15 Questions You Should Ask Potential Divorce Lawyers Before Hiring
Asking questions about an attorney’s qualifications and skills can be embarrassing and a little intimidating. A divorce is one of the most important events in your life. It makes sense to enquire about the attorney’s background and experience.
Here are 15 Questions You Should Ask Potential Divorce Lawyers Before Hiring. Your lawyer should be able to answer these questions to your satisfaction. If he or she cannot it is a bad sign. Feel free to take notes during your meeting.
Question 1: Does the county have a self-contained family law division of judges familiar with dissolution law, or is there a chance that a motion or trial will be heard by a judge with unknown family law experience? Los Angeles and Orange Counties do have a self-contained family law division.
Question 2: In this county do all judges refer custody disputes to mental health professionals to prepare a recommendation to the court?
Question 3: Is the court mediation of custody disputes confidential or will the mediator reveal my statements to the judge?
Question 4: If mediation fails is the mediator the person who makes a custody recommendation to the court?
Correct answers to questions 1 to 4 above are an indication that the lawyer is capable of representing you in a custody or visitation dispute and knows the county procedures regarding family law and property division issues. An attorney who does not know the local procedures for determining these matters is at a disadvantage which means you are at a disadvantage. You should also ask about the following issues relating your relationship with the attorney.
Question 5: Is the attorney a certified family law specialist? This doesn’t mean the attorney is great. But it is something to consider. It means the attorney passed an examination on family law and is required to take a certain number of continuing education classes in family law each year.
Question 6: Is the attorney rated by Martindale Hubbell? An A-V rating is the highest possible and only 5 percent of U.S. attorneys have the rating. It’s an indication of the highest legal skill and ethical conduct.
Question 7: How many divorce cases does the attorney handle? Is she a “dabbler”? Does she practice in more than three areas of law? Is she offering to take the case as a favor to you or a friend? If the answer is yes to any of these related questions, then she’s probably not the right lawyer. Family law is complex in California. A lawyer can’t “wing” it.
Question 8: Is the firm a divorce mill? (Not a good sign.) A divorce mill handles lots of cases. At your first meeting you will be introduced to the owner or a partner. After that all work on your matter will be done by non-lawyers or inexperienced young lawyers. Your interrogatory responses will be drafted by these persons. Your legal pleadings will be drafted by these persons. Expert witnesses will be hired by these inexperienced persons and when it comes time to go to court Ms. or Mr. Big will appear and may be prepared to argue on your behalf and may not be prepared. She very likely will not know your case facts intimately and won’t be able to intelligently discuss settlement. For that matter Ms. or Mr. Big may not want to discuss settlement because it will cut off a firm income stream. Your case means money to the divorce mill.
Question 9: Will the attorney send you copies of all letters sent to and received from opposing counsel, and copies of all pleadings filed with the court? (A good practice is to send these documents as .pdf files via email to make it easy for the client to store them.) You want your lawyer to do this so you can remain current on your case status.
Question 10: Will the attorney personally return calls about substantive questions? If you are calling to confirm a hearing date or a location you needn’t speak with your lawyer, but if you have a question about the matter, it is better to be able to speak to the lawyer working on the case.
Question 11: What other lawyer will work on the case for you? If your spouse files an emergency motion for example (known as an ex parte motion) and your attorney has a conflicting appointment who will accompany you to court?
Question 12: Will you be charged for secretarial time? (I think this practice is very unfair to a client. Beware also of being charged for paralegal time. A paralegal is not a lawyer. He or she is usually simply an experienced secretary. Paying for paralegal time is something you should discuss. Paying for secretary time is something you should refuse to do.)
Question 13: Will the attorney be willing to suggest a settlement conference to opposing counsel as soon as possible? Usually after you and your spouse have made their financial data available. Will the attorney be willing to commit to a face-to-face settlement conference if your spouse’s attorney agrees? Obviously, the more you can agree upon the less there is to fight about and the less traumatic, expensive and time consuming your divorce will be.
Question 14: If your spouse already has an attorney, ask if the attorney is familiar with the lawyer. Has the attorney worked with the other lawyer before? Does the spouse’s attorney normally make reasonable efforts to settle the case?
Question 15: How much trial experience does the lawyer have in family law cases? When was the last time the lawyer took a case to trial? What matters were at issue in the trial? Many divorce and family law attorneys have never tried a case. You want an experienced trial lawyer. It is true that most cases settle. You are likely to obtain a better settlement with an experienced trial lawyer. If you do have to go to trial, you do not want the lawyer to learn how to litigate on your case.
I suggest you interview two to four lawyers, and more if you are not comfortable with the ones with whom you have spoken. Some lawyers offer free consultations. Some do not. It is worth it to pay what is a small amount compared to the total fee while trying to select the right attorney for you. You need a good lawyer who is willing to put your interests first.