Hiring an Attorney
Having an attorney can be a valuable resource as you pursue your divorce. Besides knowing the law, being familiar with the courts, and having experience, attorneys are also trained to negotiate, argue, and write persuasively. All of these skills will increase your chances of reaching your goals in your divorce. At the same time, hiring the wrong attorney can hurt your case by causing delays, increased expense, and frustration. Here are several tips to consider when deciding which attorney to hire:
Experienced in Divorce: This tip seems obvious, but you want to make sure your attorney has experience with divorce cases. Whether an attorney has experience handling divorce cases does not always depend on how long they have been practicing law. An attorney that has been practicing civil litigation or bankruptcy for ten years will be less experienced in divorce law than an attorney who has been practicing divorce law for two years. Also, you need to look at what percentage of the firm or attorney’s cases are domestic cases (divorce, custody, etc.). Compared to an attorney who handles predominately divorce cases, an attorney who handles a divorce case once per year will not have up-to-date knowledge to serve your legal goals.
Review The Attorney’s Free Pamphlet: A great way to determine if an attorney knows what he is doing is by asking to review his free pamphlet on divorce. The pamphlet should outline the general topics common in a divorce and give you suggestions on how to cope with the non-legal aspects of divorce.
Personality: Make sure when you are interviewing attorneys to pay attention to whether you can get along with the attorney. Handling any legal case requires a team approach between you and your attorney. I often hear that people are looking for a “bulldog” attorney who will strike fear into the heart of the opposing attorney. I have found that attorneys are not afraid of other attorneys, and a “bulldog” approach often makes your case cost more because not only does the opposing counsel not want to deal with your obnoxious attorney, but the judges are usually tired of that attorney’s “bulldog” tactics as well. It is better to get along with your attorney, and to make sure your attorney has a good relationship with other attorneys to make sure your case can be resolved quickly and efficiently.
Price: Most attorneys bill for their services by the hour and will require a retainer up front. The current trend is for attorneys to request a lower retainer up front from clients because it gives the illusion that they are somehow cheaper than other attorneys. While some attorneys might be slightly more quick at producing legal documents, you should know that overall you will likely spend much more than your retainer on your divorce. The price you should look at is the hourly fee because that is the amount you will pay for each hour your attorney performs work. For example, it is better to pay a $3,000.00 retainer to an attorney that bills $200.00 per hour than to pay a $1,000.00 retainer to an attorney who bills at $275.00 per hour. If both attorneys spend thirty hours on your case, you will pay $4,500.00 to the first attorney, but $7,500.00 to the second, even though the second attorney only asked for a $1,000.00 retainer. A few attorneys are using flat rates for certain services. For example (and I am making up amounts for illustrative purposes), they will do your petition for divorce for $500.00. They will file for temporary orders for $3,000.00. The positive side of this type of billing is that you know exactly what you will have to pay. The negative side is that your attorney will not spend very much time on your case because the less time he spends, the more money he makes. He may even give the work to his paralegal to do.
Who is Doing Your Legal Work?: That leads me to the final tip. Make sure you are hiring the attorney, not his paralegal. In order to cut costs, and handle more cases, some attorneys employ a paralegal who performs much of the legal work and drafting of your legal documents. The attorney just signs the documents. Paralegals are trained to do basic legal work, like setting up files, coordinating cases with the court, writing letters, or helping clients on the phone. Most paralegals have not attended law school, and most have not read or studied divorce law. While it might be cheaper for you to have a paralegal doing your legal work, it could hurt your legal case. Is saving a few bucks really worth the risk? Make sure you find out from each attorney you talk to whether the attorney will be performing your legal work or whether he will pass it off to his paralegal.