How Do I Choose a Divorce Lawyer?

Going through a divorce is a challenging process.  There are so many details to arrange in your new life without your spouse.  A good deal of those details will be handled by your attorney so it should be a huge relief to hand off that responsibility to a professional.

Before you outsource your problems to an attorney, you have to be sure you’re hiring the right attorney for you and your case.  This is a process that I, as a divorce lawyer, will walk you through step-by-step.

  • Do you know a lawyer?

If you know a lawyer, just call them up and ask for a recommendation.  The worst they can say is, “I don’t know any divorce lawyers. If the lawyer you know has a recommendation, that is a great starting point.  In most communities, most lawyers know who is good and who is…not so good.  While the lawyer you know may not have direct experience with the divorce lawyers’ style, strategy and fees, the lawyer you call will know the divorce lawyer’s reputation.

Still, the lawyer may only know the divorce lawyer by his golf swing at the country club. So, you probably should do some additional investigation.

  • Is The Divorce Lawyer On The Internet?

If the divorce lawyer you’re interested in does not have an internet presence, it is a problem.  It does not mean that he or she is so busy that they never needed a website.  It means that the divorce lawyer does not keep up with the times.

Does a lawyer with no website review the current appellate decisions that are released on the internet every month?  I’d be surprised if they did.

A lawyer’s website is also telling.  We all know what an old, out dated website looks like.  It’s a reflection of how the divorce lawyer chooses to present him or herself.  If the divorce lawyer’s website looks cheap and sloppy, how do you think the lawyer looks in court?

A divorce lawyer should also have a small internet presence outside of his or her website.  This means a Yelp and an Avvo page.

The best sign of a good divorce lawyer is if he or she publishes content on his or her website and/or in local bar association publications.  This is a sign that the divorce lawyer both knows their stuff and wants to share and help others.

  • Does the Divorce Lawyer Have Online Reviews?

Online reviews are great.  Perfect strangers are giving recommendations or warnings to the public at large.  But, not all online reviews are created equally.

Online reviews encourage cheating from both the merchant and his competitors.  While all lawyers should be honest, some lawyers will just adopt 20 different online identities and give themselves good reviews.  Other lawyers, both dishonest and spiteful, will give their competitors bad reviews under aliases.

Some online review sites have strict policies to ensure that the reviews are from actual people who have experienced the divorce lawyer’s services.  Yelp is the gold standard. You have to publish your picture, have a history of reviews and the service provider can contest ever having served the reviewer.

Facebook reviews require you to publish your picture but have no feedback mechanism to deal with unverifiable reviews.  Beware of reviews without a photo of the reviewer.

Google reviews are available to anyone with a gmail account.  These reviews should be taken with a grain of salt.

Mostly, look at the content of an online review.  Are there lots of details? If so, the review is probably both real and well informed.

A good review for a divorce attorney is such a wonderful sign that he or she is a professional and a good human being.  Divorce is a difficult process and the client will associate the attorney with the divorce even if there’s a successful outcome.  If the divorce lawyer left a good impression on the client at the end of this horrible process, you know they did a great job.

  • Call The Attorney And Find Out If You Like Him Or Her!

All divorce attorneys have phone numbers.  Just call and ask if you can speak with him or her.  A lot of divorce attorneys will not speak to you on the phone or offer a free consultation.  This makes the attorney seem exclusive but this is not a sign of quality.  If the divorce lawyer won’t take your call as a potential client, will they take your call when you’re an actual client and they already have your money?

Most divorce lawyers are happy to chat about a potential case for a few minutes to learn more.  After a few calls you will immediately be able to separate the masters of their craft from the amateurs.

A lawyer without much experience in divorce law will make vague statements like, “Well, I’d have to know more about your case before advising you.”

A lawyer who truly knows the divorce process will give you definitive advice immediately and explain why he or she is giving that advice based on the law and their personal experience.

More important than testing the divorce lawyer’s knowledge is finding out if he or she has compassion.  Divorce is difficult and the lawyer that guides you through it should care about you as a person.

  • What About Price?

This is a very difficult thing to assess.  Different divorce lawyers charge different retainers and different hourly rates.

There is no difference between a $200 an hour lawyer who takes 20 hours to finish your case and a $400 an hour lawyer who takes 10 hours to finish your case.  There’s almost no way gauge a lawyer’s efficiency in advance.

The one thing you can use to determine if your lawyer is efficient is whether he or she has paralegals or not.

If the lawyer does not have paralegals, you will be paying his or her hourly rate for typing up letters, sending out correspondence and organizing the file.  A paralegal usually charges a much lower rate and performs these more mundane tasks for the lawyer.

The same goes for a retainer.  A retainer is a way for a lawyer to establish he or she will get paid by the client. The money gets deposited in the lawyer’s trust account and the lawyer withdraws the money as he or she earns the money.  A divorce lawyer’s retainer of $ 5000 does not mean the lawyer is more expensive than a lawyer with a $2500 retainer.   It just means they need more money to start the case.  Once the retainer is exhausted, the lawyer will just ask that you replenish the retainer.

Finally, choosing a divorce lawyer is not a final decision.  You can always hire a different lawyer if you are no longer satisfied with his or her services.   It’s very common, in fact.  Keep in mind that you are paying for his or her services and should approach this process as an informed consumer.

Written by Russell D. Knight who is the owner of The Law Office of Russell D. Knight in Chicago, Illinois