If you’ve made up your mind and there’s no alternative but divorce, talking to at least a few lawyers is always a good idea. The first consultation is sometimes free, so you’ve got nothing to lose. And you can gain a lot of information during divorce lawyer interviews if you head into the conversation armed with the right questions.
Beyond information about the divorce process and perspective on your specific case, these consultations can give you excellent insight into the lawyer’s communication style and personality so you can get a good sense of whether you’ll be a fit. Divorce isn’t an easy process. You’ll be spending a lot of time with the lawyer you ultimately choose and sharing some of the most intimate details of your life with them – so it’s critical that you find a lawyer that you actually like.
First, ask yourself: Are you sure you actually need an attorney?
As a divorce lawyer for the last 14 years, I can attest to how helpful and comforting it can be to have a lawyer at your side who can guide you and advocate on your behalf. But, we lawyers aren’t cheap. In California, where I practice, divorce with a divorce lawyer on retainer can cost each individual up to $25,000. I think that’s an insane amount of money, which is why I created Hello Divorce, a platform that gives smart, savvy individuals like you a breakdown of the divorce process, step-by-step, with links and checklists for all the forms you need to complete, at which step of the process. At Hello Divorce, you can get all of this info for free through our Divorce Navigator, and if you want a little extra help along the way, we offer a simpler- but strategic method to create your divorce documents – you follow a guided interview that generates your documents, file ready. For those of that are more interested in DIFY (do-it-for-you), Hello Divorce offers document preparation and filing, and access to experienced divorce lawyers, at a transparent, flat-rate fee.
Most states allow individuals to represent themselves in the divorce process. And, it’s more common than you think: 80 percent of divorces involve at least one party representing themselves. Lots of people go this route – which means you can, too. This article, “Do I need an attorney?,” might help you decide whether self-representation is the right option for you.If you decide to look for a divorce attorney, here are some questions to consider:
1. What is your approach to the divorce process?
Each divorce lawyer you speak to should have a slightly different answer to this. Sure, the divorce process is the same, in terms of paperwork, but your lawyer’s approach will differ. This open-ended question will give you some insight into the strategies they might employ to get you to the finish line. Some lawyers run to court for every little thing in a divorce. If that does/doesn’t feel right to you, ask how often they typically find themselves in court during the divorce process. Are you anticipating a heated child custody battle, a big argument over property, or something else? Ask your lawyer how they’ve helped clients reach an acceptable outcome when they’ve worked in similar situations in the past. This article, This is why you need a strategy for your divorce, might also help prepare you for this conversation.
2. Can you describe your ideal client?
This question will help you understand what you can do to be a great client. Not that you wouldn’t be, but look – you don’t know what you don’t know unless you ask. This is likely your first divorce. Getting insights from a prospective lawyer about what makes a good client is a great way to get clued in about when to sit tight and relax and trust the process. And, understanding what qualities each attorney likes in their favorite type of client will help you see whether you’d be a good fit to work with them, or not.
3. How often should I expect to hear from your office, and what’s the best way for me to reach you when I have questions?
The best way to find out how frequently your lawyer connects with their clients is to ask. If you’re an e-mail junkie and detest interaction by phone (or vice versa), make that clear. If you want regular face-to-face meetings to discuss your case, a video conference, or messaging through a platform that is extra secure, make that clear. Lay out your expectations for communication up front. Remember: this is your divorce. You get to be picky about who helps you through it and how often you check in with your legal help.
4. How will I be updated on the status of my case?
Many lawyers are incorporating technology into their practices – which is a good thing for you. It keeps the process more transparent, letting you follow along at each step. As you interview attorneys, ask if their office uses technology like Clio, MyCase, or other case management software that you can also use to message your attorney, review your filed documents and track the status of your case.
5. Now that you know the details of my case, do you see any red flags? Any areas where my case could go off track?
This is a good chance to get help thinking ten steps ahead. After you’ve laid out the path that led you to pursue divorce and shared the outcome you’re hoping to achieve after your divorce is final, ask the lawyer where they’ve seen things going off the rails in similar cases they’ve worked on. What red flags did your story raise for them? What questions is the lawyer asking you about your situation? This question is your chance to 1) make sure they’ve been hearing you and 2) get insights that could help keep your divorce process moving along without surprises.
6. How much does a divorce lawyer cost?
Depending on where you live, the experience of the attorney, and other factors, expect to pay in the range of $150 to $500 per hour.
This question is especially important if you’re concerned about your financial situation. It will be helpful to know whether there are options, such as monthly payments or a payment up front and at the end. If you’re not sure you can afford the lawyer you like, ask about their process of helping clients pay divorce lawyer fees out of the marital estate, rather than just out of your pocket. A lawyer who wants to work with you will help you find a way to afford their services and might offer options – like working more closely with a paralegal during the bulk of the process – to help you keep costs down.
Money-saving tip: Find out if your lawyer has staff (preferably a trained paralegal). You can cut down significantly on fees by forming a relationship with team members who bill at a lower hourly rate.
Taking all of this into account, I want you to remember one thing: this is your divorce. You get to choose who helps you through it. That’s why I highly recommend interviewing at least two to three divorce lawyers before selecting one. Don’t let anyone pressure you into working with them, either. This process is going to get harder before it gets easier, so it’s important that the lawyer by your side – the lawyer who is going to be learning a lot about the inner workings of your marriage, your finances, and more – is someone that you trust, respect, and actually like.
Erin Levine is CEO and Founder of Hello Divorce and Levine Family Law Group. She is also a Certified Family Law Specialist and legal innovator – combining heart, technology and thoughtful design to create client-centric legal services that allow people to gracefully transition into and out of relationships, and evolve into the next version of themselves.