Who is the Right Lawyer for Me? Important Tips in Choosing a Divorce Attorney, As Seen in The Union-Morris Women’s Journal (Aug/Sept 2007)
Jan L. Bernstein, Esq.
Divorce is not only an emotional and sensitive issue, it is also a complex area of the law. The decisions you make today can result in outcomes that have lifelong emotional and financial consequences. Therefore, it is important to pick the right attorney to guide you through this difficult time in your life. Your attorney will work with you to evaluate the facts of your particular situation and the legal issues involved. He or she will then be able to advise you about your rights and obligations. The attorney you choose to represent you should have the experience and resources available to address and resolve you and your family's needs and concerns.
Make Sure the Attorney Fits your Needs
It is important to hire an attorney who has experience handling issues similar to your issues. If you anticipate complicated financial valuation issues or if your case involves closely-held businesses, partnerships, pensions, stocks, deferred compensation plans or substantial property, the attorney you hire should have experience handling the issues and laws that pertain to your unique financial situation. It is also helpful if the attorney has professional relationships with financial experts such as accountants and appraisers. In addition, if you have complex financial issues, consider an attorney with a more sophisticated practice-an attorney affiliated with a firm that has diverse resources such as a corporate, real estate, tax, and/or trust/estates department. Choosing an attorney with such diverse resources will save time and money should complicated financial questions surface during your proceeding.
Similarly, if you anticipate a contested custody dispute, consider an attorney with vast courtroom/trial experience. Be sure that the attorney is sensitive to your needs and, choose someone who will remain committed to the best interest of your child. It is also helpful to choose an attorney who is familiar with the judges in your county and their rulings so that he or she can anticipate potential issues and devise the best possible arguments.
Most importantly, choose an attorney you can trust and who makes you feel comfortable. Begin your search by obtaining referrals from friends and family members, or call the local bar association for references. It is wise to meet with several attorneys before making a final decision to understand how different lawyers work and how each individual would approach your case. You may be able to ascertain important information by researching law firm websites and by reviewing biographical information on the attorney's specialization or expertise. Prior to your interview, research the firm with whom the attorney is associated. Is the firm reputable? Does the attorney devote 100% of his/her practice to family law? Is the attorney known in the community for his/her expertise in family law? Will the attorney with whom you meet actually be the attorney who handles your case? How will your matter be billed? What expenses will be charged to you? How much is a retainer, and will it be refunded to you if not depleted?
How Can I Make the Most of My Initial Consultation?
Gather your financial documents such as tax returns, W-2 and K-1 forms, pay stubs, current bank, brokerage, and retirement account statements; and take these documents with you to your consultation. Make a list of your assets and liabilities so you can give the attorney a clear picture of your financial situation. The more information you can provide the attorney at the initial consultation, the better advice he or she will be able to give you. Additionally, if you already have been served with legal papers, take them to the interview along with any correspondence or other relevant documents. This will allow the attorney to assess the potential issues in your case. Take a list of questions with you for the attorney.
Ten Questions to Ask During an Initial Consultation
1. Do you specialize in family law?
2. Have you handled cases with issues similar to mine?
3. Do you have courtroom/trial experience?
4. If you are not in the office, is there someone else who can handle emergencies and urgent questions?
5. How quickly are telephone calls returned?
6. What counties do you practice in and are you familiar with the judges?
7. What is your billing procedure and what are your and the associates billing rates?
8. Will other individuals be working on my case?
9. How will you keep me informed as my case progresses?
10. How would you approach my case?
Develop Lines of Communication
Above all, you and your attorney should be able to communicate effectively. The attorney you choose should be respectful, professional, and treat you as an equal partner. Divorce can be an emotional process and you may need to reveal highly personal and emotional information to your attorney. Since your attorney is not a therapist, choose an attorney who is willing to spend the necessary time with you to answer your legal questions, but be honest with you to direct you to other professionals if necessary. You and your attorney are a team, and only a team effort will produce the desired result.
Your attorney is your advocate. You are retaining an attorney to advise you, negotiate for you and if necessary, represent you in court. Therefore, it is important that you select your attorney carefully, and have confidence in her or his ability to manage your divorce effectively and efficiently. For more information, or to schedule a consultation, contact a Phillips Nizer family law attorney.