The following, written by Donna M. Cheswick, a Divorce Financial Professional, was originally published as an article in our Divorce Guide.
Here are the eight questions you should ask before meeting with a lawyer, and the 12 questions to ask during your introductory interview to help you find the right divorce lawyer.
In order to choose a good divorce lawyer, a large part of your introductory interview will involve asking ques- tions about their expertise, fees, and philosophy. Like many, you may find the idea of questioning a highly-trained professional intimidating.
When interviewing a divorce lawyer, don’t be appre- hensive or nervous, or worry that you’re insulting them by asking questions. A good lawyer will value an informed and proactive client. Also, lawyers are in business, and you are a potential customer who may ultimately pay thousands of dollars in services. You want to act responsibly by being selective so that you feel comfortable and confident in your choice.
8 Questions Before You Meet
Obtain some preliminary information about the lawyer you are thinking of hiring before you meet with them. This will allow you to familiarize yourself with their practice – and weed out the ones whose philosophies are incompatible with your own. Visit the lawyer’s website, and then call their office to ask a few basic questions, such as:
- What percentage of their business is in family law?
- How long have they been practicing as a family lawyer?
- Does their practice include alternatives such as collaborative law, or do they encourage the use of outside alternative dispute resolution/mediation to minimize costs?
- Do they have an introductory complimentary consultation? If so, how much time is allotted?
- What is their hourly rate, and in what time increments do they bill?
- Do they provide itemized invoices showing costs incurred and retainer balance?
- What is the minimum retainer, and is it refundable if not used? How is replenishing that retainer handled during the course of your case?
- Are they a solo practitioner or do they have other lawyers at the firm?
Once you select a lawyer to interview, prepare a brief written overview of your current situation (length of mar- riage, problems leading to the decision to divorce, actions taken so far, a summary of your marital assets/debts, number and ages of dependent children, and any other complicat- ing issues that might apply) and a list of questions to ask the lawyer before your interview. This will help keep the meeting on track – and also help to prevent you from getting overly emotional. During your interview, a good divorce lawyer should make an effort to put you at ease, use language you can understand, listen patiently to your questions and take the time to answer respectfully, and be sure you understand their responses. Complimentary consultations are usually quite short, so you should be prepared to pay the lawyer’s hourly fee once the free period is up.
12 Questions for the Initial Interview
During your initial interview, consider asking the following additional questions. If not, be sure to get them answered before hiring the lawyer:
- What is your preferred strategy/philosophy for handling a divorce case (a lamb, a pit-bull, or a fox)?
- What percentage of your cases end up in court? What percentage of your cases settle out of court?
- What do you think I could expect to pay (if you’re the higher wage earner) or receive (if you’re the lower wage earner) in spousal support and/or child support?
- Can you give me a realistic expectation of what is typical with cases similar to mine?
- Do you foresee any problems arising in my case?
- Do you charge extra for copies, filing fees, and other fees?
- What is your preferred method of communication (phone call/email), and what is your response time to communications with your office?
- Do you recommend working with other professionals such as a certified divorce financial analyst, business valuator, forensic accountant, or coach/therapist if needed?
- Can you provide long-range forecasts of what I should expect my future will look like for a potential marital settlement agreement?
- May I have a copy of your retainer agreement, engagement letter, or other contract you require so that I can review it before agreeing to retain your services?
- Will you provide me with copies of correspondence and legal documents pertaining to my case?
- What documents do you need from me in order to get started?
You should never feel pressured to “sign on the dotted line” before you have educated yourself and have enough information to make an informed decision. One of the big- gest determining factors in how your divorce will proceed are the choices you make in how you plan to divorce, and the lawyer and other professionals that you will use to help you get there.
Donna Cheswick (CDFA) helps clients and their lawyers understand the financial com- plexities surrounding divorce. She facilitates and teaches monthly Divorce Workshops for Women, and she has published articles on divorce and finances for national print and online media. www.medallion-wealth.com