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   The lawyer you choose may be more important than you think.

Most women take more time picking out a winter coat than a divorce attorney. You wouldn’t think to buy the first coat you try on and yet many hire the first lawyer they meet with!  Given that divorce costs are more in line with a new car than a winter coat, it is in your best interest to make sure the lawyer you pick to represent you is the one that will best serve your needs. 

If you have decided to move forward with a divorce, the single most important aspect of the entire process is picking the right lawyer (this assumes you already have a therapist!). You may think that because you don’t have children or huge assets or because the decision is mutual that a good lawyer isn’t necessary, well, think again. Divorce is an emotional process that varies in intensity from couple to couple, but it is also the dissolution of a legal agreement. Without the right legal counsel you may find that you are dealing with legal and emotional entanglements for years to come.

Some women tell me that they don’t want to hire a “good” lawyer because it will only make their husbands angrier. Others say they need to hire a real tough SOB to fight because their husbands are so difficult to deal with. This attitude is problematic because these women are picking lawyers based on their spouse’s personality not on their own needs! Ironically, so many women tell me they are tired of thinking of their spouse first-tending to HIS needs and wants and ignoring their own desire and instincts. But here they go again-doing the same thing! It is imperative  that you pick a lawyer based on your own needs and personality, because if you hire a “nice” lawyer you may find you lack adequate representation and if you pick that SOB, you may find that aggressiveness is part of the lawyer’s personality and results in your feeling intimated and unsupported.

Unfortunately some of my clients need to spend a good deal of time in their sessions talking about how to deal with their attorneys! By choosing the wrong lawyer to represent them, they suddenly are in the predicament of feeling they have two adversaries instead of one!

Here are ten things I learned from my clients to keep in mind when picking the best attorney for you:

  1. Just because your friend had a good experience with an attorney doesn’t mean they are the right one for you. Trust your gut.
  2. Pick a specialist.  While they may be more expensive per hour, they have more experience and in the long run will be both cost and time effective.
  3. Aggression doesn’t insure a “win”. An overly aggressive attorney may fan the flames of conflict rather than move toward resolution.
  4. Pick an attorney who understands this isn’t about “winning”.  She/He should understand divorce is about a major change in the family and that more than the “bottom line” will be affected. A good family attorney is willing, when necessary to work with your therapist. He/she is focused on the family’s post divorce situation and understands the interconnectedness of the family does not end with the dissolution of the marriage. In short, they can see the “big picture”.
  5. A consultation is like a first date, what you see is probably what you get. Don’t pick someone who minimizes your concerns, is sarcastic or dismissive. Don’t ignore your own radar by dismissing his/her behavior in favor of excellent credentials.
  6. Don’t use your attorney as a therapist. And don’t use your therapy time to talk about legal issues. Efficient utilization of your professionals will keep costs down, provide you with better information and  effective support.
  7. Don’t withhold information from your attorney because you are embarrassed. They aren’t there to judge you, but if you don’t give them the information they need, you cut down on their ability to effectively represent you. Don’t assume drinking, abuse or affairs are not relevant even if you live in a “no fault” state. Underreporting or minimizing can result in your not getting the best settlement. ALWAYS tell your attorney if there are weapons in your home.
  8. Try to stick with the facts. The emotions get processed with your therapist.
  9. Talk frankly about costs up front and what you will be charged for. Some women are shocked when they are billed for phone calls, e-mails, etc. as they have come to rely so strongly on their lawyer that they mistake this working relationship for friendship.
  10. Finally, be clear the court is not going to reward you for pain and suffering. Settlements aren’t based on how betrayed or rejected you feel.  Keeping   an objective attitude regarding the legal system can play a big part in keeping your expectations realistic.

 

This represents the third collaboration between myself and Atty Robert Mues. Instead of each of us writing about the merits of our own profession, we switched roles. Atty Mues writes about  the  importance of  therapy during a divorce and I address considerations for picking a good divorce attorney. We hope this perspective provides the reader with additional information and insight regarding professional support during this challenging and life changing experience. How to pick a good therapist appears this week on Atty Mues’ blog  .  Spend some time exploring the archive of this excellent blog, as there is much wisdom and insight in the articles presented. As always, Thanks, Chip for your thoughtful remarks and enjoyable collaboration!

Beginning next week a series of  four weekly  columns  devoted to “love”. You may be surprised!

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4 Comments

  1. Chip Mues on the 29. Jan, 2011 remarked #

    Hey Donna-
    Thanks for suggesting that we collaborate writing articles on the importance of having a good therapist and lawyer during a divorce! We will need to think about another topic before too long…My best to you in persevering through the horrible winter! Awful!

    • admin on the 29. Jan, 2011 remarked #

      Thanks, Chip! Maybe our readers have some ideas of topics they would like to see us tackle!

  2. CJ on the 30. Jan, 2011 remarked #

    Turns out that the first attny I met with was absolutely the wrong guy – but I didn’t know it until we had worked together for a while.
    The second one I chose met with me and one of the first questions he asked was, “Do you want to get the SOB?” When I responded in the negative, he said, “Good, then I’m the right lawyer for you.”
    And he was.

  3. Jay on the 30. Dec, 2012 remarked #

    Fabulous. I agree.

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