We’ve talked a lot about various things to be wary of when hiring an attorney, but how do you know when you’ve found the right lawyer?
- You get the sense that the lawyer is telling you the truth. This is one of the most important relationships of your life. You may already be coming out of an important relationship that is filled with strife and lies. Why enter a new one? If you feel as though this lawyer is being real and honest with you, this may be the lawyer for you. An important note, however, pay close attention: sometimes clients hear in the initial interview not so much what the lawyer has said, as what they want to hear. You have to be listening with as much truth and honesty as the person speaking.
- The lawyer puts you at ease. I think people do not trust themselves enough. If your gut is telling you that this person is well intentioned and will do their best, if you feel comfortable and easy around them, then I think you should trust that instinct unless there is evidence to the contrary.
- The lawyer asks about and can restate your main goals and objectives. The lawyer who focuses on your goals and objectives now will continue to do so throughout the litigation, and that’s way more important than permitting the matter to get bogged down in side issues that really aren’t as important.
- The lawyer’s staff is helpful and friendly. I really can’t emphasize this enough. You will be dealing with these people a lot. If the man or woman who answers the phone is bitter and pushy today, this is a preview of what you will be dealing with in the months to come. Now, every lawyer occasionally hires a bad apple, so if all else is good but one of the secretaries seems a little like a snaggletooth tiger, give the lawyer a little leeway…this may be a matter that is in the process of being addressed. But a particularly helpful and friendly staff means a few things: (a) the lawyer treats them well, and is the sort of person who cares about people and understands good stewardship; (b) the lawyer made an effort to make sure your experience was a good one, because good help is very hard to find, so this was no easy accident, and; (c) you will have a better experience with the firm in general because no matter what the difficulty, the staff will be able to be attentive to your needs.
- The lawyer has a good reputation. I like to say that every successful person has haters, but the quality of the haters is indicative of your success. Therefore, if great people hate you, you better fix what’s wrong with you. If low quality, bitter people hate you, then you are on the right path! So check out your lawyer’s reputation with people you can respect in the community. Even with online reviews, trust the ones written by competent sounding people, even if there are one or two bad ones from people like they are writing an angry note from a Spam Mill in Ghana.
- The lawyer listens to you. There is nothing more important than being listened to and really heard by your lawyer. He or she may not be a perfect person, may become confused or make a mistake…but if they listen and work to correct their mistakes, you have a winner.
- The lawyer educates you. The lawyer who will handle it all and not involve you one bit in how the process works will leave you confused, puzzled, and upset even if they did an amazing job. You just won’t know it. You want a lawyer that explains what’s happening.
- The lawyer lays out the costs and is honest about potential outcomes and future costs. Divorce can be expensive. If I am taking a low retainer on the hopes that this divorce can settle, I will honestly tell clients that this could very easily not be the end of the matter if the other side has no interest in settling. Please, please, please do not expect that the retainer is the end. It may not be, especially if it is a low retainer. You will pay more. Put it away. Be ready for it. Respect the lawyer who tells you that, and explains what would make the bill go up and what could keep it down, and whether those factors are in or out of your control.
- The lawyer neither pressures you nor fails to make an appropriate ask. On the one hand, you don’t want someone standing over you menacingly with a pen. On the other hand a lawyer who is too wishy-washy to ask you if you are ready to move forward probably won’t negotiate well for you either.
- The lawyer is clear about strategy and next steps. Perhaps he or she will not give you an overview of the entire process in the initial meeting, but you ought to have a clear idea of what is happening in the immediate future the moment you sign on the dotted line.
–Excerpted from Lynda Hinkle’s book, Breaking Up: Finding and Working with a New Jersey Divorce Attorney.
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The above is not specific legal advice nor does it create a lawyer-client relationship. Do not rely upon it without consulting an attorney to see how the information presented fits your unique circumstances.