By Divorce.com staff
Updated Mar 15, 2023
Hiring an attorney can be difficult. Divorce is a sensitive and sometimes complicated matter. The process delves deeply into your private life, and you need to be comfortable working with the attorney you choose to review that information.
If you’re in the process of finding the right attorney, here’s what you need to know about preparing for your initial conversation and the questions you should ask before you hire your lawyer.
Set Your Emotions Aside
You probably have a lot of complaints you want to vent about, but your divorce attorney isn’t an emotional confidant. They’re only interested in the facts of the case.
A consultation usually lasts 30 minutes or less, and that’s all the time you have to get your lawyer up to speed about facts like the grounds for your divorce and what you’re seeking in the settlement.
A paid consultation is expensive. Your lawyer won’t stop you from talking about whatever you feel the need to talk about, but their hourly rate is usually much more expensive than a therapist’s rates. It’s best to save emotionally charged conversations for a mental health professional.
When you’re talking to a lawyer, you need to keep your mind in business mode.
Prepare a Quick Summary of Your Situation
Your first consultation may have a time limit. If it doesn’t have a time limit, you’ll likely pay for the time you spend speaking to your lawyer. The purpose of a consultation is to determine if a lawyer is the right fit for you. You need to establish that as quickly as possible.
Lawyers are very busy people. They tend to get to the heart of the matter very quickly. The lawyer you speak to will appreciate it if your information is organized and easily interpreted. They’ll also be able to help you quickly and effectively.
Prepare a concise summary you can deliver at the beginning of your conversation with this template:
I want to divorce my spouse of (duration) for (reason). We share (number) children. I would like to pursue (type of) custody. I (am or am not) seeking spousal support. We share (few, several, or many) assets. I would like to be awarded (list of assets) in our marital settlement. My spouse (is or is not) willing to negotiate our marital settlement outside of court.
If your divorce involves circumstances like domestic violence, substance abuse issues, or spousal abandonment, you should also tell a lawyer during your consultation.
You may have different options or resources made available to you if you cannot locate your spouse or if your spouse’s behavior may put you or your children in danger. Your lawyer may be able to help you take special precautions before your divorce begins.
Create a List of Questions
Lawyers are expensive. When you’re contemplating hiring a lawyer to represent you, you need to understand exactly how your relationship with your lawyer will work.
You need to know from the beginning if you’ll be able to afford your lawyer, how you’ll communicate with your lawyer, how they’ll strategize on your behalf, and how they’ll respect your privacy.
These are some important questions you should be asking during your consultation.
What Are Your Fees?
Some lawyers are paid hourly, and some lawyers prefer a retainer fee. Most divorce lawyers use an hourly fee structure. You need to know how many hours of work you’ll get and how much each hour will cost.
Divorce can be highly expensive, and you need to know that you can fit the legal fees into your budget. It’s almost always worth the money to choose an experienced attorney with an excellent track record, but you also need to be mindful of the debts you’ll incur during the divorce process.
Do You Have Experience With Divorce Cases Like Mine?
Most lawyers have an area of expertise. A family lawyer that primarily focuses on child custody issues may have experience with complicated divorces, but it may not be the area where they feel most comfortable.
Every case is different, but there are often common threads. You need a lawyer that understands how to successfully navigate divorces with circumstances similar to yours.
Ask the lawyer if they have real customer testimonials available to view. A lawyer with an excellent success rate will proudly display these testimonials.
How Will I Be Communicating With You Throughout The Process?
Lawyers are busy professionals who can be difficult to get a hold of. Your emails may sink to the bottom of their inbox. Their voicemail box might be full.
You may primarily reach their paralegal or secretary when you try to call them. It can be frustrating, especially when you’re spending a lot of money and heavily relying on someone to come through for you.
You need to know what you’re expecting in terms of communication. How will your lawyer contact you? How often will they speak with you? What should you do if you have an important question about your case?
Your lawyer needs to have answers to all of these questions. You and your lawyer should be able to easily communicate at regular intervals. If you feel like a lawyer will be impossible to speak with, you shouldn’t hire them for something as important as your divorce.
Can You Walk Me Through the Process?
The core process of divorce will be similar for everyone, but your lawyer may recommend that you take additional or alternative steps based on the circumstances of your case.
After listening to a summary of your situation and asking a few questions of their own, they should be able to help you construct a functional roadmap for your divorce.
What Should My Next Move Be?
It’s important to set yourself up for a streamlined divorce. Part of streamlining your divorce is making the right moves at the right time.
Should you move out of the family home? Should you ask for preliminary injunctions that would grant you temporary custody or temporary spousal support?
An experienced lawyer will be able to help you create a custom-tailored roadmap for a divorce with as few obstacles as possible.
Should I Continue to Communicate With My Spouse?
It can be a wise idea to keep an open line of communication with your spouse during the divorce process. Maintaining a dialogue makes it easier to negotiate your way to important decisions.
There are also situations where you shouldn’t make direct contact with your spouse at all. If your divorce-related discussions aren’t going well, a lawyer might recommend that you refrain from contacting your spouse and communicate through your lawyers.
Your lawyer should be able to tell you how to effectively communicate (or avoid communication) with your spouse depending on the circumstances of your divorce and the dynamics of your relationship.
How Do You Keep My Information Secure?
Your lawyer will need access to a lot of sensitive information about you and your case. You need to be able to trust that your lawyer will keep that information secure. Your lawyer’s document security should be as strong as your financial institution’s security.
Make sure that they won’t leave sensitive information about you sitting in their inbox.
Will I Have Access To My Files?
You should have access to almost every piece of information your lawyer has collected about you. Many people feel more comfortable when they can review all of the paperwork they’ve generated with their lawyer for accuracy.
If your lawyer won’t let you see your files, that’s a bad sign. It could mean that they aren’t keeping accurate records or there are things they don’t want you to know about. They may withhold files to prevent dissatisfied customers from finding a new attorney. Your lawyer should offer you transparency about your case.
Plan To Speak With Multiple Attorneys
If you find the perfect attorney on your first try, that’s wonderful.
If you have any reservations about working with the attorney you spoke to, plan to speak to more attorneys. It’s better to take your time and receive multiple consultations than it is to settle for the first attorney you speak with, especially if you aren’t completely sure about them.
You should choose an attorney you feel comfortable communicating with.
In Conclusion: You Have An Important Decision to Make
Preparing for your initial consultation with a divorce attorney is an important first step in your divorce process. You may need to have several consultations before you find an attorney that’s right for you.
Get down to business quickly, ask as many questions as you need to, and don’t settle for an attorney that you don’t feel is the right fit.