Start by talking with family, friends and acquaintances who are current or recent parties to divorce. Ask them who their attorney is/was, and how they rate him/her. Remember that it isn’t uncommon for both divorce litigants to think they “lost,” and that the lawyer who represented their ex was a superhero. Divorce is an unpleasant business, and many people think they fared badly, when in fact they did very well. Ask if the lawyer returned phone calls reasonably promptly, for example. In some surveys, that’s the number one divorce client complaint. Here are some other areas to ask about.
a. Initial conference. Did their attorney describe, at the beginning, the course of a typical divorce action, and what you were likely to expect? Did he/she discuss the possibility of settlement, and explain the benefits of settling rather than going to trial?
b. Fees and costs. Were they given a reasonable expectation of what their legal fees would be, or were they unpleasantly surprised? Were they billed monthly, and were the bills easy to read and understand? Was there sufficient detail? Were their billing questions answered politely? Did the lawyer promise or imply that the other party would be compelled to pay their fees, and then wasn’t?
c. Promises. Do they feel that the lawyer promised them a great result that they later learned was unrealistic or impossible?
d. Specific issues. How do they think their lawyer handled those issues that will be important in your case? If there are no minor children involved in your case, you don’t need an attorney whose forte is bitter custody disputes.
By asking specific questions, you will be able to form your own opinion of their attorney’s performance, rather than simply adopting your friend’s opinion. The emotional component of divorce can affect a client’s opinion of his or her lawyer. It probably won’t affect their memory of what actually happened.
Stay tuned for Tip #2!