First, understand the role of your divorce lawyer. As mentioned, divorce is a trying time - to put it mildly! While sympathetic, and empathetic, to your situation, your lawyer is there to help you through the process of dissolving your assets and resolving custody and support issues. They are not trained therapists or counselors.
Lawyers are there to perform a legal service; and while they should always be considerate and compassionate, it is a better use of your time and money to ensure your relationship is about the process itself. We know how difficult this time of life is and urge you to reach out to a counselor if you need to discuss your anger, frustration, pain, and sadness. It is important to have realistic expectations as to the role of your lawyer.
That said, if you feel unsafe in your relationship (e.g. you fear violence or economic reprisal), please let them know. This may be a legal issue, and your lawyer’s duty is to protect you to the utmost of their ability.
- Focus on your goals - and the best way to achieve them. It is difficult to separate your emotions from the divorce process. And it’s human to feel sad, frustrated, angry, scared, and all of the above. Try to stay focused on what you need from the proceedings. For example, if you keep the big, long-term picture in mind, you may be less inclined to negotiate over every single asset (down to the living room couch neither of you is really attached to). Doing so can help remove a lot of the litigious nature of divorce proceedings, not to mention the expense.
This is not to say that you should not state your wishes clearly or back down when your rights - or those of children - are at stake. It does mean that you may make concessions in order to resolve the process more quickly.
Also keep in mind that there are alternatives to traditional litigation, including mediation or collaborative divorce (i.e. focusing on negotiation to establish a good co-parenting situation). If both sides are willing to compromise, these are excellent options. Look for a divorce lawyer will experience in both areas, as well as litigation if you must go that route. If your spouse is unyielding, you need a strong advocate in court.
- Shortlist about 3 - 5 divorce lawyers. Ask friends, family members, colleagues, and your trust or real estate lawyer (if you have one) for recommendations. Word of mouth is still the best way to find a trustworthy professional. If you are not comfortable doing so, turn to virtual word of mouth. There are many online rating and review sites for attorneys to help you create a shortlist.
They will obviously need to specialize in family law and divorce, but again, if you want to try mediation or collaborative divorce, inquire about their experience in these areas. They should also have courtroom experience; even if your case does not go to trial, it is important to have an ally who can make a compelling case to a judge.
- Do your due diligence. Don’t simply hire the first lawyer who pops up on Google or one that your best friend recommends. Do your own research. Look at their websites; look at lawyers.com, Avvo, Findlaw.com, and other sites to look at profiles and read reviews; check out their social media presence; see if they are active in the legal community (e.g. have they written articles, including resources on their own sites?); and make sure they are in good standing with the North Carolina Bar Association.
- Make some phone calls. After you have a few possibilities, give them a call. Some questions to ask:
- Can you tell me about your experience (with divorce, mediation, collaborative divorce, trials)?
- What type of clients do you usually represent?
- Have you handled cases like mine (e.g. those with complex child custody issues, financial challenges, or mediation)?
- What are your rates? What is your retainer and hourly fee?
- Do you offer a free consultation?
- Are you the attorney who will be handling my case? (Often, you may meet with one attorney only to find that another will be doing the legwork on the case.)
- Do you have access to financial experts, forensic facilitators, child psychologists, and other experts who may be relevant to my case?
- What is your success rate in terms of courtroom appearances? Settlements?
Walk away from red flags. There is no such thing as 100% guarantees in the legal world. If a divorce lawyer promises you a certain outcome, walk away. This is the single biggest red flag.
Other warning signs include: divulging confidential information (e.g. regarding former/current clients), paying more attention to their phone or computer than to you during your meeting or phone call, and failing to actively listen or ask the right questions. This is where your free or initial consultation comes in handy. Think of it as a job interview - and you are the one hiring. Be selective, and choose the professional who will be the right fit.
Choosing the right divorce lawyer can have a significant impact on your case, as well as your experience throughout the process. If you have more questions, please contact the Law Firm of Robert P. Laney. We have the experience, expertise, compassion, and drive to ensure your rights are protected and that you resolve your divorce as efficiently and effectively as possible.