Friday, January 6, 2012
How to Choose an Attorney
When you have decided that you either need to file for divorce, need to defend yourself in litigation or want to know your options, the next step is to consult with an attorney. If you know or have worked with an attorney, it may be easy to contact that attorney and set up a meeting.
On the other hand, if you don't have easy access to a lawyer, you may need help in finding one appropriate for your situation.
1. What is your objective? Think about what you need to end up with. Do you need cash now? Do you want to stay in the house or get money to buy another house? Do you need retirement assets? Can you handle debts? How will children factor in? Figure out what your needs and goals are so you can discuss these ideas with your attorney. If you have special needs in certain areas, it probably isn't in your best interest to try to just get half of everything. You can be more creative and better meet your needs by thinking about specific needs.
2. How much money do you have available? Frankly, this has a major impact on your course of action. Family law is expensive. Some people will try to handle everything without a lawyer and that sometimes works. For people with children, assets, debts, retirement accounts, houses, investments, professional careers and assets from before the marriage, a lawyer is really necessary. Fortunately, there is a wide range of attorneys available.
As you check around, find out the hourly rate, the amount of retainer and whether credit cards can be used. Some attorneys will use a credit card authorization with monthly payments instead of requiring a large retainer to be maintained with the lawyer. Bottom Line: find an attorney who is affordable for you and your budget. There are good attorneys in all price ranges.
3. Do you want a shark, a negotiator or a reasonable litigator? To help you decide that, you need to answer some other questions. Do you want a friendly divorce, a big battle or a private negotiation? Do you want to take care of your soon-to-be ex, or to be taken care of? Do you want revenge or to inflict pain and get retribution for your spouse's misdeeds?
Keep in mind that if you hire an attorney who will take a scorched earth approach to your spouse, you will pay for it. All the extra threats, demands, hearings, depositions, discovery, pleadings and a trial cost a lot of money. You can inflict a lot of pain on your spouse, but it will severely deplete your assets. You have to decide if the revenge or punishment meted out is worth spending an extra $50,000 or $100,000 or more.
Once you have thought about your course of action, you need to consult with possible attorneys. So, how do you find the right attorney?
1. Get referrals. Talk with attorneys, other professionals and trusted friends and relatives, and ask who they like and trust. But, remember that what worked for someone else may or may not work for you. Follow up with the next two steps.
2. Go online. Research attorneys in your area online. Look at their qualifications and experience. Check out their web site. Read their blog if they have one. You can get a pretty good idea about an attorney by reading what he/she has to say and how it is written.
3. Check for chemistry. Meet with one or more attorneys and see if the chemistry feels right. Some very good attorneys work well with some people, but can never please some others. Go with your gut on this. If you feel comfortable and communicate well with the attorney, that's a good sign. If something doesn't feel right, try someone else.
Final Note: Be honest with your attorney. Don't hide the bad stuff. The other side won't and attorneys hate surprises. Be ready to discusses your weaknesses as well as your strengths.