Set Your Goals and Priorities
By far the most important step in choosing the right attorney for you happens before you even start making phone calls to schedule consultations. You need to determine your goals and list the priorities in your divorce. While parenting time with your children may be an obvious top priority, what about division of assets? Division of debts? Insurance? Your vacation schedule or having parenting time on specific holidays? Think through what is most important to you prior to reaching out to an attorney so that you can effectively communicate your goals and have a frank conversation with potential lawyers about their ability to help you meet your goals.
Do you have friends who have recently gone through a divorce? Reach out to them. Even if they are not able to recommend the attorney that they used, they will be able to guide you in what they did or did not like about the attorneys involved in their divorce. Somebody who has been through a divorce can be an invaluable resource for you – and more than likely, your friends will want to know what you’re going through so that they can help support you through this process.
Online reviews are just part of the picture of choosing the right divorce lawyer, so while you may want to give more weight to personal referrals from friends or family members, you should still be sure to take a look at attorney reviews to try to get an idea of the level of customer service that an attorney provides. While you read reviews, think about the following questions:
- Does it seem like the attorney returns calls and is communicative with their clients?
- Do past clients report favorable outcomes when they leave reviews for this attorney?
- Are the reviews mostly positive?
- If there are any negative reviews, has the law firm responded or tried to address the complaint in any way?
Prepare for Your Consultation
During your free consultation with an attorney, it’s unlikely that the attorney will do a significant amount of document review, so please don’t feel like you need to assemble years worth of bank statements or photos that prove infidelity. It’s much more important that you focus on your goals for your case. If an attorney wants you to bring specific documents with you to the free consultation, they will make you aware of that when scheduling the appointment. Don’t panic or feel unprepared – you’ve never done this before. Your consultation will be primarily about gathering basic facts of your marriage and your family, and getting to know your attorney’s temperament and deciding if you are a good fit for each other.
How well do you communicate?
During your consultation, whether by phone, video conference, or in person, do you feel like this attorney is listening to you and understands your goals? Does the attorney explain to you the challenges of the court system in language that you can understand and use to move forward with your life? Do you feel comfortable telling the lawyer details of your life that may be uncomfortable to discuss, intimate, or you feel don’t reflect well on you? It’s incredibly important that you feel a level of comfort and trust in your attorney so that you can be completely honest and transparent throughout your case. Your attorney can’t fight for your goals if they don’t know the whole story, so trust and communication will be key.
How you communicate in person is one level of communication – what about the method of communication? Is your potential attorney a modern firm that uses email, case management software, apps, Zoom, and newer technology to communicate? Will you have digital access to your entire case file or will you be handed pieces of paper or need to track down a fax machine? If a high tech firm with modern communication style is important to you, make sure you address that in your free consultation.
If a firm of multiple people, who will be handling your case?
There are many advantages to choosing a firm that has multiple lawyers and a support staff in place, but you want to be sure that you understand how your case will be handled once you retain the firm. Will you have a single point of contact, or will everyone at the firm be a resource for you? Will your case get the extra set of eyes of multiple attorneys who may be able to pool their experience to secure the best outcome for you? Will you need to ask for a specific paralegal if you need help, or will anybody who answers the phone be able to assist you?
If you hire a sole practitioner who doesn’t have any other attorneys on staff, how will your case be handled if you have a court proceeding scheduled at the same time as another case your attorney has scheduled? This is an important conversation to have prior to retaining an attorney.
How do they describe negotiation? How much trial experience do they have?
Every divorce case will end with either a settlement – where both parties agree to a fair schedule for parenting time, child support, and division of debts or asset – or a trial, where issues that you can’t reach an agreement on will have to be determined by the judge. It can be difficult to predict whether your divorce will end with a settlement or a trial, so you need to make sure that you hire an attorney that has both the right attitude to try to bring your matter to a close through skilled negotiation, but also the trial experience you will need if you have a particularly difficult spouse or opposing attorney.
Ask your attorney about their trial experience, particularly about issues that you may expect there to be a struggle to compromise. Is the potential attorney experienced in complex financial matters or high income divorce? Is the potential attorney experienced with obtaining successful outcomes in challenging custody matters?
Can They Recommend Other Professionals?
Your attorney will need to focus on being your attorney, but your divorce will likely bring many other challenges into your life. Does the attorney have realtors, financial advisors, accountants, and investigators that they work with regularly and can wholeheartedly recommend to take care of other issues that may arise in your case? You’re going to want a team and you’ll need effective communication between your attorney and all other members of your team. How well does the attorney work with other professionals that you’ll need to hire, and do they have existing relationships that can be an asset to you and your path forward?
Did They Give You a Guarantee?
An attorney who tells you they can guarantee a specific outcome for you probably feels reassuring – but it’s a red flag. You need an attorney that will be candid and tell you hard truths about the judicial process, and unfortunately, that means that there are no guarantees in a divorce. During your consultation, be sure that the attorney made clear they represent you and not both you and your spouse. While collaborative divorce is a feel-good buzzword, in Illinois and Wisconsin, an attorney can only represent one party in a divorce. Make sure you are hiring an attorney who is looking out for your best interests and is being clear and honest with you about their ability to achieve the outcome you desire.
Can they speak clearly and transparently about their fees and costs?
Divorce can be a costly matter, but it doesn’t have to be. Clear communication is the first step in making sure you understand exactly what you’ll receive in exchange for your payment to your attorney. Keep in mind the following questions when interviewing an attorney to represent you:
- What is the required amount of the attorney’s retainer?
- Does the attorney or firm offer a payment plan?
- How often will you receive a bill?
- How much detail will your invoices show – will you be able to easily match up the hours worked on your case with the specific activities the lawyer and their staff have done on your behalf?
- If your divorce is final but you have money left in your retainer, how quickly will it be reimbursed to you?
- Who should you contact if you have questions about your bill or how much your divorce is costing you?
- Will any of your fees be recoverable from the other party in your divorce?
Have the direct conversation about costs now, while you are choosing a divorce attorney, and it can save you a lot of money and stress down the line, when your divorce is already stressful enough.
Remember to Put Yourself First
The attorney you are interviewing may be a very nice person and come highly recommended by family and friends, have great Google reviews, and a stellar reputation. However, if you’re not comfortable and don’t feel it’s the right fit, you should keep looking. You and your comfort are the most important part of this decision.
To schedule a free consultation with a Pro Legal Care LLC attorney, please call us today at 815-200-8802.