Finding a Good Lawyer

Divorce lawyers include some of the worst people on Earth, but since you’re thinking of hiring one of them, you don’t have the luxury of feeling self-righteous or smug now.

Deep down you know that there are some good lawyers out there. And if you and your spouse were unable to resolve your differences amicably through OurDivorce, you need a good lawyer’s help.

Here’s the right way to find a good divorce lawyer.

  1. Ask the most successful, smart people you know and trust who the best divorce lawyers are or who know someone who does. Successful smart people (notice they are successful and smart; you need that combination) who care about you (thus people you trust) are those who have used lawyer services in the past and who have done so successfully (if they hadn’t, they would not be a success). Successful people don’t hire bad lawyers and then hope for the best. If they hire bad lawyers, then as soon as they find out, they fire the bad and replace with the good. Let their good judgment and connections work for you.
  2. “Hire slow, fire fast” is extremely good advice when it comes to hiring a lawyer. Give yourself as much time as you reasonably can to research and hire the best lawyer you can find. Waiting until the last minute puts you at risk of hiring the first lawyer available, rather than the best lawyer for you.

    If you discover you hired a bad lawyer, for heaven’s sake fire that lawyer immediately before the lawyer does any more damage and wastes any more of your time and your money (and odds are high you might choose a bad lawyer if you shop based on price, so don’t be surprised if you do, and then don’t compound your troubles by hanging on to a bad lawyer just to save face). You are not required to keep the lawyer you started with. Just remember: even a good lawyer can’t magically transform a bad case—or bad aspects of a case—into a winner.
  3. Find the lawyer who is right for your needs. Do the work. Make the tough choices. Remember that high-priced lawyers are not necessarily the best lawyers; many lousy lawyers charge high fees for the purpose of fooling you into thinking they are rock stars so you won’t question their competence as they rob you. Do pay for the highest quality you can afford, the best value.

    On a related note: Once you find a good divorce lawyer whose knowledge, skill, and judgment you trust, heed what your lawyer teaches you and do what your lawyer advises you to do. He or she has been there (more times than you have) and back. You may not understand or agree with everything your lawyer says and does; welcome to the topsy-turvy world of divorce.
  4. Meet with at least 5 lawyers (more, if you can) before your hire. The quality of lawyers varies substantially. You need to experience this firsthand. If you have time (and make the time, if there’s any way you can), interview a broad range of lawyers to find out who is right for your needs. Meet with young lawyers, old lawyers, cheap lawyers, expensive lawyers, lawyers in big firms, and solo practitioners, male lawyers, female lawyers. Find the right fit. And remember to meet with at least 5 lawyers (not 3); good lawyers are very hard to find. You’ll need to vet a lot of them to find the right one.
  5. Free consultations are for suckers. Come on, you don’t expect free consultations to be very good. Neither do the attorneys who provide them. You get what you pay for.
  6. Don’t rely on those online reviews and “certifications”; they’re a scam. Go ahead and check the online reviews and see what you can learn that’s useful, but otherwise, take online reviews with a grain of salt.
  7. Unless you have a good lawyer as a good and trusted friend, don’t rely on other lawyers for a recommendation. There are three main reasons why:
    1. Some lawyers will recommend themselves, even if they aren’t qualified to help you;
    2. There is a pervasive belief among most lawyers that to speak critically of fellow lawyers is bad or (and this is hilarious) “unprofessional”;
    3. Odds are that asking a lawyer cold for a good lawyer recommendation will get you an off the cuff, apathetic “if this gets you to leave me alone, then I recommend this guy/gal” response.
  8. A lawyer who makes you “feel good” is probably a lawyer your spouse/your spouse’s lawyer will eat for breakfast. We’re not telling you to get a lawyer you dislike. Nor are we suggesting that you get a rabid bulldog of a lawyer. We’re telling you to get a lawyer who almost frightens you by the sheer force of his or her knowledge, skill, good character, and drive. You want an attorney who is aggressively reasonable. If your lawyer has that effect on you, your lawyer will have that effect on your spouse (and your spouse’s lawyer). Confidence, not comfort.
  9. You need a lawyer who is ready for war, so that you can best negotiate effectively. We hope you settle your case. We hope you don’t have to go through the time, expense, and overall ordeal of preparing for and going to trial. Be reasonable and flexible, of course. Unless you bargain from a position of strength, however, your efforts to settle on fair terms will fail.
  10. Get a representation and fee agreement in writing. Read it. Understand it before you sign it. If your attorney does not enter into a written representation and fee agreement with you, that doesn’t mean he/she is a bad lawyer, but it doesn’t do a lot to instill confidence.

Then abide by the terms of the fee agreement. Don’t try to stiff your lawyer on payments you agreed to make for his or her services. But if you do short-change your lawyer and it works, your lawyer isn’t tough enough, not even worth what you nickeled and dimed him into accepting. A good lawyer won’t lower his or her fees (because a good lawyer can’t lower them without lowering the quality of the work too); instead, the good lawyer will simply quit.