Should I hire a “bulldog” lawyer for my divorce?

Should I hire a “bulldog” lawyer for my divorce?

That depends on whether the bulldog is a selfish, rabid, uncontrollable beast, who’s more interested in making money than in doing what’s best for you; or instead, a loyal, dedicated ally, interested in efficiently and effectively resolving your case.

Here’s the deal with hiring “bulldogs:” If you’re not careful about who you hire for your divorce, you could end up emotionally and financially exploited.

Divorce can be an emotionally charged experience, and there’s a lot on the line financially, and if you have children, your relationship with them is at stake. So there’s a natural tendency to want to hire someone who will “fight” for you, and be “aggressive.”

And there’s certainly a place for aggression in divorce practice. You want your attorney to work hard to gain leverage in order to put you in the best position possible and optimize your chances of a good outcome. That’s what good lawyers do.

But remember, there’s a cost associated with almost anything you or your attorney does in a divorce. Arguing with the other attorney, filing documents, going to court for hearings, etc. The longer it takes to resolve your case and the more work it requires, the more your attorney earns. Not to mention the time and energy you also burn.

Sometimes it’s worth the fight, sometimes it isn’t. So the key is whether the attorney’s aggression is effective or wasteful (and sometimes destructive).

Spending $5,000 to gain $5,000 is not a good investment … even if it makes your soon-to-be-ex miserable. Another factor is that if you have children and your “bulldog” is unjustifiably creating conflict in your divorce, you’re damaging your relationship with your ex … who by the way isn’t going anywhere, so you’ll likely have to continue to work with your ex on child-related matters until the children are emancipated.

How can you maximize your odds of hiring a quality, aggressive divorce lawyer rather than an out of control “bulldog?”

First, ask around. Ask friends and family members whether they know anyone who’s been through a divorce and which attorneys handled their cases? Were they happy with the service? Did they receive quality service considering the cost?

Also, do your research online. The modern consumer’s ability to post reviews makes it very difficult for charlatan attorneys to get away with poor service. This is basically an expanded version of the word-of-mouth tool above. If the service is poor, someone’s bound to post a bad review. And if the bad reviews are piling up … you know the saying, “where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”

Another helpful tool is to invest in an extended initial meeting with the attorney, even if you have to pay for the initial consultation. You’ll learn a lot more about the attorney’s philosophy and proposed plan for your case if you have an in-depth, extended conversation with the attorney instead of a 15-minute sales pitch.

And finally, once you’ve made the decision to hire, as your case proceeds, it’s important that you work closely with your attorney to do an on-going cost-benefit analysis. You should be asking: “If I take this action, make this request, push for this hearing, what do I expect to receive, what are the odds of prevailing, and what’s the cost - in money, time, emotion, and potential conflict?”

If a quality attorney is advising you to pursue a contested issues, the answers to those questions will indicate that it’s a good investment. If you have an out of control, selfish bulldog, and the answers don’t make sense, call animal control and start looking for a new attorney!