The outcome of your divorce proceedings will change the course of your life forever, so invest the time and money to find the lawyer who will do the best job for you. Interview two or three lawyers before deciding who'll represent you. Remember: it's your responsibility to retain a lawyer who's not only good at his or her job, but one whose personality and outlook are compatible with yours.
Here are the questions you should ask during your initial interview:
• Do you practice family law exclusively? If not, what percentage of your practice is family law?
• How long have you been practicing?
• What is your retainer (the initial fee paid – or, sometimes, the actual contract you sign – to officially hire a lawyer)? Is this fee refundable? What is your hourly fee?
• What is your hourly rate and billing terms? You should know what you're paying for, how often you will be billed, and at what rates.
• Approximately how much will my divorce cost? The lawyer will only be able to provide an estimate based on the information you provide – and your realistic estimation of how amicable you and your spouse are. If you think your case is extremely simple, but your spouse's lawyer buries your attorney in paperwork, you can expect your costs to increase.
• What do you think the outcome will be? Remember, you're looking for truthfulness here – not to be told a pretty story.
• If your spouse has retained a divorce lawyer, ask your prospective lawyer whether he or she knows this lawyer. If so, ask: "Have you worked with him or her before? Do you think the lawyer will work to settle the case? And is there anything that would prevent you from working against this lawyer?"
• What percentage of your cases go to trial? You actually want to choose a lawyer with a low percentage here – a good negotiator who can settle your divorce without a long, expensive court battle.
• Are you willing and able to go to court if this case can't be settled any other way?
• How long will this process take? (Again, the answer will be an approximation.)
• What are my rights, and what are my obligations during my divorce?
• At a full-service law firm, ask who will be handling the case: the lawyer you're interviewing, an associate, or a combination of senior and junior lawyers and paralegals?
• Should I consider divorce mediation? Ask if your case – at least in the initial stages – might be a good one for mediation. If there has been violence in the relationship, or one spouse is seriously intimidated by the other, this may not be a viable alternative.
• Should I consider Collaborative Divorce? In this alternative-dispute process, each client hires a collaborative lawyer to serve as his/her advisor. Both clients and lawyers sign an agreement that they will not go to court; if the process fails, the lawyers must resign and the divorcing couple starts over again from square one.
• What happens now? Do I need to do anything? And when will I hear from you?
Finally, if there's something you really need to know, or if you don't understand something the lawyer said, don't be afraid to ask for clarification.