Guest article by Neil Denny of Family Law in Partnership.
Not all couples who get divorced decide to use a lawyer to help them and some will only use a lawyer to get advice on the basics, sorting out the rest out themselves. But many thousands of people do use a solicitor to help them agree a financial settlement. But how do you choose a divorce lawyer and what questions should you ask before you hire one for your own divorce? Find out what to look for when hiring a divorce lawyer.
Meet several lawyers
Try to meet with a few lawyers, even if only for a brief 10-15 minute introduction as it will give you a feel of how they work and what they are like. Be sure to check that there will be no charge for this short meeting or, if there is, that there will be no hidden charges for follow on work, such as writing up an attendance note, without your explicit agreement.
What to consider
Divorce is something most women never expect to go through. And although personal recommendation is a good starting point, it’s still important to do your own assessment of:
- Their preferred way of working
This can be quite easy to identify. Ask yourself, what is your gut feeling?
- How did you feel in this meeting? Were you able to relax or were you uptight and agitated?
- How was each lawyer able to put you at ease, if at all?
- Was the lawyer interested in you or did you feel that they were just pushing to convert you into a paying client?
- How well did they listen?
- How did their values, to the extent that you could identify them, tie in with your own?
Their preferred way of working
Some lawyers like to take on a very dominant approach to their client’s cases, taking on the conduct of everything. Is that what you want?
- Many people want to retain some input and direction about what is happening. If that’s you, will this lawyer be able to work with you in that way?
- Lawyers vary between the more and the less aggressive, but few clients want an acrimonious divorce.
NEIL’S TIP: The lawyer that you and your partner choose can dictate how amicable this divorce is going to be.
- You might want a very tough litigator but be aware that the fallout in costs and emotional expenditure can be massive.
NEIL’S TIP: Lawyers must advise you on all of the processes available to you, such as the negotiation, mediation, collaborative, arbitration and court based litigation models for arranging your divorce and separation matters.
- Will you be told all the options? Some lawyers do not advise clients of all of their options but only the options that they make available. Be wary of these. Are they interested in giving you the information or more interested in keeping you as a paying client?
If you are told that you can come in for an appointment but you have to wait six weeks for the first available slot then you need to consider how much time this lawyer has for your divorce.
- Be clear who is your contact. Will you be able to speak with the person you are meeting as your divorce progresses?
- Who will manage your divorce? Some lawyers work on the basis of meeting with the client for the first two or three appointments and then leave the client with a junior assistant.
NEIL’S TIP: You might feel that is acceptable — in many situations it will be — but it can be a great disappointment and a source of complaints if it is not what you thought you were signing up for.
Ask the lawyer how experienced they are in the areas that you need to focus on? For example, many lawyers have a clear emphasis on children issues or money issues.
- Ask questions. Not all lawyers are fully informed in relation to matters such as cohabiting and unmarried couples, or same sex relationships. Do not be afraid to ask questions about this.
- Look at their websites. Have they invested the time to write articles relevant to your situation? Have they got resources such as information sheets or explanations about the law? This can all demonstrate commitment and experience.
- Consider extent of expertise. You might end up paying more than you need to for an over-qualified partner or senior lawyer when a more junior lawyer would do just fine.
You should be able to talk about costs with your lawyer easily and without embarrassment. Get them to be as clear as they can with indications about possible costs.
- Do they expect an upfront payment? Find out whether an upfront payment will be required and how much?
- Can you cut costs? Are there ways you can minimise the cost by doing parts of the work yourself?
- Will they work cost effectively? What steps will they take to ensure that basic stages are not done by overly qualified partners and senior lawyers?
NEIL’S TIP: It is essential you know that you can pay for your lawyer. Do not spend too much in the early stages hoping that if you “Go in hard” that your partner will see sense and settle before your money runs out. It rarely works out like.
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