Choosing the right divorce or child custody attorney can be an overwhelming process. Often some of the most important aspects of a potential client’s life are at stake, including the parenting of their children and their financial security. Choosing the right domestic relations attorney can be the difference between a fair and favorable outcome, and a less than satisfying one.
Although a divorce or a child custody dispute can be intensely personal and potentially embarrassing, getting a referral for a good domestic relations attorney from a trusted friend or family member is often the easiest way to locate the kind of attorney that is right for your case. Even if you do receive such a recommendation, it’s important to understand that just because a lawyer was right for your trusted friend or family member, does not mean that lawyer is necessarily right for you. You should still review some of the suggestions below and implement them to help guide your hiring decision.
Trust your instincts. I tell nearly every potential client who sits down in my office to trust their instincts when it comes to hiring a domestic relations lawyer. Lawyers earn their living by working for and billing their clients. Without clients, a lawyer earns no money. For better or for worse, that means that any lawyer you meet with is, in some respect, trying to sell you their services. Like salesmen of any other product, some lawyers will try to give you an accurate analysis of your situation from a legal perspective, and other lawyers will be more inclined to tell you what they think you want to hear. Often the only way to discern one approach form the other is by listening carefully and trusting your instincts.
Meet with or talk to more than one attorney. You’ve spent your lifetime developing the instincts that I discussed above, but in order to give your instincts a chance to work, you need to familiarize yourself with attorneys in general, and meet with or talk to several lawyers. These meetings or conversations will give you a context within which to assess the lawyers that you’ve met with. Without doing this kind of legwork, you are really hamstringing your ability to make the right choice. Most domestic relations attorneys will meet with you or talk with you for free. The only investment is your time, so maximize your chances of hiring the right attorney for you by meeting with a couple of lawyers.
Take your time. In addition to meeting with more than one lawyer, it is important that you make a decision about hiring a lawyer without unnecessary pressure. Although some circumstances require you to hire an attorney immediately, in the vast majority of cases, the difference between hiring a lawyer today, versus tomorrow or next week, is largely inconsequential. I often advise my prospective clients to at least “sleep on it” before making a decision, if not discussing the decision with trusted family or friends. Under normal circumstances, you should not feel pressure to hire the attorney you are meeting with, in fact that is likely a red flag indicating that perhaps you should look elsewhere.
Communication is key. Communication is essential to the attorney-client relationship. Without open communication, it is unlikely that you will have an understanding of what is going on in your case, and your attorney may not understand which facets of your case are the most important. In my experience, the ability of an attorney and client to communicate clearly with one another is the single most important controllable factor in getting a favorable outcome in your case, being satisfied with the attorney-client relationship, and making the most efficient use of the client’s money. I routinely advise my prospective clients to hire an attorney that they feel comfortable communicating with and where both the lawyer and the client can understand each other.
It’s YOUR case. When you hire a lawyer, you should feel comfortable trusting that person’s judgment when it comes to matters of law. That said, when your case is over, it is you that will have to live the repercussions of your case, while your lawyer moves on to the next client. Your lawyer should empower you to participate in the decision-making process in your case, and your lawyer’s focus should be on achieving the outcome that is best for you and your family, not on his or her own idea of what “winning” your case might be.