Selecting the right attorney is an important decision in ending a marriage and successfully beginning the next stage of your life. The right matrimonial lawyer will assist you in identifying the issues, understanding your legal rights and putting together an agenda to achieve your goals.
You need an experienced, competent and concerned attorney to understand the issues, prioritize your goals and zealously advocate for you. Parties to a divorce frequently change attorneys prior to the conclusion of their case. Part of the problem leading to a change in counsel is a client not selecting the right attorney at the onset of the divorce. You should choose your attorney carefully to confirm his/her credentials and make certain that you have the foundation for a strong attorney client relationship.
Here are ten guidelines to consider in selecting the right divorce lawyer:
- Be Wary of Internet Marketing and Paid Internet Advertisements: We are in an age of internet marketing where in all professions some individuals market themselves as the “Best, Top, Super” attorney, accountant, financial advisor, consulting group, etc. Labeling oneself the “Best Divorce Attorney” in a paid advertisement on a search engine such as Google often times does not match the credentials and experience of the lawyer paying for that advertisement. A divorcing party should be mindful to research the true credentials and experience of the lawyer advertising him or herself as the “best” on the internet.
- Retain a Lawyer with Substantial Experience, Knowledge of the Law and the Proper Credentials: It is vital to select a Divorce Attorney with extensive knowledge and experience in family law. An experienced lawyer will be familiar with the law, its trends and the legal system. When problems or issues arise in your case, a seasoned lawyer is not going to be caught off guard and will be prepared to handle the issues.
- Retain a Lawyer who Exclusively Practices Family Law. Like with all professions, with experience comes knowledge and capability. Your attorney should have years of experience practicing family law and while there are exceptions to every rule it is important to select an attorney who limits his or her practice to family law. There is a clear benefit in retaining an attorney that devotes 100% of his time entrenched in Divorce Actions, understanding the applicable law, analyzing complex issues, negotiating settlements, managing the extreme emotions that accompany a divorce, getting to know the family part judges in each county and litigating family law matters.
- Every divorce case is different. If you have a high net worth divorce action where millions, tens of millions, or hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake, you want an attorney who is experienced representing individuals with substantial assets and income. In a contested custody action, you want an attorney who has substantial experience handling contested custody actions. You do not want to be a guinea pig for a lawyer that is just learning the ropes. If you are a stock broker or financial advisor (or his/her spouse), you need an attorney skilled at analyzing the various forms of compensation such as forgivable loans. A Doctor or his/her spouse should retain a lawyer with substantial experience representing Doctors in divorce actions involving a medical practice.
- Involvement in Bar Associations: It is an asset to have an attorney who is well known in the County Courthouse that will have Jurisdiction over your Divorce. Having an attorney who sits on the Family Law Executive Committee or who serves an Early Settlement Panelist in your county is helpful as that attorney should be familiar with the judges in the family part, the attorneys who appear in that county, the staff for the court system and how the family part operates in that county. Having an attorney who is respected and gets along well with the judges and attorneys in your county can help eliminate some of the acrimony and adversity in a case.
- Strong Rapport with your Lawyer: After confirming that your lawyer has the experience and credentials to help you navigate through a divorce action, you want to make sure that you are comfortable dealing with your lawyer. I strongly believe that, apart from losing a child, a divorce is the most difficult thing that a man or woman will experience in life. You should feel comfortable that your lawyer is accessible, easy to communicate with and truly cares about you and your family. If you are uncomfortable or nervous dealing with your lawyer, it may result in a constant source of additional stress for you.
- Reputation of the Lawyer and the Law Firm: A lawyer should have a strong reputation for being trustworthy, credible, well prepared and reasonable. A large Law Firm with a long history of successfully representing clients is evidence of its strength, durability, and commitment to excellence. In short, a Law Firm does not grow in size and sustain itself over many decades unless it has a proven track record of hiring top flight attorneys and successfully handling matters for clients of the Firm.
- Benefits of a Full Service Law Firm. A divorce case may require knowledge of additional fields of law such as real estate, criminal law, bankruptcy, business law, personal injury, commercial law, estate and trust, tax law, etc. A large law firm with other departments available for immediate consultation can provide a tremendous benefit to a divorce action. At Wilentz, I can walk into the office of more than 100 skilled colleagues that specialize in every area of law to obtain an immediate answer to a unique issue that may arise for one of my divorce clients.
- Reach out to Trusted Sources: There is no substitute to a direct referral from a close friend, family member or confident who has been through the stresses of a divorce action and at the conclusion of same would unequivocally recommend his or her attorney. Financial advisors, therapists, attorneys practicing in other areas of the law and accountants generally have knowledge of good divorce attorney. One of the best referrals an attorney can receive is actually from the spouse that he or she was adverse to in a divorce matter. A divorcee may actually refer friends and contacts to their former spouse’s attorney because they found that attorney to be more effective in the divorce case.
- Trust your intuition or “gut feeling”: If at the conclusion of a consultation you feel that your attorney is knowledgeable, has asked all the right questions, has been a patient listener, cares about your goals and you have a strong rapport – trust your gut and hire that attorney. If something does not seem right, you should also trust your intuition and move on to a different lawyer.