By Henry S. Gornbein
I am contemplating a divorce and wonder what questions to ask of a prospective attorney should I decide to go forward?
The first thing to remember is that you are hiring an attorney to work with you and for you. You want an attorney who will guide you through the legal system. but will also explain what is going on step-by-step as you go through the very confusing legal process. The saying that knowledge is power is so true in the divorce arena. You do not want to hire an attorney who will say, “Don’t worry, I will handle everything.” You want to be a partner in all of the decision-making. Worry – there is nothing wrong with a little worry as you make decisions that will impact upon your life and that of your children.
The legal system is not user-friendly and divorces can be very confusing, to say the least.
Following are some questions that you should ask an attorney at the initial consultation:
1. What percentage of your practice is devoted to family law? You want a specialist and not someone who dabbles in divorce.
2. How long have you been practicing family law? Experience is critical. It takes at least five to 10 years before an attorney really knows what he or she is doing.
3. Do you represent more men or women? You want someone who is emphatic to your situation. Judges tend to respect an attorney who represents both men and women and not someone who represents only men or women.
4. How well do you know the judges? A good attorney knows the law, a great attorney knows the judges!
5. Is there any reason why you are not comfortable representing me? You want the right fit.
6. What are your fees? This is a critical question. Discuss retainers, hourly rates and how often you will receive a billing statement.
7. If I reconcile, will I get the unused portion of my retainer back? This is an important question to ask.
8. How many divorces have you tried? While trial is a last resort, you want an attorney who is not afraid to go to court, when necessary.
9. What is your attitude regarding negotiations, mediation and staying out of court? Court should be the last resort, not the first. You do not want an attorney who creates unnecessary litigation and court appearances to charge you more!
10. Will you provide me with copies of all correspondence, pleadings and other documents? Your file should mirror that of your attorney.
11. When I call or email you, how soon can I expect a response from you? This is an emotional time in your life and prompt communication with your attorney is critical. It is reasonable to expect a response by the end of the day.
12. Approximately how long will my divorce or custody case take? This will vary depending upon the facts and complexity of your case and the court.
13. Who will be working on my case? Will it be you or members of your support staff? You need to know what to expect and how your case is being handled.
It is important to be comfortable at the initial consultation. It is critical that you have your questions answered. You do not want to feel rushed. Whoever is taking on your case should have your best interests at heart. Last, but not least, there are many excellent attorneys, but you should trust your gut as to what your comfort zone is before deciding to hire a particular attorney. Don’t hesitate to talk to two or three before making your decision.
These are some of my thoughts. Please share yours as well.