Selecting the lawyer that will represent you is one of the most important decisions that you will make in your divorce case. You should try to find a lawyer who is skilled, competent, and who regularly handles family law and divorce cases. Seek someone who is responsive and willing to communicate with you throughout the divorce process. Ask for recommendations from your friends and family members, but in the end, trust your own judgment.
Schedule a consultation appointment with the lawyer. This will give you an opportunity to evaluate how you are treated by the staff and will give you some time to interact with and interview the lawyer. After spending thirty minutes to one hour with the lawyer, you should have a good feel for whether he or she is the right lawyer for you. One factor that is often overlooked is whether a lawyer’s personality compliments yours. You divorce lawyer is someone with whom you will be sharing many intimate details of your life as well confidential financial information. He or she must be someone with whom you are comfortable and whom you trust.
During the initial consultation with the potential lawyer, you may consider asking him the following 9 questions:
1. Do you specialize in family law? If you needed back surgery, would you go to a general practitioner? Of course not. Likewise, there are many lawyers who are general practitioners that will handle a divorce case. In addition, they take business matters, bankruptcies, criminal cases, etc. That is not the type of lawyer you want handling your divorce case. Ask them what percentage of their practice is divorce and family law matters. If it is not at least 50%-75% (I’d prefer 90-100% if it were my case) of their practice, go elsewhere.
2. What would be the fee arrangement for you to handle my divorce case? Divorce lawyers normally set fees in one of two ways: they either charge a fixed fee for the entire case, or they charge a retainer against which they bill an hourly fee. Make sure you completely understand how you will be billed. A good lawyer will want to make sure that you completely understand and are comfortable with the fee arrangement. If you have any questions, ask.
3. What other costs can I expect? In addition to lawyer’s fees, there are other costs that are typically associated with your divorce case such as court costs, subpoenas, and sometimes such things as private investigator fees, depositions, etc. Ask the lawyer what types of costs are likely to be involved in your case and how much you can expect to pay for them.
4. Will you send me monthly itemized bills showing the time that you spent on my case and the expenses incurred? If you are being charged by the hour, the lawyer should systematically keep you updated with regard to your trust account balance. If you ever have a question about a charge on your bill, talk to the lawyer about it. Address it sooner rather than later. If you are being charged a fixed fee, this is obviously not an issue. You will know up fron what the entire fee is. The only statements you should expect to receive is for costs that have incurred on your case (such as for subpoena fees, filing fees, etc.)
5. Do you have any resources that you can make available to me to help me reduce the pain and expense of divorce? Obviously, going through a divorce can be a very traumatic experience. A lawyer that is willing to educate you about the process and the law affecting your case will help remove some of the concerns that you may have.
6. Who else will be working on my case? Other lawyers, paralegals, and/or staff members will often perform work on your case. You want to be sure that the others work on your case are also competent and experienced. Also, find out at what hourly rate you will be charged for their working on your case, if at all. The hourly rate for less experienced attorneys and/or paralegals should be lower than that of the primary attorney on the case.
7. What efforts will you make to try to settle my case? The majority of divorce cases settle. Some are settled before they ever get to the lawyer (that is to say that the parties have already reached an agreement and the divorce lawyer is only needed to draft the paperwork). Others settle on the day of the trial, in a room outside the courtroom, and still others settle at any stage in between. You want a lawyer who is willing to communicate with your spouse and/or your spouse’s lawyer (if he or she has one), to try to settle the case. Many lawyers will not make a deliberate effort to settle your case, but rather will prepare the matter for trial and only settle it if the other side takes the initiative or if it happens to settle on the day of court. This type of lawyer can cost you thousands of dollars in unnecessary legal fees. Additionally, you should ask what the lawyer thinks about mediation. Mediation is becoming more prevalent in divorce cases [Editor’s Note: It is required in most Georgia courts before a trial, or, in some cases, even before a temporary hearing]. If you think that it may be helpful in your case, you should ask the lawyer to explain the costs and benefits associated with mediation.
8. What I can do to keep my costs down? By taking an active roll in your case, there are certain fact gathering steps that will reduce your legal fees. If a lawyer is charging you by the hour, you may be better off gathering many of the financial documents and other information rather than relying on the lawyer’s office to do it.
9. Do you survey your clients to measure their satisfaction? You should not let a negative answer to this question preclude your allowing the lawyer to represent you. Because so few lawyers actually do survey their clients, there are many very good competent lawyers who don’t do this. However, all other factors being equal, a lawyer that surveys his clients to determine their satisfaction, is likely to render better service to his clients as he is more attuned to their feedback.
As you ask the above questions and make a decision about hiring a lawyer, keep in mind that you have a right to expect your lawyer to do the following:
Once you have found a good lawyer, remember that he works for you. Do not be intimidated by him. Do not hand over control of your case without question. The lawyer should be willing to explain the decisions that need to be made during the process of your divorce as well as his recommendations. However, in the end, you are the one who makes the decisions. Ultimately, if you are not satisfied with the lawyer, remember that you have the absolute right to terminate your relationship with him at any time, for any reason. Be careful in doing so, however, if you have a Court date looming. This can cause unnecessary delays or, worse, result in you having to proceed without proper representation.
SOURCE FOR POST: Alabama Family Law Blog
Michael Sherman of the Alabama Family Law Blog has posted a truly insightful article about the different styles of divorce attorneys. Like Michael, I am frequently asked by prospective divorce clients if I will be aggressive… or a pit bull… or a shark. They phrase it differently. But, many folks facing divorce think that what they need is the most aggressive divorce lawyer in Marietta, or Atlanta or in Georgia (or whatever jurisdiction they happen to be in).
Here is Michael’s article:
In my years of divorce practice I have seen lots of lawyers handle divorce cases. There are as many different styles as there are different lawyers. But, I have also noticed three recurring styles of lawyer in particular. I call them the lamb, the pit bull and the fox.
The lamb is the lawyer that just sort of goes with the flow. They are reactive, not proactive. They want to avoid confrontation at all costs and that means they also want to avoid going to court at all costs, even if it means convincing their clients to settle for significantly worse terms than they should. The lamb may even be afraid to try the divorce case. He will rarely, if ever, tell his client that he should not sign a settlement offer that is being extended from the other side even if that offer is clearly inequitable. Thankfully, there are not a lot of lambs that last very long as divorce lawyers.
Much more prevalent is the pit bull, who is exactly the opposite. They hate to settle cases. In fact, some of them won’t do anything proactive to try to settle their divorce cases. It is almost as if they take some type of perverse joy in seeing the “blood running in the streets.” The truth is that often they do this simply to develop and maintain a reputation as “Bad Leroy Brown…baddest man in the whole damn town.” When a spouse is angry and in the emotional stage of wanting to exact revenge, they want to be the name on everyone’s lips when that aggrieved spouse asks their neighbor who is the meanest SOB in town. And, so they work hard to maintain that reputation because it makes them a lot of money.
The sad part is that acting like a pit bull is rarely, if ever, in their own client’s best interests. Of course, the pit bull’s main concern is not their client. If you know anything about pit bulls, you will know that they are very aggressive and vicious. But, they are not thinking animals. They act only on instinct. When they fight, they not only destroy the dog they are fighting, but by their own actions hurt themselves and anything else around them (which often includes their own client’s and their client’s children).
The pit bull is aggressive for the sake of being aggressive, not for any long-term benefit it brings their client. Often people going through divorce will think they need an aggressive lawyer to represent them in their divorce. They are wrong. What they need is a lawyer who is assertive. There is a difference. It is the difference between the pit bull and the fox.
The fox is wise and cunning. He sees the big picture. The fox is assertive when he needs to be, compromising when it benefits his clients’ long-term best interests, and always aware of the many different consequences his actions have on his clients. He stands on principle. Yet, he is a strong advocate for his client when it promotes his client’s long-term best interests. He recognizes that reaching a fair settlement is always preferable to trying the case and leaving it up to the judge. Yet, he also knows that if a fair settlement is not forthcoming, then he must be willing and able to prepare to effectively litigate the case in court.
When choosing a divorce lawyer, you should avoid the lamb and the pit bull at all costs. Instead, find yourself a fox.
Like most litigants, the end result and the cost of legal representation are among the most important concerns of anyone involved in a family law dispute. With these concerns in mind, clients frequently ask me if there is anything they can or should be doing to reduce the time I need to spend on their case or to help move things forward. The answer is a resounding “Yes!” Here are 14 tips on how to be a good family law client and, at the same time, help your attorney achieve the best possible result without incurring excessive cost:
- In advance of the first meeting with your attorney, assemble as much relevant documentation as possible. For instance, in a typical divorce case, this would include (at a minimum) complete copies of recent tax returns, pay stubs for both you and your spouse, a detailed list of all assets and liabilities, and any legal paperwork already filed and/or served upon you.
- Speaking of documentation, organize every piece of paper that you give to your attorney. Documents should be stapled, labeled and assembled in an orderly fashion. Keep in mind that your attorney and his/her staff will do whatever is necessary to organize the documentation that you provide to him/her if you don’t do so. It will, however, take time and cost money.
- Keep a detailed diary of all significant events pertaining to your case and make sure to share copies with your attorney. A "Week-at-a-Glance" calendar often serves this purpose well. This may be especially important in a custody case. Your memory may fade with time, but a well-kept diary can be used to refresh your recollection prior to and/or during a hearing. Additionally, your attorney can use your diary to assist in preparing your testimony in advance of a hearing.
- A picture is worth a thousand words. Besides documenting things in your diary, document what you can with photographs and/or videos. For instance, if you decide to move out of the marital residence, take photographs of the condition of the residence and all property that you left behind.
- Ask questions. There is no such thing as a stupid question. More often than not, questions from clients are highly relevant and serve as a basis for helping to frame out the issues and develop strategies.
- If you need to discuss non-legal issues with someone, you may not want to call your attorney. His/her hourly rate is probably much higher than a therapist’s, and the therapist probably is better equipped to handle the issue. While your attorney may be a very good listener, it will be to your economic and emotional advantage to discuss non-legal issues with your therapist, family members, friends, priest, rabbi, pastor, etc.
- Do your best to pay your attorney’s bills on a timely basis. If you cannot pay a bill within a reasonable amount of time, call your attorney and ask to work out some payment arrangements. If you are making a genuine effort, most attorneys will be understanding and work with you.
- Promptly respond to calls and inquiries from your attorney. If it was not important, your attorney would not be contacting you. Furthermore, if you are not being responsive to your attorney, he/she will have no choice but to spend his/her time and your money trying to get a response.
- When you leave a message for your attorney (either on voicemail or through a secretary) leave your phone number and the time when you will be available to speak. While your attorney likely has your number, it will take less time for your attorney to call you back if he/she does not have to find your number. This is especially true if your attorney is not in his/her office.
- If you have left messages for your attorney and have not received a response in a reasonable period of time, realize that there is probably a good reason why he/she has not returned your call (i.e., tied up in court or meetings, or handling an emergency situation). If the reason for your call is of an urgent nature, do not hesitate to explain the situation to your attorney’s secretary and/or ask if you can speak with another attorney in the firm. If your call is not urgent, ask your attorney’s secretary when she expects the attorney to be available so that you can call again or ask if an appointment can be placed in the attorney’s calendar for a phone conference.
- Do not believe everything that you hear from your spouse, family and friends as it pertains to your case and the law. Even though your spouse may act like he/she is trying to be accommodating, the reality is that he/she is likely out to get the best possible result for himself/herself. Similarly, realize that every case is different. Just because your friend’s cousin got a particular result does not mean that you will get a similar result.
- Do not sign or agree to anything without first speaking with your attorney. Attorneys are usually in favor of parties speaking and trying to reach amicable resolutions between themselves. An attorney, however, can and will help you determine if the terms discussed are in your best interest. There is nothing wrong with telling the opposing party that you need some time to think about it and will get back to them after speaking with your attorney. If the opposing party is pushing you to sign something on the spot, be suspect.
- Be discreet and resist the urge to deliberately annoy or antagonize your spouse. If you do or say something that you know will annoy your spouse, be prepared for appropriate retaliation. Also be prepared to pay your attorney who will, no doubt, get a call from the opposing counsel when your spouse calls to complain about your behavior.
- Last, but not least, be candid and truthful with your attorney. Attorneys do not like surprises. If your Attorney is well-informed, he/she can be fully prepared to deal with potentially damaging information if and when it is raised by the other side.
SOURCE FOR POST: Pennsylvania Family Law Blog
Every client deserves these five guarantees from their lawyer:
1. The Right to Have All Phone Calls Returned Promptly. It still amazes me when people tell me their lawyer will not call them back at all. One sweet lady recently told me her lawyer had not called her back IN SIX MONTHS worth of trying. This is no way to run a business. Heck, this is no way to treat a human being! If your lawyer does not call you back after repeated attempts, send them a (nice & brief) letter and keep a copy. Still nothing? Get a new lawyer ASAP.
2. The Right to Be Fully Informed. Clients should received a copy of all correspondence received and sent in their case. They should also be given a copy of all legal pleadings filed by either side. If your lawyer talks about your case on a phone call to the other lawyer, you should be called promptly and told what was discussed.
3. The Right to Call the Shots. There are limits (do not expect me to do anything unethical just because my client want me to, for example) but for the most part it is the client who should decide if a settlement offer is fair and whether to file suit. I provide input, like best and worst case possibilities. I Help weigh options. Develop legal strategy. I even give my opinion in blunt terms sometimes. But my client makes ultimate decisions about his or her case.
4. The File Belongs to the Client. I had someone come to see me recently who had requested her file from her lawyer and she could not get it. Other people have told me they got their file but they were charged a mint for making the copies. WRONG! The case file belongs to the client. If I am asked for it because someone wants to go hire another lawyer, I turn it over ASAP and if I want to make a copy for my records, that is my expense and bother. Not the client’s.
5. The Right to Know What It Costs. I have a written fee agreement. It explains what I charge per hour, that I charge in 6 minute increments and how much you must pay as a deposit up front to hire me. The deposit is different, depending upon the case. The other elements of the agreement, however, are consistent. I also tell people what other expenses may be necessary, what happens of they do not pay their bills from my office, etc. Every month, I send out detailed bills showing what I did and what was charged for it. Lawyers do not have to do all of these things . . . but they are required to charge a reasonable fee.
Source: VA Family Law Blog.
SOURCE FOR POST: Divorce Help Network
A colleague of mine, Kurt Kegel, of Davis Matthews and Quigley, a fellow divorce and family law attorney in Atlanta, was the subject of a recent article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution focusing on people who help other people through difficult times in their lives. It is no secret to those of us practicing in family law that our profession is full of good, professional and ethical attorneys, but it is refreshing to see one of our own acknowledged for those good deeds. Congratulations Kurt! The portion of the article about him is reprinted below, but please read the entire article about some other fine people in our community, a hospice nurse and funeral director:
Lights in the darkness
Published on: 03/14/08
Job description: Must be prepared at a moment’s notice to deal with other people’s distress, sadness, fear, pain and death. Skills needed: considerable. Hours: too many to mention. Rewards: priceless.
Would you answer the ad?
We know that life isn’t all sweetness and light, but, given a choice, most of us probably wouldn’t choose jobs in which we consistently meet people at the worst times of their lives.
Fortunately, hospice workers, domestic relations attorneys and funeral directors, to name a few, are willing to do that every day. Why? They feel called to help — and know that they can.
KURT A. KEGEL, family law attorney
As a sophomore in college, Kurt A. Kegel knew he wanted to be a lawyer. An internship with the Gwinnett County district attorney’s office taught him what kind.
"I knew I always wanted to be involved with people and help them in difficult situations," he said. "I saw the benefits of being able to give something back."
As a family law practitioner with Davis, Matthews & Quigley, Kegel handles matters such as divorce, child custody and visitation, child support, family violence and other domestic-relations issues.
"A lot of my clients are in distress and under great emotional strain," Kegel said. "I can empathize, because I’ve gone through a divorce, and I tell them that there will be an end to the process and that they aren’t alone."
He may recommend a counselor or therapist for emotional issues, but he can allay fears and answer questions about the legal process.
Over the years, he’s developed an expert knowledge of the body of family law, but each case is different.
"You think you’ve seen it all, and then the next case comes through the door," he said.
A divorce or custody case is a highly charged, personal process, and Kegel knows he will hear the worst, nitty-gritty details of relationships.
"Some cases are harder than others, especially the ones when you suspect something inappropriate happened with a child or you see someone using a child as a pawn," he said. "Some days I walk out of here thanking God that I’m going home to my wife and children and can leave work at the office. It makes you appreciate what you have."
The client/lawyer relationship is a delicate balance. Kegel knows that a client has to be comfortable with his or her lawyer and be able to trust the lawyer’s advice. A lawyer has to care about the people he or she serves.
"But a lawyer has to maintain a level of objectivity," Kegel said. "You can’t afford to get so emotionally involved that you take on the case as a cause. If you lose your objectivity, you’re doing your clients a disservice and not giving them the best help."
Kegel has served as past chairman of the State Bar of Family Law Section of the State Bar of Georgia and is a fellow in the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. He keeps improving his skills, because he wants to stay in family practice.
"There is a great sense of satisfaction in helping people through a very difficult time in their lives," he said.
If you are contemplating divorce, you should consult with an experienced family law attorney. Once you set up a consultation, be prepared for the first meeting, and have a list of questions to ask the lawyer. The following questions should help you understand the divorce process, how your lawyer’s office operates, and if the lawyer is a good fit for you and your case.
- How experienced are you in family law? All lawyers have law degrees, but many lawyers practice in several fields other than family law. You don’t want a generalist. Family law is a specialized field, and you will likely be better served by a lawyer who focuses on family law. Make sure that most of their cases are family law cases. Ask the lawyer if they have handled cases like yours before.
- What steps are involved in the divorce process? Your lawyer is there to educate you and guide you through the process. Have the lawyer clearly explain the process to you, from filing the petition, negotiating temporary orders, and the trial process.
- How will you charge me? If you hire the lawyer, you should expect to sign a retainer agreement that covers how you will be charged. Ask about the hourly rate, and how often you will be billed. Ask if you will be charged for time spent with paralegals and other staff in the office, and at what rate. Ask what will happen if you cannot pay your bill in full every month. Ask if you can pay by credit card, and if payment plans are available.
- How will we communicate? Ask your lawyer if they prefer phone contact over email, and how long you should expect to wait for a return call. Is your lawyer tech savvy enough to email you draft documents as PDF files? Is your lawyer’s office set up to scan and email incoming and outgoing correspondence? Do you automatically get a copy? The last three are essential if you live out of state, or a distance from your lawyer’s office.
- How long will the process take? Ask your lawyer about what is their estimate for how long the case will take depending on if you settle quickly, settle after protracted negotiations, or have a trial.
- Can you estimate the cost of my divorce? This is an important question, but a very difficult one to answer. Don’t worry if your lawyer is hesitant to answer. The cost of a divorce depends on what you ask the lawyer to do, the level of conflict between you and your spouse, and the reasonableness of your spouse and their lawyer. Many of the cost factors are outside your control.
- What kind of resources do you make available to clients to make the divorce process less difficult and painful? Divorce is a difficult time, and good lawyers provide information and resources to help deal with the human side of the impact. Does your lawyer provide information about the process for self education? Are they patient with you? Do they offer referrals to other professional services if you request them?
- Do you recommend mediation? Ask your lawyer if your case is appropriate for mediation. Ask about private mediation, and about how often the lawyer uses private mediation with clients. Good lawyers try to settle their cases once they have analyzed the case. A lawyer that does not use private mediation or other alternative dispute resolution tools may be doing you a disservice.
- What fees and costs can I expect other than charges for your time? Your local county . . . will charge a filing fee to open a case. You will likely have to pay a process server to server your spouse with divorce papers. Your case may require experts, such as appraisers, actuaries, accountants, social workers, or psychologists. Ask your lawyer what costs to expect, what experts may be needed, and how you will be charged for these additional services.
- How would you predict a judge would rule on the issues in my case? While no lawyer can guarantee specific results, listen closely to the analysis behind the lawyer’s answer. Understanding the facts that would make a favorable ruling more likely will help with strategy during the case.
SOURCE FOR POST: The Oregon Divorce Blog