The following advice and observations are from the Honorable Anne Kass, a District Judge in the Second Judicial District State of New Mexico.
I have heard people who are thinking about getting a divorce say, "I want the meanest, toughest attorney I can find. I want a fighter." I always shudder and say that a fighter is the last thing anyone should want in a lawyer.
Fighter-attorneys may make a client feel good as they harass and humiliate the other spouse, but fighter-attorneys cost tons of money and they always make things worse–for both parties.
So, what are the characteristics of a good lawyer in divorce cases?
First, the hallmark of a good lawyer is that he or she will tell a client things the client does not want to hear. A good lawyer gives clients bad news.
In divorce cases there is always a good deal of bad news to be given.
–There will not be enough money to maintain the standard of living the family is used to.
–Often the family residence will have to be sold.
–Each parent will spend less time with the children because there will be a second home in which the children will spend time.
–The children may begin to misbehave or do poorly in school or exhibit other unfortunate problems, which will consume more time, energy and possibly money to pay counselors to try to solve.
The list of bad news goes on and on. The fighter-attorney fails to warn the client–allows, or even encourages, the client to hold on to unrealistic expectations. The good lawyer does not.
Clients sometimes say to a lawyer who tells them what they do not want to hear, "Whose side are you on anyway?" But a good lawyer is on the client’s side when they explain reality.
Another sign of good lawyers is that they get along with one another. They are courteous to one another, and they are able to trust one another. They exchange information promptly. They cooperate. Fighter-attorneys do all sorts of stuff to aggravate the other side, which may provide a perverse kind of pleasure while it is happening, but in the end, non-cooperation between lawyers generates enormous legal fees and it increases the bitter feelings between the parties which ultimately damages their lives and the lives of their children. People who hire fighter-attorneys can expect a scorched-earth result. They are often surprised to discover they themselves have to live on that scorched earth.
Divorcing couples are wise to hire lawyers who are peace-makers and problem-solvers. Look for a lawyer who has gone to the trouble of getting mediation training, and watch out for attorneys who do not tell you things you do not want to hear.