The thought of seeking a divorce is devastating and emotionally draining. When you factor in the prospect of entrusting such an important process to a lawyer who is a complete stranger, the stress can escalate exponentially. So, how can you be sure that the lawyer you choose will be proficient and knowledgeable enough to help you mire through all of the confusing paperwork and legal steps that the process requires? How do you find a lawyer who will ‘get’ you, treat you compassionately, and always keep your best interests in mind? By following three time-tested steps.
No one wants to advertise that they are looking for a divorce lawyer, but speaking with those closest to you is the best way to ensure that you will end up with the right lawyer for your needs. By speaking with your clergy, teachers, close coworkers, friends, family, therapist, or family doctor, you can get some quality, trustworthy leads. Even if they don’t have the name of a specific lawyer, perhaps someone will know of the name of a reputable legal firm or referral center that can help.
Alternatively, your Local or State Bar Association may provide lists of divorce lawyers who are certified in your area. Lawyers specializing in specific areas of law, such as family law, are typically required to pass exams focusing on their specialty prior to becoming certified.
The interview process sounds harrowing, but the goal is to identify which lawyer you feel will work best for and with you. There is no set number of candidates to interview, but you should take time to talk to at least three lawyers. Whether your interview will be in person or on the telephone, make sure that you’re prepared with the following information and documents: three years of tax returns, current custodial agreement (if applicable), detailed list of assets, income and debts for both spouses, and timeline of the relationship (include relevant events).
In addition, prepare your list of topics ahead of time to expedite the interview and ensure that you don’t miss any important information. Also, make sure you ask critical questions about how long the lawyer has been practicing family law, how many staff members he or she has, and how many cases they take on at one time. You need to know that your attorney will have enough time and a big enough staff to devote to your case.
Listen carefully to the lawyer’s responses and, if the interview is in person, note his or her body language. Does he seem sincere, or does it come off like a sales pitch? How are the two of you relating to one another? It is a business relationship, but this is someone who will be by your side during one of the most trying periods of your life, so how well you communicate and work together is crucial.
After your interviews are complete, take a breather and review your notes carefully, reflecting on each experience. Often one lawyer will stand out well above the others as the obvious choice, however, it’s still important to take your time with the decision. While it is possible to change your lawyer midstream if you end up making the wrong decision, it’s a difficult and exhausting (not to mention expensive) task to have to start from scratch. So, it is obviously better to get it right the first time. After all, your divorce lawyer is one of the people who will be the most instrumental in helping you restart your life.