In my past two blogs, I’ve written about selecting a large or boutique firm, and addressed the lawyer gender question. In this blog, I will address assessing your working compatibility with the lawyer.
As with virtually all relationships, whether personal or professional, proper chemistry, or compatibility, is important for the transaction to move smoothly. If your surgeon or plumber struck you the wrong way, you would not have those people fix your or your plumbing, right? The same goes for your lawyer. But, how do you assess compatibility in an initial consultation? Is may be easier than your think.
First, trust your instincts. Is the lawyer agreeing with everything you say and promising everything you want? This is a telltale sign that you may be being told what you want to hear, rather than what you need to hear. Very few divorce cases are completely one-sided. And, the Probate and Family Court is a court of equity. That means it will try to do what is fair, overall. Equitable does not, by the way, necessarily mean equal. If the end game being presented sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Second, trust your five senses. Does the office look like a million bucks, or does it look like an unmade bed? Does the lawyer look unkempt, distracted, harried, or attentive, engaged and focused? Are you hearing clear answers and explanations to questions, or is the lawyer talking around issues without justification? And, finally, does the lawyer look like they graduated from law school last week (keeping in mind that just because someone has been doing something for a long time does not necessarily entail that they have been doing it well). The bottom line is to ask a question and then look and listen to the reply.
Third, this is not your neighbor’s closing. You (and your children if you have them) will live with the result oaf your divorce for a very long time. So, when a friend or neighbor recommends a lawyer who did a good job for them on their closing, business deal, personal in jury case, etch., thank them for their help, and move on to someone who practices Family Law as a concentration.
Fourth, pay for a consultation. Almost every divorce lawyer who I respect and would recommend, charges some fee (typically reduced from their full hourly fee) for a 45 – 60 minute consultation. Free consultations are usually the hallmark of firms that need to incentify customers to use them. You can draw your own conclusions as to why.
Your divorce attorney should be objective, should help manage expectations, explain the divorce process, and should not become your pal or therapist. It is a professional relationships that should be in the nature of a trusted advisor.