How do I find the right attorney?
I’ve been practicing family law for more than a decade and from this side of the table, it’s an easier question to answer. But, from a potential client’s perspective, the answer can be more elusive.
I’ve worked with dozens of attorneys over the years, first when litigating family court cases and now exclusively in collaborative law. From years of interacting closely with my colleagues day in and day out, I consider many of them to be great attorneys. But how does a potential client know who’s good – especially if they’ve never dealt with divorce or the courts before?
What exactly is “good?”
Good can mean competent. All practicing attorneys should be competent. We all went to law school (which is rigorous, to say the least) and we’ve all passed at least one Bar Exam. But competent doesn’t necessarily mean exceptional or outstanding. Maybe you think a good attorney is an aggressive one. Conversely, you can find a highly skilled and experienced attorney whose style and approach does not align with your values. The real question is: how can you tell if an attorney is good for you? Here are my best tips:
Ask Around in Your Trusted Circles
I practice collaborative divorce, which essentially means I help keep couples amicable and out of court, so I’ll stick with advice about divorce attorneys. Chances are, you know family or friends who are divorced. You can start by asking them about their attorneys. Ask how their divorce process went and look at the outcome of their situations. If it sounds favorable to you, you may want to take their recommendations. You may also find that your friend has a friend who’s divorced, and they were happy with their attorney. Ask around and then do a basic internet search on that attorney to get as much information as possible. Knowledge is power.
Look for Specialties or Professional Associations
You have some options when it comes to divorce. If you and your ex are on good terms and you’re willing to divorce amicably, you will want to find an attorney who practices collaborative divorce law. We are specifically trained in this process. Look for an attorney who is trained in collaborative divorce or who has a depth of experience in alternative dispute resolution. Your city or state will likely have a professional association where you can find attorneys and resources online. Our attorney is a member of the Charlotte Collaborative Divorce Professionals Group in North Carolina and the South Carolina Family Solutions Group in South Carolina.
If you prefer to litigate your case, you might look for someone who is a seasoned litigator. Some attorneys are board-certified specialists in family law. If you need someone with specialized training, you can find it. Otherwise, there are likely plenty of experienced family law attorneys in your area.
Check the Reviews
Reviews can be extremely helpful but…not all reviews are created equal!
Unfortunately, almost anyone can post anything online – even if they’ve never consulted with or employed the attorney they’re reviewing. But a solid track record of good, detailed reviews from former clients is a good sign. If possible, take the time to read the reviews to make sure that the way the attorney advises, practices, etc. is in line with your goals. I find Avvo.com to have more reliable ratings because of their stricter review guidelines. Reading reviews is a good start, but don’t let your research end there.
Consult With Your Candidate(s)
Nothing replaces meeting with an attorney face-to-face to get a feel for his or her demeanor, knowledge base, and approach to divorce. A consultation is a good way to see if you like the attorney. If you’ve whittled your list down to a good candidate, call his or her office and go in for a consultation. That meeting may be the confirmation you need to hire that attorney and move forward with your divorce.
Remember That There Are No “Winners” in Divorce
When I litigated cases, potential clients would sometimes ask how many cases I’d “won.” I can see why they wanted to know. Court is an adversarial process and if you’re fighting, you want to win. But after litigating cases and now actively staying out of court for years, I can tell you that no one ever wins in divorce.
Divorce starts with a loss. Even if a judge rules in your favor on one particular point, you’ve likely lost a lot along the way to get to that ruling. Remember that “winning” means different things to different people. If you’re curious about your attorney’s track record, ask. If you already know the judge assigned to your case, ask the attorney how they’ve faired in front of that judge in the past.
If you’re looking for a divorce attorney, I hope these tips will help you find the right one. If you want to divorce differently, I’m here to help. I’ve been practicing collaborative divorce law and have successfully kept couples out of the courtroom for many years. A peaceful divorce is possible. Call us to set up a consultation. We’d love to help.