Tip 2: Experience counts

Hi there,

Hope you enjoyed the first tip!  Let’s continue…

The date on a lawyer’s license to practice is not necessarily an indicator of his/her experience and skill as a divorce lawyer. Unlike medicine, in most places, there are very few “specialties” in the law. In Massachusetts, passing the bar exam entitles the new lawyer to practice in any area she chooses, criminal, contract, civil litigation, real estate, and virtually everything else. A special certification is required to appear before admiralty courts, handle patent and copyright litigation, and a few other esoteric legal areas, but divorce isn’t one of them. Conversely, a relatively new attorney who served as a divorce paralegal while going to law school at night may be a terrific divorce practitioner.

While there are few specializations, many jurisdictions (including Massachusetts) allow lawyers to hold themselves out as “concentrating” in virtually anything. The term is loosely defined and loosely regulated. There are ads in the Yellow Pages for solo practitioners “concentrating” in criminal defense, auto injury claims, employment law, wills, trusts, probating estates and, last but not least, divorce.

When you begin interviewing lawyers to handle your case, ask what, if anything, they do as a lawyer other than divorce and related fields (separation, custody, modification, antenuptial agreements, etc.) Then ask what percentage of their practice is in the family law field. Ask if they take continuing legal education (“CLE”) courses in family law, and if they belong to one of the professional organizations of divorce practitioners.

Here is a list of resources available to you, in addition to referrals described in the previous post:

  • Martindale Hubbell:  This is a listing of lawyers throughout the US, including areas in which they concentrate. Interestingly, they are graded by a peer review of their expertise and integrity.
  • Websites: There are thousands of websites, like this one, sponsored by law firms providing information to potential clients and the public in general. Google “divorce,” “family law,” etc. to find them. Most state and local bar associations have lawyer referral services, as do the various professional associations maintained by the divorce bar. There are also “niche” organizations that address issues such as custody and support from a specific perspective.

Stay tuned for Tip #3!