As a practicing divorce attorney, I see many people totally blow one of the most fateful decisions they will make in their divorce case: which lawyer to hire. To help you avoid these mistakes, we will look at 3 of the costliest mistakes you can make, and what to do instead.
Mistake #1: Hiring a generalist. This is easy to do. Many people do not know a divorce lawyer (that is usually a good thing). So, when they do need to hire one, they go to the lawyer that did their will or the lawyer that helped them with a real estate deal. This may be OK if that lawyer also has a substantial divorce practice, but it is not acceptable if they are what is called a threshold lawyer (i.e. they take whatever case walks through the threshold of their office).
If you needed back surgery, would you go to a general practitioner? Similarly, there are many lawyers who are general practitioners that will handle a divorce case. In addition, they take business matters, bankruptcies, criminal cases, etc. That is not the type of lawyer you want handling your divorce case.
What to do instead: Hire a specialist! Ask the prospective divorce attorney whether they specialize in family law. Ask them what percentage of their practice is divorce and family law matters. If it is not at least 70 percent to 80 percent of their practice, go elsewhere.
Mistake #2: Hiring a lawyer that bills you by the hour. Divorce attorneys normally set fees in one of two ways: they either charge a fixed fee or they charge a retainer against which they bill an hourly fee. One of the problems with hourly billing is that the lawyer cannot tell you upfront what the total fee will be. Many clients in that situation feel like the lawyer is asking them to write a blank check because they cannot tell you the total fee upfront. Do you really want a meter running every time you need to talk to your divorce attorney? Another problem with hourly billing is that it rewards inefficiencies. The longer it takes the lawyer to get your divorce, the more money she makes.
What to do instead: Seek out a lawyer who will represent you on a fixed fee (a.k.a. a flat fee) instead of billing you by the hour. Fixed fees are becoming more common, so you ought to be able to find a good lawyer who is willing to throw away the time sheet and set the fee upfront. Whatever the fee arrangement is, make sure you know and understand it before you write a check to the lawyer.
Mistake #3: Hiring a lawyer to represent you solely because they have a reputation of being the meanest lawyer in town. This is probably the biggest mistake I see folks make. They get scared. They get nervous. They want revenge. They get bad advice from someone. Whatever the reason, this type of lawyer can cost you thousands or tens of thousands of dollars in unnecessary legal fees and make sure you have the Divorce from Hell.
There is a difference between being an assertive and being aggressive. Many of these types of hired guns are aggressive only for the sake of appearances without regard to whether it is in the long-term best interests of their own client.
What to do instead: Find a lawyer who is assertive when he needs to be, compromising when it benefits your long-term best interests, and always aware of the many different consequences his actions have on you and your family. Divorce attorneys like this recognize that reaching a fair settlement is always better for you than trying the case and leaving it up to the judge. Yet, he also knows that if a fair settlement is not forthcoming, then he must be willing and able to prepare to effectively litigate the case in court.
That is the type of lawyer you need to find. Ask the prospective lawyer about his approach to divorce cases and what efforts he will make to try to settle or mediate your case. His answers will help you determine whether he will have your interests at heart or not.