Next week I plan to write about questions for your attorney about the divorce. This week I am focusing on questions to ask to help you decide which attorney to hire.
One very important thing when hiring an attorney is deciding whether they are a good fit for you. Every attorney is different and every client is different. No matter how good the attorney is, they may or may not be a good fit for you. When the fit is not good, it is going to be a frustrating experience for you both.
The following questions can help you figure out if your attorney’s goals and perspectives line up well with yours.
How would you describe your job as a divorce lawyer?
This question is to get an overview of how the lawyer likes to work. Some see their job as fairly independent from the client, i.e. getting what they see as being the best deal they can for you, while others see their job as working with you to help you achieve your goals.
You then have to ask yourself how involved you want to be in the divorce process – do you just want to turn the attorney loose to do what they can for you, or do you want to be part of the team?
Some attorneys see themselves as problem solvers, while others see themselves as fighters. Would you prefer an attorney who is very aggressive and thinks first in terms of going into court, or do you prefer an attorney who thinks first in terms of negotiation and saves court for those times when negotiation fails to produce agreement?
What is your process for handling a divorce?
It is a good idea to have an idea of how your attorney works. Do they have a specific process they like to follow, or is it more fluid depending on the nature of the case? Your own personality may incline you to be more comfortable with one approach or the other.
Also, listen for how much their process is designed around working with you or is largely independent from you. How do you feel about their style?
What is my role in the divorce process?
This question further explores how much the attorney will be working with you and how much you will be involved in the case. Some people prefer to sit back and let the attorney make most of the decisions, while other people like to be involved at every step. It is very good to know what to expect before you get started.
Who is your ideal client?
This is to see who your attorney is most comfortable working with, which will tell you a lot about how good a fit you may be with that attorney.
If the attorney says something like “anyone who can pay the bill”, then I would suggest that the attorney has never thought about who they are a good fit for. I would also suggest that such an attorney may be less focused on you as an individual client.
If the attorney does have a good idea as to the type of client they work best with, ask yourself very honestly whether you are that type of person or whether you might work better with a different attorney who prefers someone more like you.
How would you define a “good” settlement?
Does the attorney focus on objective standards based on their experience, or do they focus on your goals?
Some attorneys will look primarily at the immediate outcome (it is good if I can get you $X), while others will look at a broader picture (it is good if it allows you to feel secure about your future, live where you want, pursue a career, etc.).
I personally prefer the approach that looks at the broader picture, as it takes into consideration more factors about you and your future, as opposed to the generic client. I believe that the settlement that is right for Client A may not be right for Client B if it does not fit their lifestyle, hopes for the future, or unique circumstances.
What is your idea of a good parenting plan?
This is a good question if you have children. An important thing to watch for in the answer is whether it focuses on you, on your children, or on the whole family.
I believe that the best parenting plans focus on the whole family, as the children will benefit the most when they have the best possible relationship with both parents, and the parents are most able and prepared to co-parent in the most cooperative way they can.
An attorney who only focuses on you and your time with the children may be more likely to set you up for an increased level of conflict with the other parent for years to come, which will leave everyone involved miserable.