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How to choose a Lawyer – Let’s talk about how to pick a lawyer.
It is important how you pick a lawyer and the selection of the lawyer in your case may be the most important decision you make in your case. A lawyer can highly impact the results of your case. If you pick a lawyer that is competent and smart and bright and doing this for the right reasons and cares and is prepared you may get one result. If you select a lawyer who is not that bright and not prepared, may be doing this for the wrong reasons, works a file unnecessarily then you obviously may get a very different result. You should take the selection process seriously and invest a little bit of time and effort into it. Sometimes that’s frustrating, especially at the beginning of the divorce because people are anxious to get going especially if they were just served with papers. I will give you some tips on how to make the selection and if you’re interviewing lawyers what questions you will need to ask to help you make this choice.
First of all I would talk to more than one lawyer unless it’s me in which case one would be adequate. I would recommend that you ask the lawyer that you’re talking with to recommend two other attorneys and during the interview of those two lawyers ask about the other two lawyers that you’re talking with. We all know each other and each other’s reputations and that would be important for you to know. We are in a uniquely situated business where we see each other’s work both on paper, because we have to trade each other’s paperwork back and forth, in the court room live, and in the negotiation boardroom we see each other’s work and I could tell you with quite a bit of information and knowledge if somebody is a good lawyer or not and why. A lot of lawyers are happy to share that information with you even if they do it in a vague manner. People should listen to that advice. If you start hearing something repetitively about a lawyer I would take it seriously.
Let’s say you have your list of lawyers and you’re interviewing them, what would you want to ask them? One very objective factual question that will help you is to ask them what percentage of their business is in family law. Family law to me means divorce, post-divorce modifications, because after you’re divorced if you have children you can modify the possession schedule or the child support until the children are 18, paternity cases, premarital agreements, post marital agreements and that’s basically family law. It does not include, and a lot of people have this misunderstanding, wills and estates. Wills and estates are completely different practice area. It would be important to know what percentage of their practice is family law because the law is ever changing. The Legislature meets every four years and they change the laws and we have to keep up with those changes. In addition the judges are ever changing, every four years they are reelected or not, they might be replaced and it’s important for your lawyer to give you guidance and they need to know something about those judges. You would want to know what percentage of their practice is family law and I would recommend that you would look for someone whose practice is at least 75% family law and there are many excellent practitioners out there that have that level of experience and you might as well benefit from that.
What else should you be looking for? I think you need to know why they practice family law. I practice family law because I like helping people and I think people who are going through a divorce are in a very difficult time of their life and if they have a lawyer who cares about them and wants to help them the lawyer can really make a difference in their lives and their children’s lives. Not everyone is practicing family law for that reason so you want to know why are they doing this type of work you want a lawyer who is invested in you and your family and wants to help you. There are lawyers in the business who we call Churner’s and a Churner is someone who works the file unnecessarily just to make more money, and I don’t know if they justify in their mind that they really do need to work the file or how they go about this but we all know who they are. So when you’re asking around about someone if you hear they are churner that’s what that means, that they are working the file unnecessarily and obviously that’s not good for you. You shouldn’t spend any more money than is necessary on your divorce because it is plenty expensive as it is.
One thing that you want is a lawyer who is fearless you want a lawyer who is not afraid to going to court if you need them to and is not afraid of any other lawyer out there. Some lawyers will only take easy cases, they will only take agreed cases and that’s because they’re fearful. They are fearful of fighting in the courtroom and hopefully your case will settle and you won’t require a lawyer to go into the courtroom. However, if you need it, you want one that’s ready to go into court, you don’t want to have to change lawyers because suddenly something needs to happen in court. You also want a lawyer who is not afraid to settle your case if that’s the appropriate path for your case. It’s very expensive to try cases and therefore if you can settle the case and save money and get a good result, that’s what you want of course. Some lawyers do not have the tolerance, the personality, or the patience’s that is required to work toward settlement. So when you meet with a lawyer ask them “what percentage of your cases do you try to the judge or the jury and what percentage of your cases do settle?” Statistically across the board 85% of cases settle. So if they answer that they are trying 85% of their cases that is lawyer driven and likely and not client driven. That’s because the lawyer doesn’t have the patience to work toward settlement because it’s hard work but if it’s hard work that benefits you the most that’s the work you want a lawyer to do.
Collaborative law is a wonderful process. It is a non-court amicable process that is aimed at helping people reach resolution. It is not for every case but it is for many cases so one thing you should look for in a lawyer is, are they comfortable both with the litigation hat and with the collaborative hat because both arenas are excellent arenas depending on the case. And again you’d want a lawyer who could serve you in whatever capacity is the best for your particular case, and for your family.