If you are contemplating a divorce, you may be shopping around to find a divorce lawyer to represent you. At the initial consultation, there are several important questions that you should ask.
1. How long have you been practicing, and what percentage of your practice is devoted to family law?
It is important to have an attorney who is experienced in family law. In this era of specialization, it is impossible to do everything well.
2. Do you prefer to negotiate and settle, and what is your attitude toward mediation?
You will be best served by an attorney who is looking for ways to solve problems, not to escalate disagreements. An attorney who is willing to try all avenues to resolve your case can help make your divorce less costly, both financially and emotionally.
3. Who will be working on my case, and how involved will you be personally?
A good family law attorney often has a team to help him or her, which is great, but it is important for you to know who will be working on your case, who will be communicating with you, who will be in charge, and how you will be billed for that work.
4. How much is your retainer, and how does it work?
Find out how much the retainer is, and what it will cover. If you reconcile or change attorneys, will the unused portion of your retainer be refunded to you? Will there be additional retainers be required when the initial retainer is depleted?
5. What are your hourly rates, and how will I be billed?
Attorneys and staff bill at different hourly rates, and most attorneys charge their hourly rates against the retainer. Some attorneys bill in quarter-hour increments, and some in 6-minute increments. Some bill for each phone call, email or letter, with a minimum charge. Sometimes attorneys charge a higher rate for going to court. Ask how often you can expect to receive an itemized billing.
6. How long should my divorce take, and what do you estimate it will cost?
Don’t be surprised if the attorney doesn’t have a straight-forward answer for this one, since how long it takes and the cost depends on how cooperative each side is as well the complexities of the case. If there’s a custody battle or complicated business and property issues, a divorce can take a year or longer.
7. If you are unavailable when I call or if I send you an email, how long should I have to wait for a response?
Communication between you and your attorney is critical, and it is frustrating to wait for an attorney to respond. A good attorney will answer emails and phone calls within 24 hours, and may have someone on staff who can respond earlier.
8. Will I receive copies of all the documents you generate and receive regarding my case?
A good attorney will provide his or her client with copies of everything that is received or sent out. You don’t want an attorney who gets a settlement offer from your spouse’s attorney and forgets to send it to you for your consideration.
9. How familiar are you with the judges and court personnel and local court procedures?
If you are not able to settle your case out of court, you want an attorney who is experienced and is willing and able to go to trial, if necessary, and who is familiar and comfortable with the local court system.
10. Are you comfortable representing someone in my situation? It is important that your attorney has represented clients in similar circumstances to yours, especially if your have an out-of-the-ordinary situation that may require specialized knowledge.