Posted by Zachary J. Starr, Attorney at Law
When people come into my office for their initial consultation, I often remark that I am sure they would rather be somewhere else. It is not lost on me that the reason they are sitting across from my desk is because their marriage has failed and they cannot press on any longer. If there was an easy fix or solution they would not be there. So having exhausted all efforts and suffering much emotional pain, there they sit in my office ready to discuss what a divorce will entail, how to divide relationships, assets, and debts.
This is a heavy burden for each of my clients, so I do my very best to give the legal counsel and advice that can make the difference between a difficult divorce and an opportunity to have a fair, clean break which enables the person to move forward in life successfully.
Unfortunately, all attorneys are not created equal. Like any professionals, some are better at what they do for different reasons. Think of the various doctors or nurses you have interacted with through your life. Some had both the knowledge and the bedside manner to treat you well as a patient and assist in your health concerns. However, some may have been extremely bright and ultimately prescribed the right treatment, but lacked the personal side of helping you feel like someone who mattered–you were just another sick person to them. Or think of the teachers you had in school. Did you really get the most from the teacher who was fun and entertaining but skimped on the material leaving you without adequate knowledge for future classes?
So what should someone be looking for in an attorney when going through a divorce? I suggest at least three criteria should be considered:
1. Does the Attorney have the experience and knowledge necessary to handle my case?
You simply cannot substitute knowledge and experience. You want an attorney who specializes in family law and particularly divorce. Further, you need an attorney who has experience in front of the judges and commissioners to whom your case will be assigned. You should never be afraid to ask the attorney how much his or her practice is devoted to divorce versus other areas of law. Also, ask if they have experience with the judges in your county. It may also be worth inquiring whether the Attorney has worked with opposing counsel, if one is representing your spouse already.
Beware of the attorney who boasts or guarantees an outcome. That is often a sign of "salesmanship" that should leave you wondering.
2. Does the Attorney care about my individual needs and concerns?
I think of this as the Attorney's bedside manner. If you meet with a few divorce attorneys, you will notice vast differences in personality and style. The primary way to determine an Attorney's bedside manner will be by communicating with them during the consultation. However, important clues might also include your comfort at the attorney's office, their cleanliness and organization, their eye contact and interpersonal skills. This is where your gut will tell you if something feels off or whether you are comfortable and able to trust the Attorney. Because each of us is different in our own personality and style, what may work for one person will not for another.
3. Can I see myself working with this Attorney on very sensitive and important matters?
This is where your assessment of the first two areas converge to make your decision on selecting an Attorney. You will regret choosing an Attorney who does not possess the knowledge and skill to handle your case even if you get along with them on a personal level. Conversely, you will not enjoy dealing with an Attorney who, although academically qualified, makes you feel like an outsider in your own case by not returning phone calls or not explaining the legal process and issues in terms you can understand.
Because we all have different priorities and goals, as well as personalities, different attorneys will work for different people. You must make the correct decision for YOU, and not hire an Attorney just because your neighbor said they were a "bulldog" or a parent is helping with costs.
A final thought: if you find yourself not working well with the attorney you initially selected, be even more cautious about choosing a new Attorney to come in as substitute counsel. Discuss your concerns and frustrations with your first attorney with the prospective attorneys to see if they have the skills and bedside manner you need to adequately handle your case.