If you are considering divorce in New Jersey or Pennsylvania, you need to do your research before choosing your divorce attorney. The lawyer who helped your best friend with a divorce may or may not be a good match for you. Do your homework first and you should be able to find the right law firm to help you through the difficult road of divorce.
Create Your Shortlist
Your first step is to create a shortlist of lawyers or law firms to interview. You can start by asking family and friends if they have some recommendations, but do your own research as well. Choose lawyers who are experts in family law in your state, since every state has different laws governing divorce, child custody, alimony, and financial matters.
Decide what options you want open to you or what other experience you want your attorney to have. There are several options available to resolve your divorce:
Mediation – A neutral third party meets with you both and helps facilitate your negotiations. You may also retain a lawyer for advice, but the lawyer is not part of the process.
Collaborative divorce – Each spouse retains a lawyer, and both spouses and lawyers agree to resolve their issues without going to court. If it does not work, you must retain a different lawyer to litigate.
Cooperative divorce – Like collaborative divorce, couples work to settle outside of court, but if it fails, your lawyer can litigate the case for you.
Litigation – Going to court to settle the divorce.
Depending on your circumstances, you may also want your attorney to have experience in child custody, marital abuse, or complex financial asset portfolios.
Research the credentials of the attorneys you are considering; don’t just believe what they say on their website. Check the caliber of schools they attended, find a listing of them in their area of expertise through the American Bar Association, and check the Better Business Bureau for their rating and any possible complaints. Review their online footprint closely – their website, Facebook, Twitter, or any other source that can give you a broader sense of their style, approach, and personality before you interview them. This could help you eliminate some of your choices. You may prefer an attorney who is aggressive, or you may prefer someone who is warm and empathetic. You should be able to get a sense of their style before talking to them.
Interview Each Lawyer or Firm
Once you have a shortlist of three to five high-quality law firms or individuals who are experts in family law in your state, you should reach out for an initial consultation. Before you make the appointment, find out if there is a fee. Many lawyers offer a complimentary initial call or visit, but do not immediately disregard a lawyer who does not.
Don’t waste time asking about credentials or expertise, as you will have already done your homework. Focus on your particular situation and how the lawyer foresees helping you.
Be prepared with a brief overview of your situation: how long you’ve been married, how many children you have, what types of assets and debts you have, any history of abuse, whether it is an amicable divorce, etc. Then ask key questions, such as:
- Would our marriage be a candidate for mediation or collaborative divorce?
- What difficulties do you see arising with my case?
- What steps will you take to help me resolve my divorce?
- How do you resolve parental custody disputes? Spousal support? Child support?
- How would you recommend property be divided in my case?
- Are you an expert in each step of the process, from start to finish? If we can’t resolve issues, can you take a case to court and get me a reasonable settlement?
- How do you communicate with your clients? Will I be able to contact you and receive a reply from you personally in a reasonable amount of time?
- What are some suggestions you can give me to keep my expenses to a minimum?
- What are your rates and your increments for billing (for example, 15-minute increments)? Is there a minimum billing fee? What are the fees for your support staff? How much can I expect the process to cost?
- Tell me something about yourself personally.
- What career accomplishments are you most proud of?
Listen not only to answers to the questions themselves but to how the lawyer answers. Is he or she focused on you, listening to what you have to say, or does the attorney seem to have pat answers prepared? Does he or she talk about other clients’ cases in too much detail or speak ill of other lawyers? This would be a sign of unprofessional behavior. Does the lawyer offer you huge results? Beware of big promises.
Choose Your Attorneys
In the end, follow your gut. You want someone who can provide you with the very best legal care for your particular needs as well as someone with whom you feel comfortable as a person. If you’ve done your research properly, at least one of the law firms you talk to will be the right one for you.
If you live in PA or NJ and you are considering divorce, reach out to us at Martine, Katz Scanlon & Schimmel, P.A. for a consultation.