Choosing a divorce or paternity lawyer can be difficult. Each lawyer is different and you and a particular lawyer may or may not work well together. Consider these recommendations when you need to chose a divorce lawyer.
Where should I receive recommendations for a divorce lawyer or paternity lawyer? I’m looking for one of the best divorce lawyers in the area but don’t know where to turn.
The best resource is usually a lawyer local to the area who knows the other lawyers who concentrate their practice in the area of family law. Those lawyers will generally have a handle on the lawyers who are well respected by judges and who provide quality services for their clients. This is usually your best resource to find a good divorce lawyer or custody lawyer.
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 do not promise anything.
Also don’t be overly impressed by a lawyer being on a “best” list. Some “lists” are more reliable than others. The oldest listing of lawyers is the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory. It lists virtually all the lawyers in the United States. The listings also appear on the web at www.martindale.com. Martindale-Hubbell, on the basis of grading by other local lawyers and local judges, grades lawyers A, B and C. A are about the top 5 percent, B about the next 20 to 25 percent and C and not graded are the rest. When I make a referral for a lawyer outside Illinois we rely on Martindale-Hubbell, 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. Having frequently employed lawyers to serve in my firm I know I cannot teach “smart.” They either have it or they do not. Look for “smart” in a lawyer.
Also look for experience in a lawyer. A good lawyer is not only smart in terms of native intelligence, but the lawyer is also “street smart” on account of having life experiences.
Graduating from one of the prestige law schools, like Harvard, Yale, Northwestern, and University of Chicago, and especially if the lawyer is near the top of the class, makes it easier to land a position with one of the giant, prestige, law firms, but aside from that, in practice, you can’t tell the difference.
This is probably the best way to determine who is a good lawyer. The best place to seek recommendations about a lawyer is from professional people with whom you have dealt, the clergy, medical professionals, real estate sales people, accountants, insurance sales people etc. Most of these professionals have dealt with lawyers on a professional to professional basis. Lawyers are an excellent source of referral to other lawyers. If, for example, you dealt with a lawyer on a real estate transaction or for a will and now need a divorce lawyer, you should ask this lawyer for a referral.
Friends who have employed a lawyer for the same purpose as you are seeking a lawyer may also be a good resource. Determine, however, if your friend who hired a lawyer in connection with a divorce had the same type of divorce problem that you did. If your friend had a simple divorce, with no contested issues, but you have a child custody problem, the lawyer who handled your friend’s simple divorce may not be suitable to you.
You will notice if you read the yellow pages, and other advertising that lawyers never state (or never should state) that they specialize in a certain area of law. While Illinois law recognizes specialties in medicine, it does not recognize specialties in lawyers, except patent and admiralty law. Lawyers may, however, publish they “limit” their practice to a certain field of law, or that the lawyer’s 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 requiring 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 may be known in the community, and will certainly be known by other lawyers.
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. However, it is not efficient for one lawyer to exclusively handle court proceedings while another lawyer would handle non-court matters. The concern is that often 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.
I have heard about men’s rights or father’s rights firms? Since I am a father who is seeking custody, should I hire a “men’s rights” lawyer?
There are capable “father’s rights” lawyers. However, I have found that good “father’s rights” lawyers use this title only as a marketing tool to get business. I believe that there should not be such things as “men’s rights” lawyers or “women’s rights” lawyers. Instead, a good family lawyer will be equally capable of handling a worthy custody case – whether he or she represents the man or woman.