If you’ve made up your mind and there’s no alternative but divorce, talking to at least a few lawyers is always a good idea. The first consultation is usually always free, so you’ve got nothing to lose. But, you can gain a lot of information during attorney interviews if you head into the conversation armed with the right questions.
First, ask yourself: Are you sure you actually need an attorney?
As a divorce attorney for the last 14 years, I can attest to how helpful and comforting it can be to have a lawyer at your side who can guide you and advocate on your behalf. But, we lawyers aren’t cheap. In California, where I practice, divorce with an attorney on retainer can cost each individual up to $25,000. Which I think is an insane amount of money, and which is why I created Hello Divorce, a platform that gives smart, savvy individuals like you a breakdown of the divorce process, step-by-step, with links and checklists for all the forms you need to complete, at which step of the process. At Hello Divorce, you can get all of this info for free through our Divorce Navigator, and if you want a little extra help along the way from an experienced attorney, at a transparent, flat-rate fee, you can get that, too.
Most states allow individuals to represent themselves in the divorce process – and, it’s more common than you think: 80 percent of divorces involve at least one party representing themselves. Lots of people go this route – which means you can, too. This Hello Divorce article might help you decide whether self-representation is the right option for you: Do I need an attorney?
1. Ask them to describe their approach to the divorce process.
Each lawyer you speak to should have a slightly different answer to this. Sure, the divorce process is the same in terms of paperwork, but your lawyer’s approach will differ. This open-ended question will give you some insight into the strategies they might employ to get you to the finish line. 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, a big argument over the property, or something else? Ask your lawyer how they’ve helped clients reach an acceptable outcome when they’ve worked in similar situations in the past. This article, This is why you need a strategy for your divorce, might also help prepare you for this conversation.
2. Ask about communication. How will they check in with you throughout the process?
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. Layout your expectations for communication upfront. 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 who bill at a lower hourly rate.
3. Ask how you’ll be able to monitor the status of your case.
Many lawyers are incorporating technology into their practices – which is a good thing for you. It keeps the process more transparent, letting you follow along at each step. As you interview attorneys, ask if their office uses technology like Clio, MyCase, or other case management software that you can also use to message your attorney, review your filed documents and track the status of your case. (And if you’re a big fan of tech like me, you might want to check out these 10+ (non legal) essential apps to rely on while uncoupling.)
4. After you lay out your case, ask where they see things potentially going off track.
This is a good chance to get help thinking ten steps ahead. After you’ve laid out the path that led you to pursue divorce and shared the outcome you’re hoping to achieve after your divorce is final, ask the lawyer where they’ve seen things going off the rails in similar cases they’ve worked on. What red flags did your story raise for them? What questions is the lawyer asking you about your situation? This question is your chance to 1) make sure they’ve been hearing you and 2) get insights that could help keep your divorce process moving along without surprises.
5. Talk about payment.
This question is especially important if you’re concerned about your financial situation. It will be helpful to know whether there are options, such as monthly payments or a payment up front and at the end. If you’re not sure you can afford the lawyer you like, ask about their process of helping clients pay divorce lawyer fees out of the marital estate, rather than just out of your pocket. A lawyer who wants to work with you will help you find a way to afford their services and might offer options – like working more closely with a paralegal during the bulk of the process – to help you keep costs down. You can also download my 10 tips to make your divorce easier and less costly before you go, for a little inspiration.
Taking all of this into account, I want you to remember one thing: this is your divorce. You get to choose who helps you through it. That’s why I highly recommend interviewing at least 2-3 attorneys before selecting one. Don’t let anyone pressure you into working with them, either. This process is going to get harder before it gets easier, so it’s important that the lawyer by your side – the lawyer who is going to be learning a lot about the inner workings of your marriage, your finances, and more – is someone that you trust, respect, and actually like.