Choosing the wrong lawyer can increase the emotional stress of being involved in a family law case and the cost to you and your family.
Many people change lawyers during their case, even though making a change can be costly. Carr & Co is regularly involved in cases which were first handled by another lawyer.
So how do you choose the right divorce lawyer for you?
Here are some suggestions to avoid making the wrong decision.
1. Identify the need for a divorce lawyer.
If you are contemplating separating from your partner it may be advantageous to meet with a divorce lawyer so that you are fully informed of your legal rights and directed in the best way to proceed after separation.
It is much better to have a lawyer you have met and are comfortable with and who you have taken the time to select wisely, rather than to engage a lawyer in haste.
2. Ask for a referral
Lawyers, accountants, psychologists, financial planners and other professionals meet and work with divorce lawyers in the course of their work and are often a good source of referral. Ask them for the names of family law specialists with good reputations whose qualifications are most appropriate to your case.
Lawyers, in particular, are aware of the reputations of other lawyers, even those outside their specialty, so a lawyer you already know can be a very good referral source.
You may also have friends or family members who have been divorced. They are a good source of information about lawyers. Ask them how their lawyer or their partner’s lawyer handled their divorce, if they have any words of advice, or if they can recommend a divorce lawyer to you.
3. Personal characteristics
You should avoid allowing a lawyer’s physical appearance to influence your decision about whether or not to engage them. Capable and skilled divorce lawyers come in many different sizes, shapes, genders and ages. These characteristics do not correlate with a lawyer’s ability. Irrespective of a lawyer’s ability, a client feeling comfortable is important if the lawyer-client relationship is to be a success. There is no reason not to engage a lawyer with whom you share personal characteristics with, but be sure you are not being influenced by stereotypes.
4. Identify your budget
Before selecting any lawyer you need to identify your budget.
While market conditions such as supply, demand and competition dictate what lawyers charge, there can be a significant variation in fees.
Most divorce lawyer’s bill for their services on an hourly basis. Few accept a fixed fee based on the total amount of time and labour they think your case requires. Estimating at the commencement of your matter how much time is necessary to finalise your case is difficult, because your lawyer cannot predict how your divorce is going to play out.
Generally, better known, well established lawyers are more expensive. The quality of representation you will receive from these lawyers will correspond to the hourly rate they charge.
There are, however, many skilled and experienced lawyers available who charge less because they are not yet as well known and are therefore not in such high demand.
An inexperienced or junior lawyer can be good value if your budget is not unrestricted. They are often prepared to work a little harder because they need to establish themselves in the market and build a good reputation.
Carr & Co has a variety of experienced and junior lawyers. This allows us to offer a range of hourly rates.
5. Be realistic
Divorce is a legal process which entails dividing your assets with your partner and resolving child-related issues. Your divorce lawyer’s role is to represent you to the best of their ability in the legal process. While you might want them to listen to your anger, frustration and sadness, that is not their role. They are not trained to be your psychologist. It can be an expensive misuse of your resources if this is how you use your lawyer. Divorce lawyers have also often seen it all. What seems very important to you might not be important in the context of the legal process. Be realistic about the role of your divorce lawyer and what you can expect from him or her.
6. Beware the red flags
Unfortunately, many lawyers will tell you what you want to hear. There are no guarantees in the divorce process, so if a lawyer is making you promises, be sceptical! If during your meetings, your lawyer is distracted by phone calls or emails and can’t focus their attention on you, they more than likely won’t focus on you during your case. Make sure the lawyer you choose acts professionally and treats you with the respect and attention you deserve.
7. Personal compatibility
You must feel comfortable with the lawyer you engage if you are to work together effectively. If you are not comfortable with a lawyer you meet with, you should trust your instincts and not engage that person. The relationship between lawyer and client in a family law matter is especially important. You will likely be sharing with your lawyer intimate details about your life and the lawyer may have to give you advice and information which you may not like. Be sure the lawyer you choose is someone you feel comfortable talking to and who will listen to you.
The location of your lawyer’s office may or may not be important, depending on your circumstances.
It can be a benefit to be able to travel conveniently to your lawyer’s office to meet and work on your case.
You should also be aware that if your lawyer’s office is far away from the Family Court, you will more than likely have to pay for your lawyer’s travelling time.
Don’t base your decision to engage a divorce lawyer on who has the nicest office. A fancy office in an expensive building says nothing about the adequacy of a lawyer’s skill.
9. Appropriate skills and experience
When choosing a divorce lawyer, it should not simply be a matter of perusing the yellow pages until you spot the word “divorce” or approaching the lawyer who helped you negotiate the purchase of your home, to assist you with a commercial transaction or to prepare your will.
When you select a divorce lawyer, you should choose one with the legal skills and knowledge needed to achieve the outcome you are seeking.
If you know from the outset that you’re headed for a trial, you need a lawyer who has considerable courtroom experience. Not all lawyers do.
It is also helpful if the lawyer you choose is familiar with the family law judges in your jurisdiction. Knowing the demeanour of the judicial officer who is likely to hear your case and how they have ruled on previous cases similar to yours assists your lawyer to adapt his or her strategy and style to that particular judge.
In contrast, if you and your partner wish to resolve your dispute amicably or have reached an agreement, the ideal lawyer is a problem solver who works well with people and is adept at compromise. However, remember that a lawyer can only act for one party.
If you have young children, look for a lawyer who makes it clear that during your divorce you must put your children’s needs and best interests first and that he or she will not pursue unreasonable demands or help you pursue vindictive child custody and access arrangements.
The length of time a lawyer has been in practice and the amount of family law experience he or she has is also important criteria.
10. Make your choice
Selecting a lawyer to represent you in your divorce is more than just picking a name out of the phone book. The lawyer-client relationship involves frequent contact during an emotionally difficult time in your life. Your relationship with your divorce lawyer may continue for months and, in some cases, years. It is important to find and engage the person who is right for you and your case.