Tips for Choosing a Divorce Lawyer Who Won’t Take You to the Cleaners

Picking a divorce lawyer is not exactly as much fun as buying a new car or planning your next vacation. But choosing wisely can mean the difference between a future of happiness and prosperity and one of sadness and financial struggle. Your divorce lawyer will be the person to guide you through a difficult time, creating a plan, negotiating for you, and working to convince a judge that you’re right and deserve more, among other duties. There a lot of ways this can go wrong.

What’s the best way to optimize your chances of making a good choice?

To start, take advantage of the fact that you live in an era that makes it easier than ever to obtain reliable information. Do some research on attorneys. What’s the firm’s primary practice area? Are they experienced in handling your issue? What’s their philosophy? How’s the client service? The internet has revolutionized the reputation industry. It’s easier than ever to learn about the experience of others with a service by reading reviews that are available on multiple sites. In addition to the information online, ask around if family or friends are familiar with the attorney or the firm.

Next, do your homework on divorce. There’s a wealth of educational resources online that can teach you about the divorce process, the key issues, effective first steps, and much more. You won’t get a law degree upon completion of your research. But you will have a foundation of knowledge that will put you in a position to ask the right questions, and to ultimately determine whether the attorney is a good fit for you.

When exactly should you reach out to an attorney? As soon as you believe divorce is a possibility. Devising your own plan in the early stages of your split without reliable advice from an experienced attorney carries risk—how much risk depends on the circumstances: the more that’s at stake, the more sense it makes to schedule an appointment sooner rather than later. You can wing it. But maybe it goes well, maybe it doesn’t - and if it doesn’t, you’re stuck trying to dig yourself out of a hole.

Be wary of free consultations. Yes, you heard that right, you’re generally better off finding an attorney that charges you for the first meeting. Here’s why. Do you prefer a thorough assessment in which the attorney takes time to listen to the details of your issues, hears about your goals, helps you devise a plan with actionable advice, and answers all of your questions? Or do you want a 15-minute sales pitch with an attorney giving you no valuable information and trying to convince you to sign up as quickly as possible regardless of the circumstances.

If you invest in a more comprehensive assessment, you improve your chances of obtaining valuable information. Also, the longer meeting allows you to better gauge the attorney’s philosophy and personality, which puts you in a better position to determine if the attorney is a good fit for you. If you focus on “free,” you generally receive little value. Of course this is a general rule. There are terrible attorneys that do paid consultations and very good ones that do free consultations. But generally, paid consultations/assessments are a good investment.

What should you ask about when you meet with the lawyer? First, beware of attorneys that give you the impression that they’ll prey on your emotions: “We’ll show him!” Especially if the attorney bills by the hour, which is usually the case, a divorce attorney has the incentive to prolong your divorce: not to benefit you, but to jack up your legal fees. When the attorney suggests a plan, ask yourself: does this sound like it will put me in a better position financially or in my relationship with my child? Listen carefully for any suggestion that’s based on emotion rather than reason and transparent analysis. If you sense the attorney will turn this into a personal war, run out of the office and don’t look back!

Also, ask about the firm’s practice and structure. Efficient operation in the firm usually results in a more value for you. How is the firm handling communications? Does the firm schedule regular meetings with you to give you information you could get in an email? Is the firm utilizing technology to streamline operations? Ask questions about their procedures and processes. Firms that utilize modern technology typically have lower operating costs which they can pass down to the client.

Finally, listen to your gut. Your intuition is far more accurate than you think. You have years of experience in reading people. Don’t leave that at home for your meeting with the attorney. Before signing up with an attorney, make sure you’re sensing honesty and integrity. Ask yourself, is this someone I want guiding me through one of the most difficult times of my life?