Divorce lawyers have a saying that they help good people on their worst day.
To get you through your worst day you need legal support from someone you trust. You also need to be sure you choose the right process. If an attorney is not trained in collaborative divorce, then you have already ruled out one positive path for completing your divorce just by selecting that untrained attorney. You must be confident that any lawyer you choose is trained in the right process, is a good fit for you, and that they are a good counselor at law.
Where do I start looking for a divorce lawyer?
You can start at CollaborativeDivorceCalifornia.com to review the attorneys listed by location or practice group. You can also collect attorneys’ names from trusted friends and colleagues. If your friend retained a lawyer, ask about their experiences. Were phone calls or emails returned promptly? Did the attorney remember case details from call to call? Was the attorney prepared? Were they flexible or rigid in their approach? Were they trained and experienced in collaborative divorce?
Doing online research also helps. Review websites, state licensing records, Google, attorney websites, LinkedIn profiles, and read their articles and blogs. If you like what you hear, see, and read, schedule a consultation. Prepare a list of questions for the consultation including whether they are trained and experienced in collaborative divorce.
What questions do I ask a potential lawyer?
Bring your written list of questions so you will remember what to ask. Many clients are shocked at how emotional that first meeting is. Often this is the first concrete step towards ending a marriage so strong feelings may emerge. When they do, you forget the questions you wanted to ask.
Do not be afraid to tell the lawyer what information you want from the meeting. Do you want to better understand your process choices? Do you know what a collaborative divorce is? Do they? Are they trained in collaborative divorce? Do they belong to a collaborative divorce practice group? What other information do you want: pre-divorce planning? Child Custody? Child or Spousal Support? Retirement? Be prepared to talk about your process goals and the life you want when you are done.
Ask about their office. Does the same attorney handle the entire case? Who responds to email and phone calls? Who attends meetings with you? Have they worked with the coaches and financial professionals in the local practice group? Ask if their practice is limited to collaborative or consent dispute resolution processes. Ask about their professional education and experience. Are they cooperative? Confrontational? Do they litigate? Ask about their billing rate and fee structure.
How do I know a lawyer is a good fit for me?
After the meeting spend some time thinking about how you felt after that meeting. Consider whether they explained all divorce process options. Did they ask what you wanted from the meeting or did they dictate the agenda? How did they respond when you told them about your goals? Did they listen or did they talk over you? Did they tell you what you are entitled to without hearing what you want? Did the attorney answer your questions clearly? Are they familiar with consent dispute resolution? Do they have training and experience with collaborative divorces?
Build a good relationship with your attorney.
How comfortable were you talking with the attorney? You will be sharing intimate details and you need to feel that those details will be received respectfully and handled carefully. Sometimes this is confidential financial data and other times it may be more intimate details about our clients’ lives. Perhaps you had some less than stellar parent moments (we all have). Are you comfortable talking about those mistakes? What if you are a victim? Are you comfortable talking about abuse with this person?
Good attorneys will also tell you the bad news. Your friends’ job is to tell you what you want to hear. You pay an attorney to tell you the good, the bad, and the ugly. This means you make you make fully informed decisions. Family law is not all good news all the time. A good attorney will tell you about the bad news and help you work through it.
Even though you may get some bad news, if you walk out of that initial meeting breathing a little easier, feeling lighter, and hopeful; those may be signs of a good fit.
If after your meeting, you are not happy with the answers to these questions then perhaps this lawyer is not a good fit for you. Lawyers are counselors at law and while our expertise is rooted in the law, you need to trust that your lawyer can carefully blend the law with the counselor part of the job.