I received a text from a friend the other day. It went like this: "My brother is getting a divorce. I need to find him a pit bull, mean-ass attorney. He doesn’t want the divorce, but if he has to get one, he wants it his way! Can you recommend someone?"
Sigh. He wanted a shark. Here is what I want to say to my friend's brother.
Litigation is expensive. Not only are there the attorney fees for courtroom appearances, there are weeks or months of preparation, drafting declarations, propounding discovery, and correspondence leading up to the court date. Hiring a "pit bull" or a "shark" can result in unnecessary litigation and cause legal fees to spiral out of control. To avoid this all too-common trap, look for an attorney who will fight for you with your interests in mind but who understands that ultimately, most of us want to settle our matter and just go home.
(For those who thrive on the chaos and misery of protracted litigation, the remainder of this post will fall on deaf ears.)
So how do you select a divorce attorney who fits that description?
I have copied excerpts from an excellent article by Donald R. Wall, Esq., of New York, NY. The article, "Do You Know What to Look For When Hiring a Divorce Attorney?," is one of the best , most succinct pieces I have read on the subject. Mr. Wall suggests:
- Word-of-mouth is usually the best way to start looking. Feel free to consult friends and colleagues, and ask them if they "know anybody good" (don’t forget the "good"!).
- Do some research. Check out the attorneys' websites.
- You can learn a lot simply meeting with an attorney for a consultation. A reasonable consultation fee is a good investment because you will soon learn that there may be more than one approach to your situation.
- Your friends may tell you to hire a "shark", but in my experience, the best family law attorneys are knowledgeable and reasonable both with their clients and with "the other side."
- Feel free to ask the attorney to estimate the cost for handling your matter.
- Don’t be afraid to ask the hourly rate of each attorney working on your matter.
- Find out if the attorney charges for travel time.
- I’d be wary of any attorney who says your case will never settle or who says it will never go to trial.
- Make sure the attorney you choose has the experience you need . . . you generally don’t want to be the attorney’s lab rat.
- Hire the attorney with the expertise that you need. On the other hand, don’t hire an attorney who has expertise that you don’t need, but which you will likely have to pay for.
- Ask the attorney what his or her philosophy is about trials.
- Don’t hire an attorney you can’t afford. If your budget is limited, discuss it upfront.
So how did I respond to my friend’s text? "Famous last words – 'I want a shark.' Tell your brother to prepare to lose the equity in his house or his kids’ college funds. There ARE better ways to do this that don’t include the blood and guts of litigation." Then I sent her the names of a couple of good mediators and a couple of good family law attorneys.
Hopefully, he will call one of them.