by Ky M. Koch
Trusting your divorce lawyer is extremely important. After all, you are asking your lawyer to guide you through a process that will determine the structure for the rest of your life.
Your kids and your money are at stake. Separate and apart from custody, timesharing, and children-related issues, your divorce is perhaps the most significant financial negotiation and decision that you will ever make. Your entire net worth and future income are at risk.
What should you look for in selecting the person to guide you through this process and give you solid advice?
• Cooperative and collaborative approach
Let’s look at these factors and address how you can evaluate them in the selection of your divorce lawyer.
There is no substitute for honesty. First, you want your lawyer to be honest with you. Giving you false hope and unrealistic expectations is a complete disservice to you. Dashed hopes and disappointment are sure to follow.
Second, you should want the other attorney, forensic accountants, and mental health professionals to respect the integrity of your lawyer. It is a game-changer in divorce settings.
The bottom line is that you and everyone in the process needs to be able to rely upon and trust what your lawyer says. The horrible misconception that a lawyer should be tricky and slick, will be devastating in the context of a divorce case. In a process in which there very rarely are winners, an honest approach is imperative.
An attorney who has been through the wars, seen the devastation to people, families, and bank accounts drained by unnecessary attorney fees, is a vital component in the selection process of an attorney. Knowing the law, knowing the Judges, knowing opposing attorneys, understanding emotions, and a proven ability to anticipate are all critical components in the make-up of an effective divorce lawyer. There is no substitute for experience.
Tip: Evaluate what your attorney has told you. Did he or she describe to you the down-sides in your case? Were you clearly told what not to do? Where you advised that a position of yours would not bode well for you? You should want an attorney who will “tell you like it is.”
COOPERATIVE AND COLLABORATIVE APPROACH
It is very important that your lawyer give you a realistic assessment of your case. Advice to take aggressive positions, suggestions that a Judge is your first line of defense, proposing that you hide facts or money, or denigrating your spouse’s lawyer all are “red flags.”
It is a very simple fact that legal fees and costs are much more expensive in contested and litigated cases than in settled or collaborative cases. It is also a fact that a lawyer who advises you to consider settlement positions, does so fully knowing that settlement will result in lesser attorney fees. It is to the lawyer’s financial advantage to suggest litigation, simply because that will result in more attorney fees. So, if your lawyer is advising you to settle, it is important to put that in perspective. Your lawyer is doing so knowing that a settlement will preclude the payment of significant future attorney fees.
Tip: Ask your lawyer how they would go about trying to get your case settled. What is the strategy? What are they looking to accomplish? Tell your lawyer what is really important to you and see how they would go about trying to obtain it.
It is important that your lawyer is well-respected in the legal community and, preferably, by opposing counsel. There is nothing worse than a battle between lawyers. In that situation, your case takes on the additional cost and focus on “which lawyer is going to win.” That should never be an element of your divorce case. In any event, respected counsel is what you should be looking for. Ask your lawyer what their relationship is with opposing counsel. With the Judge. With CPAs, financial professionals, and psychologists who might later be involved in your case.
One of the ways to evaluate an attorney is to look at their credentials. Are they Board Certified? Are they a member of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, the International Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, the Florida Bar Family Law Section, Inns of Court, Collaborative Law groups, local Bar Association? Have they taken leadership roles in Family Law circles? Are they involved in Family Law issues in which Family Law Judges participate and are members?
Another very important credential is whether or not your lawyer is involved in civic activities, outside the practice of law. This is important because, not only does it show that your lawyer wants to “give back,” but it also shows that your lawyer has a sense of doing the right thing. Another huge indicator is leadership positions in these civic activities. That is a sign that non-lawyers respect this person as a leader.
Tip: You can tell a lot about a person by viewing their credentials. What have they done? What causes are important to them? Take a look at who your lawyer really is and what the community thinks of them.
Selection of a divorce lawyer is a very important decision. It is a relationship that requires a tremendous amount of mutual trust – the lawyer for the client and the client for the lawyer. Lack of trust, in either direction, spells trouble. If you do not trust what your lawyer is telling you, trouble is not far away. Make sure, before you hire this person, that they are trustworthy and that you are going to allow them to do their job and give you the advice that is very important in handling the most important decisions you may ever make.