Not all lawyers are created equal. Finding the right lawyer is the difference between a favorable and a not-so-favorable divorce.
Where do I get recommendations?
Try a combination of sources. This is an important decision. Your and welfare and the welfare of your children will be in the hands of your lawyer. What I tell clients is that lawyers and clients operate as a team. With good teamwork there is usually success. Here is where you can find lawyers.
- Through recommendations of professional people including therapists, accountants and marriage counselors.
- Lawyers are perhaps the best source for a referral to a divorce lawyer. Most people’s initial contact with a lawyer has been for the purchase of real estate. Another lawyer source for a referral is a business lawyer if you deal with one.
- You can ask that lawyer so long as that lawyer is not referring the case to a lawyer in the firm.
- An initial question to ask when receiving a referral is the extent of the lawyer’s practice in matrimonial law. Another good question to ask is: Would you send your sister to that lawyer?
- Here is what the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Surviving Divorce says:
“As far as we’re concerned, a better organization to tap is the American Academy of Matrimonial Attorneys, headquartered in Chicago. (312) 263-6477. Each state has a chapter. Admission to the Academy is highly selective. Members must be in practice for a certain number of years; they must have worked largely if not solely in the field of matrimonial law; and they must pass a test. A member of this group will certainly be well qualified.”
- My primary referral source is Best Lawyers in America. This contains a far more narrow list than most lists than most lists of leading divorce lawyers.
What are the sources you use when referring a client to a lawyer in a community where you do not know a divorce lawyer?
The first lists that I will look to are:
- Best Lawyers in America.
- The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers;
- The International Academy of Family Lawyers;
- SuperLawyers and Illinois Leading Lawyers since these are peer reviewed groups;
Is a consultation fee charged by most lawyers for an initial consultation?
In the collar counties such as McHenry County, Kane County, and Lake County your top tier of lawyers charges for the initial consultation. The problem with seeking a lawyer who does not charge for an initial consultation is that even if the lawyer is qualified, the conferences tend to be quite brief. Short initial conferences do not allow sufficient time to address in any level of depth the meaningful information required at this critical stage of a person’s life.
What should I expect to learn from the initial interview?
Whether you and the lawyer will be compatible. Further you should have a sense that you can share confidences with this lawyer without feeling the lawyer is being condescending or judgmental. Good chemistry between lawyer and client is essential. Whether or not there will be good chemistry is a gut feeling you should come away with. You should be able to receive a sense of what may happen, in broad terms, as to what may happen regarding allocating of parenting time (and allocating major decisions affecting the children), child support, division of property and maintenance. Take notes.
What about going to court? Should the lawyer that I interview with be the lawyer who would handle contested court proceedings?
Some divorce lawyers will not handle contested evidentiary hearings or trials. One concern is whether the lawyer with whom you interview will be the same lawyer who would try your case. It is true that if you interview with one lawyer, another lawyer may be quite capable of trying your case or representing you at contested hearings. Yet it is not efficient for one lawyer to exclusively handle court proceedings while another lawyer handles non-court matters. Something can get “lost in the translation” and attorney’s fees may be higher in the long run if you hire such a law firm.
What will your lawyer charge for the divorce?
A lawyer cannot project how much the total fees will be. Charges are based on the lawyer’s time, that is, an hourly rate. You should also be informed of when the lawyer expects payment. Most lawyers consider the retainer fee a credit against future services, that is, a down payment, and when the retainer is used up you will be billed.
Most retention agreements require you to pay each monthly billing within the next month.
When should you expect your phone calls to the lawyer will be returned?
Right away. Given the nature of Email communication, 24 to 48 hours is the outside time period that a lawyer should respond unless away from the office or on trial.
What does it take to be a good lawyer?
Hype. Don’t buy into hype. Looking through websites, you will see descriptions where divorce firms promise “aggressive” representation, “exceptional” services, premiums representation, etc. These terms in fact don’t promise anything.
Also don’t be overly impressed by a lawyer being on only one “best” list. Some “lists” are more reliable than others. When I make a referral for a lawyer outside Illinois we often rely on Best Lawyers in America, as well as the Fellows in the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.
The first thing you should look for in a professional person is that they are smart. The fact that a person has a professional education, title and license does not mean the person is smart. The old medical school joke is, “What do they call a person who graduates last in his class from medical school?” They call him doctor. A person can be educated, without being smart.
Also look for experience in a lawyer. A good lawyer is not only smart in terms of native intelligence, but the lawyer should also be both “street smart” and be emotionally intelligent. You should get a sense of this early on.
An Illinois family lawyer cannot claim to specialize in the area of his or her choosing. While Illinois law recognizes specialties in medicine, Illinois does not recognize specialties in lawyers, except patent and admiralty law. Lawyers may, however, publish that they “limit” their practice to a certain field of law. They may also claim that their practice is “concentrated” in certain areas of law. Because Illinois law does not recognize specialization by lawyers, the fact that a lawyer’s practice is “limited” to a certain area, or “concentrated” in certain areas, does not mean, as a matter of law, that the lawyer has specialized knowledge in an area of law. However, Illinois family law is complex. It requires a knowledge of many different facets of the law that applies to divorce or parentage cases. So, one should look to a matrimonial lawyer who limits or concentrates his or her practice to family law.
A lawyer must have a reputation for integrity, that is, for telling the truth. A lawyer’s word must be the lawyer’s bond. Judges and other lawyers must be able to rely on the representations of the lawyer, whether it is what the law is on a particular subject, or what the facts are. A lawyer’s reputation for integrity will be known in the community, and will certainly be known by other lawyers.
Should I hire a lawyer based on the lawyer’s claim that he or she is a “Men’s Rights Lawyer” or a “Women’s Rights Lawyer?”
No. There are capable “father’s rights” lawyers. Yet I have found that “father’s rights” lawyers use this title as a marketing tool. I believe that there should not be such things as “men’s rights” lawyers or “women’s rights” lawyers. The fact that a lawyer’s claimed sentiments may be pro-mother or pro-father does not make that lawyer an effective lawyer. Cases are won and lost on the basis of how a lawyer presents the facts and the lawyer’s knowledge of the law. Winning is not based on the lawyer’s client-gender preference.