Not all lawyers are created equal. Finding the right lawyer is the difference between a favorable and bad divorce.
Where do I get recommendations?
Try a combination of sources. This is a most important decision. Your welfare and the welfare of your children will be in the hands of your lawyer.
- With about 50 percent of marriages ending in divorce, you have friends who are divorced. If their circumstances are like yours, ask friends.
- Through recommendations of professional people including therapists, accountants and marriage counselors. Courthouse personnel may also know good divorce lawyers.
- Lawyers are often a good source for a referral to a divorce lawyer. Most people’s initial contact with a lawyer has been for the purchase of real estate. You can ask that lawyer, or any other lawyer you know, for a referral. 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? Another lawyer source for a referral is a business lawyer if you deal with one.
- Bar associations, which are listed in the telephone yellow pages (for example the Illinois State Bar Association, Illinois Lawyer Referral, 217/525-5297, or the McHenry County Bar Association, 815/338-9559) would be a good source for a referral if they refer you to an experienced matrimonial lawyer. The danger is that they may just be going down a list of lawyers and it may be the luck of the draw whether you are referred to a good matrimonial lawyer, so you should ask to be referred to an experienced divorce 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, but may also be very expensive. “
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 source I use is the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory. It lists all of the lawyers in the nation. It tells the year of birth of the lawyer, the year of licensing, and the college and law school the lawyer attended. You can find Martindale-Hubbell online.
If I am looking for the very best lawyer available I will check the book, The Best Lawyers in America. In this book, for every state, it lists the various specialties, and lists the lawyers in the specialties believed to be the best. In Illinois there are 17 lawyers listed for family law, with three of them being outside of Chicago.
Are the yellow pages a good way to find a lawyer?
Generally, no. For example, assume you were looking for a McHenry County, Illinois divorce lawyer in the yellow pages. I have found that most good divorce lawyers simply will not advertise in the yellow pages. Illinois does not allow lawyers to state a specialty, but lawyers may state that their practices are “concentrated in” or “limited to” an area of law. In yellow page ads lawyers often identify the areas in which they practice. While all divorce cases do not require a lawyer who is a family law “specialist,” the lawyer’s experience in practicing matrimonial law should be significant in your decision. But the most important factor in selecting a lawyer is reputation. Reputation should be checked out by whatever means are available.
Is a consultation fee charged by most lawyers for an initial consultation?
Yes. In McHenry County most lawyers charge a fee for the initial consultation, but some lawyers do not do so. The problem with seeking a lawyer who does not charge for an initial consultation is that even if the lawyer is qualified, there is the tendency to try to conclude the initial conference within a relatively short period of time and not provide truly meaningful information 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 and whether you can share confidences with this lawyer without feeling the lawyer is being condescending or judgmental is an essential element. 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, especially if you pay for the consultation, based on the facts you have given the lawyer, expect to receive projections from the lawyer, in broad terms, as to what may happen in regard to child custody, visitation, child support, division of property and maintenance. Take notes.
What will your lawyer charge for the divorce?
A lawyer cannot project how much the total fees will be and therefore charges for virtually all services are on a time basis, 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.
Some lawyers have payment plans – a payment of a fixed amount per month on account of the fees. Other retention agreements require you to pay each monthly billing within the next month.
Some lawyers will, for clients (typically stay-at-home mothers who have no employment income) accept a retainer fee and, assuming there are enough assets, agree to collect the balance of their fee at the end of the case.
Still other lawyers tell the unemployed mother/wife, especially where the husband has a large income and there are valuable assets, that all the lawyer requires is a retainer and the balance will be collected from the husband. This is dangerous to the wife because the lawyer may be tempted to take his fees from assets that would otherwise go to the wife.
When should you expect your phone calls to the lawyer will be returned?
Unless the lawyer is on trial, or away from the office, I believe 24-48 hours is a reasonable time to return telephone calls. You should also determine what the lawyer’s turnaround time is for answering correspondence and doing other tasks that do not require more than about an hour’s worth of time. I believe the turnaround time should not be more than 10 days.
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. 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.