The Importance of Interviewing Attorneys
Hiring an attorney is an important but challenging part of the divorce process. To preserve your time and money, you need to ask the right questions to get real answers. You have every right to shop around to find the lawyer who will best represent your interests (although note that these consults are not free). Interviewing attorneys can be daunting, but this is the most important thing you will do in your divorce process.
Make sure to take notes and come prepared. Most attorneys charge by the hour (actually to the minute) so the time is precious.
What to Ask
Here are ten questions for interviewing attorneys, grouped into three categories of basic information, communication and other personal questions, and strategic ones about how to proceed. This list isn’t exhaustive, and you should definitely ask questions that are specific to your situation, particularly if there is violence in the relationship or any other important factor.
1. How long have you practiced law?
A pretty straight forward question, but it needs to be asked. You’ll want to know if this lawyer is a beginner or a veteran, or somewhere in between to get a good feel for how they will handle your case.
2. What area of law do you practice?
Your lawyer’s level of expertise should pertain to your case. Unless there is some strong reason for an exception, he or she should practice family law.
3. How many cases have you represented similar to mine?
This question yields a lot of useful information. It can make you feel at ease, hearing that you are not alone and instilling confidence in the lawyer. It can serve as an opportunity to get deeper into the lawyer’s past, such as number of cases won, settled, etc. If you’re invested in trying everything possible to keep this out of court, say so – and get a sense of their reaction.
4. What are your fees and how are they charged?
You have to know if this lawyer is attainable for your budget and lifestyle. This is also the best time to discuss payment plan options, resources for legal aid and the lawyer’s billing procedure. Additionally, it’s a good idea to get a sense of how much of the legwork will be done by paralegals and how that is billed. It’s not bad to have a paralegal on the case (their billable rate is cheaper, and they’re often more accessible), but you should have a good understanding of who you’ll deal with regularly and how much access you’ll actually have to your attorney.
5. How often and in what manner should I expect communication regarding my case?
Communication is a big deal when establishing trust in this type of relationship. Your lawyer has your livelihood in their hands and you need to have an open line of communication at all times. Note that this communication may be with a paralegal or other staff, but you want to get a good sense of what to expect.
6. What is expected from me in this process?
You will need to provide your lawyer with as much information as possible. Knowing what is expected of you from the beginning can help you be a better teammate to your lawyer. You’ll save a lot of money if you are open, organized, and forthcoming.
7. Why is representing my case important to you?
You are important. You are not just another number. You need a lawyer that treats you and your case as such.
8. How will you win my case?
The answer to this question can reveal the lawyer’s style in the courtroom. The lawyer could have an aggressive reputation, and you may not like that. Also listen for attorneys who are most interested in battling in the courtroom vs. doing their best to settle cases. While they may enjoy the courtroom drama, you and your bank account certainly won’t. Having an attorney who is invested in doing their best to get you the best settlement with the least amount of hassle and money is critical.
9. Is there a better way to solve my problems?
A good lawyer will give it to you straight. It’s possible your case can be handled through a less expensive and less time-consuming manner. The vast majority of divorces do not get litigated in court. They’re settled, handled in mediation, or even agreed entirely by the divorcing parties. It is important, however, to get sound legal advice before making a decision about how to proceed. For those who can’t afford legal representation, there are national organizations, as well as state and local ones that can help.
10. What strategy do you think is best?
If they’re willing to summarize a quick game plan based on your discussion, it shows skill, organization and intelligence. It would be interesting to see what they can come up with right off the bat and work together from there if you like what you hear.
Interviewing attorneys can be stressful and intimidating, but it’s worth it. You want a strong advocate who has your best interests in mind and with whom you can communicate effectively.