While Hello Divorce is less than a couple years old, I have been a practicing family law attorney for over a decade at Levine Family Law Group. A couple weeks ago a client came in for a second opinion. He had hired a lawyer 6 weeks prior and wasn’t even sure if his legal team had filed a petition to divorce, and couldn’t get a straight answer from anyone in his attorney’s office about the status of his case.
Honestly, nothing frustrates me more than lawyers who don’t do their job and don’t communicate with their client.
If you want to avoid finding yourself in a similar situation, there are steps you can take. Here’s my best advice on how to choose the right legal help for your divorce:
1. Be sure that an attorney is truly the right option for you
You have options in divorce – always remember that. Most states allow for pro se divorce, meaning that individuals can represent themselves in their divorce (this is what we help you do if you’re living in California). You can also engage the services of a mediator, which can keep costs down significantly and keep your divorce out of the courts. Or you can work with a legal coach, who can help you draft documents, provide legal guidance and even negotiate and implement a legal strategy. (Remember: if you’re in California, Hello Divorce offers legal coaching services, in as little as 30-minute increments.)
2. Check up on their tech
To help ensure the best outcome, you must be an active participant in your divorce. That means checking up on your attorney, and following along on the progress of your case. As you interview attorneys, as if their office uses technology like Clio, MyCase, or another case management software that you can log in to message your attorney, review your filed documents and track the status of your case.
3. Get a handle on communication preferences
As you’re interviewing legal help, the only way you’ll know how frequently you’ll connect with your representation, and via what medium, is if you ask. If you’re an e-mail junkie and detest interaction by phone (or vice versa) make that clear. If you want regular face-to-face meetings to discuss your case, a video conference or messaging through a platform that is extra secure, make that clear. Lay out your expectations for communication up front. If the legal help you’re interviewing pushes back or refuses to set the type of communication schedule that you want, you can always walk out the door and find someone else who is on the same page, or who is willing to get on it. Remember: this is your divorce. You get to be picky about who helps you through it and how often you check-in with your legal help.
Quick tip: Find out if your lawyer has staff (preferably a trained paralegal). You can cut down significantly on fees by forming a relationship with team members that bill on a lower hourly rate.
4. Understand their plan to get you to the finish line (before you sign the dotted line)
Even in an initial meeting, after you walk an attorney through your case they should have at least a rough plan for how they’ll get you to the divorce outcome you seek. If they don’t bring up strategy, you should. Some lawyers run to court for every little thing in a divorce. If that does/doesn’t feel right to you, ask how often they typically find themselves in court during the divorce process. Are you anticipating a heated child custody battle? Ask your lawyer how they’ve helped clients reach an acceptable outcome when they’ve worked in similar situations in the past. Use your free initial consultation to get a sense of how the attorney will get you the resolution you want.
Quick tip:Your divorce strategy might change. And that’s ok. But if your lawyer is known for only one type of practice (e.g. “most aggressive lawyer in town”) then she may be good in court but that doesn’t necessarily make for cost-effective, strategic representation.
5. Trust your instincts
I really can’t emphasize this one enough. If everything the attorney you’re interviewing sounds good, but it still just doesn’t feel right – keep looking. You have to trust your gut. Remember, this process is a marathon, not a sprint. You’re going to be sharing more of yourself with your lawyer – emotions, finances, ambitions – than you probably have with anyone in a long time. You don’t need to be best buds with your attorney, but you are going to be spending a lot of time together and will be putting an incredible amount of trust in them – so you do need to like them. A rushed decision could cost you in more ways than just your pocketbook.