How to Choose the Best Lawyer for You
Even if your case seems pretty straightforward, go to someone who has handled matrimonial cases before. You don’t need an attorney who works solely in that area, whose fees might be very high. But you do want someone who knows which papers have to be filed in which courthouse and who can take your case to trial if need be. Now is not the time to do your third cousin a favor by hiring her son, who was recently admitted to the bar.
Make sure you choose an attorney you can afford. Some lawyers want a large retainer, but their hourly rate is relatively low, or they have a junior attorney who can do some of the work at a lower hourly rate.If you want to hire a lawyer for only certain aspects of your divorce, you might prefer someone who specializes in unbundled services. If you have millions of dollars at stake, a legal powerhouse could be best for you.
Some very competent matrimonial lawyers will tell you from the outset that they do not go to court. They might be very good negotiators, but if your case doesn’t settle, they will recommend another attorney, either in their firm or at another, to take over the case. For some people, that’s fine. Others prefer to have an attorney who will go the distance. Be sure to ask.
Your First Meeting
When you’re with an attorney for the first time, he or she will ask you for some background information about your situation. You should be told, briefly, how the laws work in your state and what that will mean for your own case. The lawyer can also tell you which court will handle your case. Is the court in your jurisdiction backlogged? Knowing this could determine your strategy in resolving your case—is it helpful to drag out the divorce or to end it quickly?
A lawyer who knows the judges and their individual biases and personalities will be ahead of the game. Unfortunately, a carefully weighted decision by a judge can be less common in some jurisdictions. Some for instance, may see all mothers as overprotective or all fathers as bill payers. Sometimes a decision can be made simply on the basis of whether the judge had a fight with his or her own spouse that day! A savvy attorney who has been around will be able to maneuver around a judge’s personality or bias with more agility than someone who is new to the field or to the area.
Fees and Billing
During this first consultation, the lawyer should also explain his or her fees. Does she take a retainer—a lump-sum payment—up front? That practice is common. As the lawyer works on your case, she subtracts an amount equal to her hourly rate from the sum you have prepaid. For example, if you paid Attorney Greenfield $1,000 and her hourly rate is $100, you would have bought 10 hours of work in advance. Most will quote a flat rate for the retainer.