I need a divorce attorney. But who should I hire?

Posted on Mar 20, 2024 by Katie Carter

Making the decision to hire a divorce attorney is a difficult one.  Once you’ve reached the already difficult decision to separate and, eventually, to end your marriage, you have to decide whether or not you’ll hire an attorney to represent you in the divorce and then, if so, whom.

I probably don’t need to tell you that, in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia alone, there are a LOT of divorce attorneys.  Many of us have websites.  Many, too, are on social media.  If you start to pay attention, you’ll see that we can make a lot of noise.

At the end of the day, though, you’ll have to hire someone – if, that is, you decide to work with an attorney through the divorce process.  (Incidentally, I really, sincerely do recommend it, but many people still try to make the decision to either do it themselves – which I don’t recommend – or work with third parties, like mediators, to resolve their cases.)  When you hire them, you probably won’t know them all that well.

After all, she’s probably not someone you already knew.  She’s a stranger and you’ve met her in an initial consultation.  Then, you have to make the big decision to decide whether to retain her and, then, to eventually trust her.

I’d like to say that all attorney and client relationships are built on trust, but they’re not.  In more cases than you might think, clients start out mistrusting us and our judgment.  You’d think that because they paid us a retainer and specifically picked us to be their attorneys that they’d trust us, but …  well, not always.

And, to some extent, I really do understand!  After all, you’re hiring a divorce attorney to handle one of the most stressful experiences of your life when you’re already experiencing intense emotions.  For most women, it’s really not their best moment.  On top of that, the divorce attorney is going to look at some of the most deeply intimate details of your life – your marriage, your sex life, your finances, your parenting, and so on – and then give you advice, some of which you probably won’t particularly like.  And all of this on just a few days or weeks of acquaintance!

The law isn’t necessarily intuitive; I say that all the time.  So it happens a lot that the advice that we give – especially when its advice that our clients don’t want to hear – doesn’t exactly jive with what your heart or your intuition or whatever else is telling you.  It may or may not also be different from what your friends or family members are telling you.  It can be conflicting.

I hope you reassure you a little bit.  Obviously, it’s not in our best interests to give clients bad advice.  We want our clients to get what they want.  We want happy clients!  But we also have a duty to our clients.  We have to give them what, in our opinion, is the best possible advice, even if they don’t want to hear it.  Even if we know they won’t like it.  Maybe even especially when we know they won’t want to hear it or won’t like it.

Trust me: this is a difficult position for us to be in, too.

But just because you’re getting advice you don’t like, or advice you feel in your heart can’t be right (or shouldn’t be right) doesn’t mean that it isn’t right!  Sure, attorneys can make mistakes.  And there are both good and bad attorneys out there.  It may be that the attorney you’ve hired is just that – a bad attorney.  But don’t jump to that conclusion – or, better yet, don’t put yourself in a position where you feel like that’s the conclusion you have to draw.

You do have some responsibility here.  After all, it’s not my divorce.  It’s yours.  So, in a best case scenario, you’d already have put yourself in the best possible position to hire the right attorney for your case.  How do you do that?

  1. Research attorneys!

You wouldn’t just go out and buy a car without doing your research, and you shouldn’t hire an attorney like that, either.  A recommendation from a friend is a great thing, but it’s no substitute for really doing your research and finding an attorney who is in alignment with you.

For one thing, you’ll have to talk about embarrassing and sensitive things; you want to make sure that you hire someone who you feel comfortable being completely honest with.  For another, you’re going to have to trust their advice!  If you don’t, then, really – what’s the point?

  1. Get a second opinion.

Whenever you meet with an attorney, make sure you give them all of the facts in your case – at least, as far as you’re aware of them – so that the attorney can give you good, accurate advice.  If you don’t like it (and, hey, that happens), then don’t be afraid to get a second opinion!

A lot of what we do is to spot potential issues and, ultimately, to have an opinion on them.  Our opinion is mostly comprised of a cost/benefit analysis.  Does it make sense to go to court with these facts, or would we be better off settling?  What method will make us more likely to get more of what we want out of this case – and less of what we don’t?  How do we reverse engineer an outcome designed to achieve your goals, based on what we think are the legal merits (or demerits!) of the case?  It’s an opinion!

It’s possible that another attorney would have a different opinion or another approach.  If you’re not sure, ask someone else!  I can guarantee you that it won’t hurt anyone’s feelings and you’ll feel better at the end of the day – either because both attorneys agree (and you can make peace with that), or because someone else has a better recommendation (and you can hire that attorney instead).  Ask questions.  Get answers.  That’s how the best decisions are made!  Trust – but verify!

  1. Make sure you have enough time.

The cases we’ve had where clients end up the most unhappy are often the ones where they don’t leave themselves enough time to do the research and to build up a trusting attorney/client relationship.  When an attorney is hired at the last minute, she has a limited amount of time already.  If there’s a deadline, she has to focus on doing everything she needs to do to meet that deadline – and, sometimes, that means there’s less time to spend just building that relationship.  It can feel like a really high pressure situation and can lead to a client questioning the attorney’s judgment.

Don’t allow yourself to be in this position.  Take your case seriously and give yourself enough time to find the right attorney and to be come comfortable with that attorney.  Whether you hire the right attorney or not, not having enough time can lead to you feeling out of control and under pressure, which isn’t exactly a recipe for feeling good about the outcome of your case.

In many cases, it’s not really a question of outcome – it’s a question of the client’s experience.  Not having enough time to build a relationship, feeling like you’re under intense pressure to make big decisions on a narrow timeline, and other related issues can lead to you feeling like you’ve hired the wrong attorney or gotten a poor result in your case, even when that’s not the case.

Take your case seriously.  Give yourself enough time to make big decisions.  Interview and research attorneys before you hire them.  Don’t wait until the last minute.  Ask questions.  Ask more questions, especially if you don’t understand.  Get a second opinion, if you either STILL don’t understand, or just don’t like or don’t trust the advice you’ve been given.

We want happy clients.  And, some of that comes from making sure our clients have as much information as they need to make informed decisions – regardless of whether they like that information  – and some of it comes from our ability to build strong relationships with them.  When you’re going through a family law case, it’s already a tough time in your life.  Don’t let issues with your attorney add to the stress and overwhelm you’re experiencing!

For more information, request a copy of our book on hiring a great divorce attorney, attend a monthly divorce seminar, or schedule a consultation on our website at hoflaw.com.  Don’t forget to research each of our attorneys – we’re all different, and bring a little something *extra* to the table.  Good luck!