your case. But an experienced lawyer can often give you a range of expected outcomes based on the information you provide.
Choosing a Divorce Attorney
You should not feel pressured to choose a lawyer quickly. Unless you have an impending deadline, you should speak to several lawyers about your case so you can find one who meets your expectations.
Often, the right lawyer for your case is the right lawyer for you. A divorce will test you in new ways. Communication and compatibility with your lawyer will become critical to getting a fair outcome in your case.
To discuss representation in your impending divorce, call a divorce lawyer today for your free consultation.