What’s right for one person isn’t necessarily the perfect fit for someone else. That goes with shoes – just ask Cinderella – and it also goes for divorce attorneys. I mean, really, I think the same is true across many different things in life, but I do think it’s particularly true when it comes to divorce attorneys.
It’s also sort of inherently complicated to be able to tell attorneys apart. They all look sort of the same, don’t they? Graduations from prestigious schools, various accolades, work with impressive organizations, licensed to for the bar in certain states, blah blah blah. The websites all look the same, too – scales of justice, Lady Justice, Corinthian columns, nonsense about combined years of experience, yada yada yada.
But how do you make heads or tails of any of it? How do you know, from looking at a perfectly poised headshot of a person in a power suit with their hands confidently crossed in front of them, that you’ll be able to sit down and have a conversation with them about some of the more intimate facts in your life?
On top of being uncomfortable about the divorce or custody case itself, it’s hard to know whether you’re trusting your entire future to a person who is deserving of your trust – or not. You don’t know them, after all, and it’s everything you’ve worked for in your life and your children who are at stake here, so it’s not like its a small thing.
If you’re worried, you’re not alone. If you’re just as scared to pick up the phone and try to hire a divorce or custody attorney as you are to actually go through the divorce or custody case, you’re not the only one. It’s okay! It’s a lot.
I have a couple of thoughts.
1. See what you can glean from the attorney’s website.
The website is often the first place that most people go. So, I’d start there – and, anyway, it’s free, so that’s a good thing. Take a look. Does it look generic? Does it give specifics? Does it speak to you in any real, meaningful way? Look at the individual attorney’s bios, too. Does anything about any of them resonate with you personally?
It can be hard to tell from a website, but a good website is a big deal. The way that the attorney or the firm talks to you through the language on their site, in their blogs, articles, and in any books, reports, or free papers that they provide can tell you a lot about the kind of service the attorney offers. It can explain their worldview, too.
For example, at my firm, we only represent women – so, obviously, a lot of that is really strongly women-centric. We get some complaints (“it’s sexist!” “women are in the wrong sometimes, too!” and “you’re discriminating!”), but, hey, that’s fine – that’s who we are. If you don’t like it, and it doesn’t resonate with you, chances are good that we’re just not the right fit. And that’s okay!
Not everyone is for everyone else and, if we’re not for you, that’s okay. But at least you know now, right?
If it doesn’t speak to you, if it feels too generic, if it’s too focused on the LAWYER and his or her personal awards or accolades or attributes, then I think those are good signs that you’re maybe not in the right place. After all, your case is about YOU, not the lawyer you hire – so it’s nice if your attorney is an experience litigator, a fearsome advocate, a fierce opponent, or whatever – but you’ll probably want to know more about how they’ll work with you, listen to you, help you achieve YOUR goals. Right?
2. See what resources the firm/attorney has available for you.
A website is great, but you’ll want to dig deeper, too. Are there blogs or articles? Books? Free reports? Seminars? Is there anything you can do, any event you can attend, where you can get a better idea about the firm in general or the attorney(s) as people?
A lack of information, in this day and age, is sort of concerning to me. There should be something – a short divorce guide, a white paper on custody cases in Virginia – available for you to download or read on the site. It’s SO easy to blog nowadays that there’s almost no excuse for not having SOMETHING helpful for prospective clients.
3. Don’t be afraid to have more than one consultation.
At some point, there’s nothing to do but actually sit in front of the lawyer and see how you feel about him or her. Do they make you feel comfortable? Are you able to tell them the truth? Are they being judgmental or kind? Do you feel they’re being honest about your likelihood of success, even if some of what they’re saying maybe isn’t what you want to hear? It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, so it’s entirely possible that your attorney will find that something you’ve done is concerning or that a particular course of action isn’t the most advantageous for you. They should, though, approach the decision delicately, and try to offer assistance or insight into the courts, rather than just judgment. In your defense, after all, you’re going through a really tough time – and none of us make the right decisions 100% of the time!
Lawyers are like doctors. You should get a second opinion, especially if you’re not sure just from perusing a website or reading a white paper.
If you don’t get a good vibe from the attorney when you sit there, that’s probably a warning sign. It’s not that you have to be BFF – you definitely don’t – but a certain level of comfort is nice. The attorney should answer your questions, give you good advice, help you see the way forward, and paint a realistic picture of what your case might look and feel like. The attorney shouldn’t be judgmental, suggest that he’s too busy to listen, be dismissive, or promise you everything under the sun.
It’s not that an attorney should never tell you anything bad – quite the contrary – but the advice should be tempered with compassion, the suggestions should contain both respect and consideration for what you’re going through. There should be acknowledgement of the difficulties you’re facing, but a shared perspective that you want to help put you in the best position possible to achieve your goals.
It’s hard to choose an attorney, but you also have to listen to your gut. There’s no reason to hire an attorney who doesn’t listen to you, doesn’t make you feel comfortable, scolds you, or makes you feel like you’re irritating. You and your attorney will form a team of sorts, so you want to be sure that you trust her judgment and feel comfortable with her representing you in court.
It’s a tall order, there’s no doubt about it. But you’re smart, and you’re already asking the right questions. That will serve you well, in the long run.
For more information, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.