“An educated consumer is our best customer”
Some of you may remember this slogan from commercials for Syms clothing stores. To me, the statement is true for every business but especially true for my clients. In my experience, clients that have the best results and are most satisfied with the divorce process are the best informed. Clients who do research, consult with multiple attorneys, ask questions, and are engaged in their representation are usually more comfortable and more in control of their future. So what can you do when researching potential attorneys to ensure you make the best choice possible?
Here are a few tips:
- Talk to friends, family members, co-workers and others who have been through a divorce or family law case. If they were satisfied with their attorney, ask a for referral. Your search should not end there but it is a good starting point in finding lawyers with whom you can consult. You should also search online for law firms in your geographical area that practice family law. Once you have your list of potential lawyers, check out their websites and read their biographies to make a preliminary determination if they have the right expertise for your case.
- Find someone local. Familiarity with your spouses’s attorney, the judge handling your case, court staff, local procedures, and unwritten rules and protocols can go along way in helping your case move forward smoothly. During a consultation, you should ask the attorney if they practice in the county where your case will be heard (and how frequently), how well they know the judges in that county (or your particular judge if you know who it will be already), and if they have had any cases with your spouses’s lawyer before. You do not need to limit yourself to law firms located in your town or county, but you should find someone who is familiar with your county and practices there on a regular basis.
- Choose an attorney that specializes in family/matrimonial law. “Jack of all trades, master of none” is an expression easily applied to lawyers. Family law is extremely complex and litigation in general requires certain skills and attributes that not all lawyers possess. There are plenty of brilliant attorneys who do transaction work but who are not strong advocates in the courtroom. There are many outstanding lawyers that practice in other areas of the law but who do not have the experience and knowledge to handle your family law matter. Make sure that your attorney specializes in family law and whose work is focused in that area. You do not need an attorney who only or exclusively practices family law but you should look for a litigator who focuses on a few practice areas in the litigation arena, including family law. If you need more than one hand to count their practice areas, you should be careful to ask that attorney questions about his/her family law qualifications.
- Consider hiring a New Jersey attorney who is Supreme Court Certified. The New Jersey Supreme Court certifies a handful of legal specialties. One of those is in Matrimonial Law. Supreme Court Certified attorneys have passed a rigorous qualification process including a minimum amount of experience, reviews by judges and fellow attorneys, a documented resume of actual trial work and passing an exam in their specialty. I am a Certified Matrimonial Law Attorney, a distinction that is awarded to only about 2% of all New Jersey attorneys.
- Consider how your personality and goals mesh. Going through a divorce or separation is very personal and emotional. The lawyer-client relationship in family matters is extremely personal so in addition to needing an attorney with the right experience and qualifications, make sure that you and any potential attorney have a good rapport and that you feel comfortable with him/her. Sometimes a truly great attorney for one client is just not the right fit for another.
- Consider alternative dispute resolution. I do not believe in a one size fits all approach. Every case is different and utilizing the same method does not always bring about the best results. While tough litigation is sometimes necessary off the bat, many cases can be resolved through mediation.
- Before your consultation, try to identify the issues and make a list of questions. Make sure to ask about the attorney’s particular experience in cases like yours, billing policies and rates, communication with the office, and questions about the law as it applies to your case (for example, how do the 2014 revisions to the alimony statute affect you).
- Place a great deal of value on an attorney who will give you objective advice. Unfortunately, some attorneys look at consultations like a sales pitch; their goal is to convince you to hire them and obtain your business so rather than give you an honest assessment of your case, they might tell you what you want to hear. Make sure that any attorney you consult with tells you about both the strengths and the weaknesses of your case.
- Prepare for your consultation by bringing copies of documents you would like the attorney to review, up-to-date information about your finances, and any letters, pleadings, or other documents that have come from the Court or your spouse’s attorney.
I hope this helps you in your search for the right attorney.