How to Choose a Divorce Attorney
How to Choose a Divorce Attorney in Arizona
When choosing a divorce attorney to represent you, you may be wondering whether you even want to hire a lawyer. Hiring a knowledgeable attorney will indeed help you navigate the divorce and child custody issues that must be addressed in your family law case. An experienced attorney, one who listens carefully and is responsive to your concerns, will guide you through each procedure, will allay your fears, and will eliminate confusion by bringing order to the process.
Not every lawyer will be knowledgeable enough or experienced enough to fit the bill, however, so you need to be very selective. Your future is on the line. You need solid, reliable, effective legal representation. Hiring a lawyer who doesn’t answer or return your telephone calls and emails, who doesn’t keep you apprised of what is happening in your case, or who handles the case in a manner that causes you additional problems, will make your life miserable. Most lawyers will make you feel more confident because you’ll get the legal support you need at a time when you may be feeling quite vulnerable. What we want is for you to choose the best divorce attorney possible for your unique circumstances.
The Kind of Person You Should Choose
Keep in mind that you are selecting a legal advisor. You will be entrusting that individual with information about almost every aspect of your personal life — some good, some not so good. It stands to reason that you would want to select a lawyer with the qualities and characteristics that you find admirable, such as honesty, reliability, sincerity, intelligence, and leadership. A positive sense of well-being flows from an affiliation with the family lawyer who is best suited to your personal needs. The lawyer you hire may profoundly affect the course of your life and your children’s lives, so be methodical in your decision-making and do your homework.
Educate yourself about the attorney and his or her law firm. Prepare a list of questions to ask each lawyer candidate, then compare and reflect on the answers each has given you. Don’t simply hire the first attorney that you interview because he or she seemed nice enough. If you do, you will never be certain that you made a good decision. That uncertainty can undermine your confidence in the attorney’s handling of your case. (Even if you go full circle and do indeed hire the attorney you first consulted with, you will know that he or she is the right lawyer for you because you met the competition and they didn’t match your expectations.) Don’t allow yourself to be pressured into making a decision immediately, without meeting with a few other lawyers. Be cautiously selective, this is one of the most important decisions you will ever make.
When you choose a lawyer, using the techniques that we recommend on our website, then you should be ready to take your divorce or child custody matter through each step in the process with less difficulty and greater confidence. By associating with a lawyer who understands family law, as well as human nature, you will protect your mental and emotional health throughout the divorce process.
An Attorney Who Focuses on Your Rights and Interests
Retaining an attorney can really make a difference in how the case proceeds and how you fare in the end. Should you represent yourself, your lack of knowledge in the law can really hurt your case. Serious life-changing mistakes can easily be made and there are no do-overs in divorce. If, for example, you were to accept a settlement proposal from your spouse without ever having an attorney review the papers and advocate for your rights and interests, then you could end up with much less in assets and support. You could end up on the short end of the stick and never even know what happened. By the time you discover the negative results of the settlement agreement, it’s too late — the deal is done.
In the divorce, you are a party to a lawsuit and you have an adversary. You may still place trust in your spouse’s ability to do the right thing for you, but this is not the time to rely on his or her good will. Actually, doing so would be foolhardy. Here are three good points to remember: First, the other party may be consulting with a family law attorney (you’d be better off making that assumption, even when your spouse denies having done so). Second, do not go into a divorce believing that if neither of you has an attorney, it will be a fair fight. Third, don’t assume that your spouse’s settlement offer is fair and equitable because he or she says it is.
We’ve provided a lot of legal information for you on our website. Look for the answers to your questions as they occur to you, and keep learning how the law applies to your case. We strongly recommend that you meet at least once with a family law attorney to make sure that your understanding of what the law is, and how it applies to your case, is the correct understanding. As you would expect, your mistaken assumptions about the law could also hurt your case.
Don’t Delay – Meet the Attorney
You may find yourself wanting to put off making that initial appointment with a lawyer. Procrastination only interferes with your access to the legal advice you really do need, and need now. Attorneys understand the emotional aspects of divorce, which can be an overwhelming experience. There are feelings of hurt, anger, grief, jealousy, sorrow, denial, and even dismay. An experienced attorney will fully appreciate how difficult it can be for you to seek help from a perfect stranger on personal matters involving your family. But delaying a visit to the lawyer is, more often than not, a very big mistake.
Maybe you are in denial about the end of your marriage. Do any of these negative thoughts ring true for you?
“My marriage isn’t so bad. I’m certain that things will get better soon.”
“Lawyers scare me to death. I’d feel too intimidated to meet with one on my own.”
“I can’t talk to a complete stranger about everything I’m dealing with, I’ll just fall apart.”
“I cannot cope as it is. There is no way that I can afford the fees that lawyers charge.”
Well, necessity is the mother of invention. Once you’ve decided that you need a lawyer, you should be able to find ways to overcome the mental, emotional, and financial barriers, and get the best legal representation you can for yourself.
How the Attorney Will Help
If you don’t understand what lawyers do, or don’t understand why you might need to hire one, then you are unaware of the specialized knowledge and skills that set attorneys apart from non-lawyers. Furthermore, you need to appreciate that family law practice is loaded with highly technical rules. If you don’t understand all of the rules involved and how they affect you as a party to a lawsuit, then you are unlikely to get the results you want from your case.
You might be under the impression that the only time you need a lawyer is when you go to court. But properly timed legal advice may prevent problems from occurring, cutting off unwanted results. Well-timed legal advice may also diminish the scope of existing issues, or prevent issues from becoming more divisive. Using the services of a good lawyer as a preventative measure may save you time, money, and grief. Once you’ve decided that you need a lawyer, make the appointment. Don’t procrastinate, schedule the meeting for as soon as possible.
The Process of Finding the Right Lawyer
Choosing an attorney is an important decision for you, but it isn’t your first important decision and certainly won’t be your last. Think of the selection process as a problem-solving challenge. You can do this, and here are a few tips to help you along the way:
- Determine what your priorities are for the legal services you’ll seek.
- Determine how you will gather information about lawyers, the long list, and then narrow that down to those who are most likely to meet your expectations.
- Dedicate the time and effort necessary to find a lawyer who will do the best job for you.
- Ask your friends or family members for a personal referral to an attorney.
- Learn the lawyer’s reputation for specialized skills.
- Learn the law firm’s reputation in the community.
- Determine whether you can trust this person with your future.
Gather Information About Family Law Attorneys in Your Area
Gathering information about family lawyers in your area starts easily enough. You start by asking questions. Ask the people you trust and respect for leads to lawyers, or leads to other people who may have attorney recommendations. Talk to your relatives, your friends and neighbors, your co-workers, and even your business contacts about their attorneys and about attorneys who have represented people that they know. Clergy and mental health professionals who provide marriage counseling or couples’ crisis counseling are often good sources of information as well.
Do you know people who have been through a divorce? They may be your most valuable asset when choosing an attorney. After all, they’ve been in your shoes, they know what you’ll be going through, and they understand what you’ll need from your attorney, particularly in light of an opposing counsel. Also, asking for attorneys’ recommendations is very useful in gaining insight about a family lawyer’s reputation in the legal community.
State Bar of Arizona, Volunteer Lawyers, and County Bar Associations
One of the first places to find a lawyer is through the State Bar of Arizona. Through the state bar’s website, you can select the type of law and the geographic region for a list of attorneys who satisfy your search criteria. The State Bar of Arizona also has a Family Law Section with attorney members statewide who share an interest in the law of domestic relations. The Volunteer Lawyers Program (VLP) may be another lawyer resource for you. Lawyers volunteer their time to assist individuals who have signed up for VLP legal services. These attorneys provide their time pro bono, that is free or at a reduced rate, and some do take on family law cases. Because the volunteer program has minimal resources, you shouldn’t rely on getting free legal assistance. There are more requests for VLP services than there are attorneys available to provide help. Additionally, many local bar associations have lawyer referral services. The Maricopa County Bar Association has a lawyer referral service as does the Pima County Bar Association. Check with your local county bar association for possible attorney referrals in your community.
Courthouse Personnel, Legal Ads, Directories, and Brochures
A good place to get information is from the courthouse personnel who regularly interact with local attorneys. Although court personnel cannot make specific recommendations or offer legal advice, they can help point you in the right direction. Another resource is the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory of lawyers. Advertisements and directories provide additional information about the kinds of cases a lawyer handles, where he or she attended law school, and the colleagues associated with the lawyer’s practice. When you begin visiting lawyers at their offices, always ask for a firm brochure to take home with you. Firm brochures will give you additional insight into the firm’s operations and what it aspires to accomplish for clients.
Be sure their practice is focused on Divorce and Family Law
You want advice from the lawyer who stays current with changes in the law of property, asset and debt distribution, child custody and visitation, child support, and spousal maintenance (alimony). Legal advice from a family law practitioner will be custom-tailored to your needs and goals. An in-depth understanding of domestic relations law results in more creative and more flexible solutions to problems as they arise. You need to target the most complex issues in your case before settling on the lawyer who could most properly advise you.
Looking for the Best Match
Now that you have a list of possible attorneys, it is vital that you meet any attorney who was recommended to you before you make your decision. Your first contact with the lawyer’s office will probably be by telephone. Sometimes the telephone conversation alone is sufficient to determine whether a face-to-face consultation should be scheduled. If you decide to attend an initial meeting, plan to conduct your own interview of the lawyer. You need to assess whether your needs will be understood and adequately addressed by this particular lawyer.
No matter how wonderful the recommendation of a particular lawyer was, your selection of counsel is a highly personal matter. This is your decision, your case, your life. When you hire an attorney, you entrust that person to safeguard your rights and interests at a time of emotional upheaval for you. The attorney you decide to hire needs to structure a settlement that is as favorable to you as possible, and needs to advise you on highly technical matters, such as the potential tax consequences of any proposed settlement. Your perception of who the lawyer is as a person will be extremely important in predicting how much and what kind of attention the lawyer will give to your case.
The Initial Consultation
Imagine that it is your first meeting with the attorney. If he or she doesn’t strike you as someone you can be confident in, then keep looking. If the person doesn’t seem to be one who will zealously represent your best interests, then keep looking. If the lawyer doesn’t appear to be someone who can help move your case toward a resolution efficiently and sensitively, then keep looking. If the meeting was stilted and you never had a sense of rapport, or the lawyer wasn’t very attentive to your questions and concerns, then keep looking. You do not want to hire a lawyer who is obviously disorganized, who is difficult to understand and logically follow, or who you suspect does not know the field of family law very well.
In addition to scheduling a consultations, you may ask me any family law related questions for free online. I will respond with my best answer in 24 hours or less.
You Should Trust Your First Impressions
Our first impressions are often our lasting impressions. If at the first meeting you feel uncomfortable or put off by the lawyer’s personal style or practice philosophy, then you probably won’t change your mind as time goes by. Selecting a lawyer is a matter of personal taste, and you need someone you can relate to. You know that your family law case will significantly affect you, both emotionally and financially. Don’t make a challenging time in your life more difficult by choosing an attorney that you really don’t like and don’t connect with.
Attorney Fees and Firm Policies
Pay very careful attention to the lawyer’s responses to your questions about the firm’s policies and attorney fees. The attorney’s billing and collection policies should be clearly explained to you:
- Will you be billed at an hourly rate? What is that rate? Does it vary among personnel in the law firm?
- Are different rates charged for office work and courtroom appearances?
- How will expenses such as photocopying, secretarial time, postage and the like be billed?
- Are you to pay in advance of receiving services?
- Is there a retainer fee (initial advance deposit)? Is it refundable if the work is terminated or completed before the entire retainer has been used?
- Is a flat fee (fixed price for a specific legal task) available for any services?
- Will the billing statements be sufficiently detailed for you to identify the exact work that has been performed?
- What will be included in the written fee agreement between you and the attorney?
With divorce cases, when issues are so often emotionally charged, clients are frequently under great stress. Under those circumstances, issues over legal fees can really poison the attorney-client relationship when misunderstandings and miscommunications are not cleared up promptly. You should know from the very beginning precisely how you will be charged for work done on your case. What additional fees might be necessary to your case, and how you are expected to pay your bill. Vague answers to your questions about fees and costs are unacceptable. All lawyers should be able to tell you about costs involved with handling your case, and an experienced lawyer will tell you everything you need to know about fees so you can reasonably make an educated hiring decision.
We hope this information on how to choose a family law attorney has been helpful for you.