One of the most important decisions you will make in separation or divorce is selecting the right attorney. Not all divorce lawyers are created equal.
Your selection should be made very carefully because the divorce lawyer you choose can profoundly affect the course of your life and your children’s lives, now and for years to come.
The lawyer you choose is charged with safeguarding your rights during a time of great emotional upheaval for you, to structure a settlement for you as favorable as possible, and advise you on highly technical legal and tax implications of a proposed settlement.
Below are 12 most important questions to ask before hiring a New Jersey divorce attorney:
- Do you specialize in divorce and family law?
New Jersey separation and divorce law is full of highly technical laws and rules. An attorney without such intimate knowledge and experience can cost you much in the long run.
You not only want an attorney with plenty of experience in family law but also within your county’s court system.
- How long have you practiced divorce and family law?
An experienced family law attorney will likely consider cost-effective alternatives to litigation, including out of court settlements, collaborative divorce and mediation. These alternative divorce processes are more likely to save expenditures of time, money, and emotional energy in obtaining a divorce.
More experienced lawyers often charge higher rates; but you may actually save money because they can often do the work at a faster pace and with less new research than general practitioners who don’t know a much about the nuances of divorce and family law.
- How will you approach my case?
Observe how personal the response is. Is the lawyer determined to help you get what you want out of the divorce or are the answers general or vague?
Look for responses that focus on a genuine desire to facilitate negotiations to achieve the most favorable outcome for you as early as possible without sacrificing your objectives.
- What are the fees you typically charge?
Don’t settle for vague answers to questions about fees. While no lawyer likely knows exactly how much it will cost to handle your case, they should be willing to tell you as much as possible about fees.
By the same token, if the retainer fee quoted to you is so low that it is almost too good to be true, chances are the retainer amount is no indication of how much you will ultimately spend.
- Will you be billed at an hourly rate? If so, what is that rate? Will you be billed for time spent by paralegals or other administrative professionals?
- How will you be charged for other expenses such as photocopying, postage and other expenses?
- Will you be billed for telephone calls and emails?
Believe it or not there are lawyers who bill for just leaving you a voicemail. You want to know how you will be billed for telephone calls as well as emails.
- Are you expected to pay in advance of receiving services? It’s common for lawyers to charge an initial “retainer” (initial advance deposit) as well as “incremental” retainers. Make sure the lawyer tells you that retainers are refundable if not fully used.
- Will your billing statements be sufficiently detailed for you to determine what exact work has been performed?
- Who will be in charge of your case? Often, particularly in larger law firms, the lawyer will tell you that you will save fees by having your case assigned to a less experienced associate. What many clients don’t realize, however, is that they would likely pay more for the less experienced associate to do the work.
In addition, clients are often billed for the work of two lawyers – the partner and associate – and both lawyers often show up for court appearances.
- How quickly can you expect to receive return phone calls and emails when you have questions?
- How will you be kept informed about the status and progress of your case?
What to Look For When Meeting with a Divorce Attorney
Observe the lawyer’s approach towards you. Does he or she listen? Is the lawyer in a hurry to offer you solutions or do they take their time to hear you out?
A lawyer who truly listens to you and responds appropriately can greatly reduce your fears, uncertainty and confusion.
Be wary if the lawyer does not give you undivided attention or answer your questions and concerns to your complete satisfaction.
You should also be asked what it is that’s most important to you. This is key information for your lawyer to remain focused on your interests at all times.
Above all, the divorce lawyer you choose will have good communication skills. This means communicating with you about what your spouse and their attorney want out of negotiations, as well as keeping you up-to-date on any changes to the proceedings.
Ultimately, you should go with your gut feeling when selecting your attorney. Keep in mind that first impressions aren’t likely to change. Based on the answers to your questions, your observations about the lawyer’s style, and how you feel after your consultation, you should know whether the lawyer you met with is right for you.
To receive the most up-to-date divorce tips and developments in the law, subscribe to my blog or call to schedule a personalized one on one consultation to find out the best way to resolve your divorce or family legal matter.