Many people have no idea as to what they should reasonably expect from the divorce lawyer they have hired to represent them. In this post, I will discuss some attorney behaviors in an effort to help you find a good attorney and/or alert you to legitimate concerns about your existing attorney.
In my practice I have worked with many attorneys. Some were the cream of the crop while others were the dregs. Based on my personal experience, I believe that the very best attorneys are also nice people.
The very best attorneys can assertively represent their client’s best interests without being rude and hostile to opposing counsel, witnesses or the court. These attorneys do not feel the need to convince you that they know everything. They are not show-offs. They are not primadonnas. They are not arrogant blow-hards. They also understand that "louder" does not mean "smarter"!
The best attorneys do not feel like they have to prove anything to anybody. They know they are good, and so does everyone else. Whereas many times, less-skilled attorneys feel they must compensate for their lack of skills, knowledge and expertise by being mean, pompous and uncooperative.
In every locale, the very best attorneys are known and respected by the judges. This translates into credibility with the judges, from which the client will benefit in ways both tangible and intangible.
As you search for the right attorney, don’t be overly impressed with an elaborate office and a wall full of diplomas and certificates. Outward appearances of financial success are fine, but they do not mean that this is the attorney for you. There are much more important matters of which you should be aware.
Because family law cases deal with issues of an extremely personal nature, you must feel very comfortable with the person you hire as your attorney. If you feel somewhat uncomfortable or intimidated in interviewing attorneys, take along a friend or relative who can give you support.
In shopping for an attorney, remember that you are the client and the attorney is there to serve you. Unless something is illegal or unethical, your attorney should do what you ask. If the attorney thinks that your approach or decision is a mistake, the attorney should then explore the issue with you in depth so that you will be making an informed decision.
Also remember that the best attorneys don’t take every client who walks into their office. The very best attorneys are discriminating in their selection of clients and cases. Just as you are sizing up the attorney, the attorney should also be evaluating whether you are his/her type of client. If the attorney seems anxious to sign you up as a client, beware!
Following are some personality traits that I recommend you avoid in your selection of an attorney. If the attorney you are interviewing or have already hired exhibits any of these characteristics, be on guard. These are red flags. They are signs of imminent danger. Clearly, some of these traits are worse than others, and they are listed in no particular order.
- Verbally abusive.
- Refuses to discuss his/her qualifications.
- Talks down to you.
- Does not really listen to you when you are talking.
- Does not empathize with you. (Attorneys are poor therapists. Do not seek mental therapy from your attorney. However, you attorney should be able to "feel your pain" and not treat you like a piece of furniture.)
- Uses a lot of "legal jargon."
- Promises a certain result.
- Does not use written fee agreements.
- Neglects to return your phone calls. (This can be a huge problem. No matter how busy an attorney is, within a few days the attorney should at least have an assistant call you and tell you when you may expect a response.)
- Makes sexual advances or is flirtatious.
- Waits until the last minute to prepare for a hearing.
- Has no strategy and tactics for your case.
- Does not keep you informed of what is going on in your case.
- Makes decisions about your case without your input or knowledge.
- Avoids dealing with conflict OR
- Wants to fight or every little thing.
- Lets the other side take the initiative and set the agenda.
- Lets the other side get away with violating court rules such as refusing to produce documents (called "discovery").
- Is not a member in any professional organization specifically related to family law. (While membership usually only means they have paid the dues, it does indicate some professional initiative.)
- Has a general practice, dabbling in all types of different cases. (In small towns and rural areas this may be all there is, but you should ask around to try to find out which attorneys focus primarily on family law.)
Suffice it to say that if you are able to find a competent attorney who also is nice, you will be a happier and more satisfied client.
Source: Adapted from an article by attorney Edwin C. Shilling III at DivorceNet.com.