The most important step you will take in your entire divorce is finding a good divorce attorney that you trust and like. If you are successful in finding a competent lawyer, chances are your life will be easier and your case will be concluded quicker and probably in a way that you will make you feel happy. If not, you may regret many of the decisions you make and believe that your outcome is not something you will be able to live with. So, we have boiled down this important decision in your divorce into 5 steps to find a good divorce lawyer in California for you.
How to find a good divorce lawyer
1. Figure out what are your needs.
Before you take any outside action, try to sit down in a quiet place and be honest with yourself about what your needs are in your life and your case. It will save you loads of heartache later if you understand early in this process that you need a good divorce lawyer.
First, you should consider is your budget for legal fees and costs. This decision may influence your decision making about the type of lawyer you may retain. If you have the financial resources to hire a top gun lawyer, you will have different kind of firms and lawyers to consider. Don’t try to set a budget that is too low for your situation because if you do, you may settle for an attorney who is incapable of handling your complex issues. Be realistic based upon your assets. Try to budget an amount that will give you the ability to hire someone who is both capable and experienced.
Next, you must look at your personal feelings about the type of lawyer you should hire. Do you want someone who is a male or a female or is a certain gender? Some people feel more comfortable explaining their sensitive situation to someone of their same sex. On the other hand, some may feel that they want someone who will stand up to their dominating spouse and so would like a “tough-as-nails” protective type.
Do you want someone of your own culture or religion? Do want need someone around your same age or someone older?
Finally, what kind of involvement do you plan to have in your case? If you are more the “hands on” type, you may need someone who is going to be more proactive in trying to explain where you are in your case. They will need to have better communication skills with clients. If you want someone who is just going to handle your case without much involvement by you, then you should look for that type of attorney
2. Get names of lawyers.
Most people don’t know a divorce attorney, but they may have friends who have gone through with a divorce. You should ask your friends and acquaintances you trust for a referral to lawyers who can handle your case .
Other trusted professionals such as financial advisors, therapists, tax advisors or CPAs may be able to provide you with several names to begin your search.
If you are not able to get several names from these sources, you can go to the internet and search for local divorce lawyers. In any event, you should do some research on the web to find out the back ground of anyone who has been referred to you by a friend or trusted advisor. Be armed with that background information when you take the next step.
3. Interview lawyers.
Pick up the phone and make contact with your list of lawyers for an initial consultation. Take note of the person who picks up the phone and how they interact with you because it may be representative of the kind of service you get from the lawyer or their firm in the future. At that point, make an appointment with the person who you have identified. Don’t let their staff pawn you off on to another attorney who is less busy or with a law clerk or paralegal.
Take into account your needs that you have initially considered. Be sure to ask as many questions as possible relating to those needs. One of the qualities of a good lawyer is the ability to give you straight and clear answers to your questions. Don’t let the attorney give you a vague answer; make them be specific with their answers to your questions.
Your interview should also involve your attorney reviewing all of the general areas in your divorce case–custody, support and property–and providing you with general descriptions of what you should be able to reasonably expect for a final resolution of your case. Sometimes it may be difficult to provide an answer, but at least they should try to give you a basic assessment of your case.
One final issue your prospective attorney should discuss with you is the confidentiality of your discussions. In short, everything you discuss with your attorney is not anyone else’s business and your discussions are completely confidential and cannot be disclosed by him or her. This is called the attorney-client privilege. Have the attorney discuss their understanding about this rule to you and help you understand how to communicate with your attorney to maintain the privilege. If you bring a friend or family member to the meeting, the things you discuss will not be confidential. You should clearly understand this before you bring along someone else for support.
4. Evaluate the potential divorce lawyers.
After you meet with the people on your list, you should try to sit down and think about the type of lawyer you want and whether any of the candidates meets your criteria. So what are some of the things you should look for in a great divorce lawyer?
- Makes you feel comfortable-The prospective attorney should have compassion and empathy for you and your situation. They should be able to respond to your emotions and give you a clear explanation of the process you are about to face. Many good lawyers will provide you with a handout with information specifically relevant to you. Be certain that they avoid legal jargon in their answers.
- Competent-They must be experienced in family law and have practiced for at least several years. It’s not your job to educate a new lawyer who is just learning the ropes. Make sure they have handled cases through a trial. Check their state’s bar association record to find out if they have any misconduct on their records. Do they write articles in local or national publications? Are they involved in their community? What is their reputation in the legal community?
- Personal compatibility-Do they fit your personal needs for a lawyer? Do you like them or even trust them with such an important part of your future?
- Are they a local lawyer? If your lawyer has to travel to meet you or to go to court, will they bill you for that travel? If they will, there is a major cost advantage if you hire a local attorney. Another advantage of hiring a local attorney is that they should know many of the county judges and understand the local county procedures and rules. This is critical for getting you through this without any glitches.
- Cost-Can they give you an estimate of you total cost? In step 5 discussed below we will discuss cost of your divorce.
- Do they specialize in family law? Make sure you get someone who only works in family law. This practice area is extremely complex and requires a unique devotion to keep up to date on the knowledge required.
- Do they have quality communication skills? You will need to make important decisions throughout your case and someone who can communicate with you will be important. How do they handle your concerns? Will they contact you on a regular basis even if there are no major events in your case to discuss. At some point in your case they will have to pass along some bad news. How do you think they will be able to do that?
- Type of advice-The advice your counselor gives you should be balanced and compassionate and reassuring. Although compassionate, a good lawyer will exhibit a certain level of professional detachment from your personal dilemma. Most importantly, their advice should be practical and useful, not just theoretical.
- How does the law office feel? Is it crowded with boxes or disorganized? If so, this may be how they will treat you and your case.
- Can be tough or a fighter if necessary–At certain times, especially if you are going through a contested divorce, your lawyer must not be a pushover and can stand up to your spouse and their attorney.
- Possesses extraordinary negotiation skills-Ultimately most cases settle before trial. Having skills to negotiate a fair settlement will make you confident in your final agreement. Also, find out if your potential lawyer does mediation or has experience with collaborative law.
5. Weigh the cost
Almost everyone will feel that this is the most important factor. But it shouldn’t be the only factor you consider. However, you must be informed about the fee your attorney may charge.
Most lawyers charge by the hour for their services. When they do, most will require that you submit a deposit for their services. Most divorce lawyers will ask for an amount between $5,000 and $10,000 as a deposit or retainer. Every month, you will receive a bill with the details of the work performed for you and your lawyer will take out of the deposit the same amount due for the invoice. When the deposit nears exhaustion, you will be asked to replenish the deposit.
Other lawyers will be able to approximate the amount for their services and will have certainty as to their total charge. These lawyers may offer their services for a fixed or flat fee. Obviously, the more complicated your situation, the more fees you will pay to your divorce attorney. This is especially true if you have children and the related issues of child custody and visitation or child support .
You must inquire whether your lawyer will give you the flexibility to choose the type of billing plan you like. Also, ask about any additional charges such as fax service, copying services or long distance phone calls. Many lawyers will charge additional, marked-up amounts for these common charges. Ask your potential lawyer if there are any other potential extra bills for experts like vocational experts, child custody evaluators, forensic accountants or pension plan experts. The lawyer should have a sense early on in your case if one of these experts will need to be retained and paid by you.
After carefully weighing all of these issues and thoughtfully considering your needs, you should be able to make a decision on an appropriate divorce lawyer.
In the end, it may come down to just trusting your gut instinct and going with someone who you are comfortable with and who is a good fit for you.