Anyone who owns a business knows the importance of a thorough interview process. The interview process is designed to enable the interviewee to showcase their skills, summarize their successes, and prove to you that they can do the job. You expect to be interviewed before being hired, so why wouldn’t you expect to interview an attorney before you hire?
When you and your partner decide to enter into divorce proceedings, the process can be long, frustrating, and often emotional. Finding an attorney that is qualified, experienced, and a right fit for you will make the process quicker, easier, and less frustrating.
If you feel uncomfortable conducting an interview with an attorney, don’t! We are used to this process and expect this process from our clients who are serious about finding the best attorney for them. It is also important to your attorney that we are a good fit for you. At the Hills Law Group, we have experienced many different divorce proceedings and worked with our clients to create an experience as pleasant and smooth as possible. We know how difficult the process is and giving our clients the easiest, most seamless experience necessary is a priority to us. In order to meet that priority, we, too, benefit from the interview process.
When you are considering hiring an attorney, ask them if they would participate in an interview during the initial consultation. If the attorney declines or tries to charge you for the interview, consider looking elsewhere. Professional, qualified attorneys will welcome the interview process as the first step in a collaborative attorney-client relationship.
This blog will explain the specialties of divorce lawyers and offer helpful questions you can use during the interview process.
When looking for a divorce attorney, the first thing to understand is specialties. No matter how much your Uncle Harry just loves his attorney, how successful his attorney is, or how many times he has recommended his attorney to you, if his attorney is not a specialized divorce attorney, you want to reconsider before calling.
If you had a heart attack, would you allow an orthopedic surgeon to operate? Probably not. The orthopedic surgeon could be world-renowned and exceptionally gifted but it doesn’t mean the orthopedic skills will transfer to heart surgery. The same is true when considering an attorney. Find an attorney who specializes in divorce.
Make sure your lawyer’s experience and specializations match the intricacies of your divorce. Every divorce is exceptionally different. You must first identify the major areas that will be dealt with in your divorce and find an attorney with specialization and/or experience in those areas. For example, if your divorce will include child custody, you may want to consider a divorce attorney with experience in family law. If your divorce will include businesses or real estate and has more complex financials, consider an attorney who is experienced in accounting and/or finances. Once you’ve identified the areas most important to your divorce, you will be able to easily identify an attorney with specialized experience in those areas.
Interviewing Divorce Attorneys
Once you’ve identified the most important areas and found an attorney whose experience and specialization matches, you next want to prepare a list of questions to ask during the interview.
First, identify the areas that are most important to you. Do you care how long they have been practicing law? Is prompt contact and ongoing collaboration most important to you? Is money a consideration? Whatever you identify as the most important parts of your relationship with your attorney will guide the questions to ask during the interview. Keep the interview short (15 – 20 minutes) and ensure you are asking the most important questions to you.
Here is a short list of questions to ask when interviewing your divorce attorney:
1. How much of your practice is devoted to divorce? How long have you been practicing family law? How many divorce cases have you handled?
Rather than asking your attorney how long they have been practicing law, a much more direct question is asking how long they’ve been practicing divorce or family law. You may also want to ask the attorney how much litigation (or court) experience they have. If you expect your divorce will end up in court or will involve more complex legal disclosures such as discovery, the use of experts etc., you want an attorney who has experience with these proceedings.
2. What is your strategy for my case? How long will it take to resolve my case?
Although your attorney probably won’t have a direct, focused strategy to win your case during the interview, their answer here will give you a very good look into their character, their style, and their collaborative methods. You will also get a clearer idea of how fast the attorney works and how much of a priority your case is to them. This is also a chance for you to discuss your strategy and establish if the attorney’s strategy lines up.
3. How long do you take to return phone calls? How do I get a hold of you if there is an emergency? What do you consider to be an emergency?
Communication is an important element in collaboration. While you want an attorney who is attentive to your needs, an attorney who has no other cases and is able to call you back immediately could be a sign of inexperience. What you want is an attorney who considers communication with you important, who understands priority communication, and who offers a number of communication methods. For example, an attorney might not have the time to discuss the outcome of meeting with you but will send a follow-up email immediately following the meeting. It’s important to consider this answer and ensure it aligns with your expectations. Such consideration can prevent frustrations further into the working relationship.
4. Will anyone else in your office be working on my case? What experience do they have? Can I meet them?
While the partner is delegated as the head of a case, most firms depend on associates to complete much of the legal work. Although this is the generally accepted business model in larger firms, choosing a boutique firm in the Orange County area will ensure you work and collaborate with the attorney you meet on that first day. You will receive one-on-one attention and not have to worry about the other associates working on your case. These smaller boutique offices offer to enhance communication, close collaboration, and are much more client focused.
5. How will you charge me? What is your hourly rate? Do you charge for the time I spend with other lawyers, with paralegals, and/or with secretaries? If so, at what rate? What is your retainer up front?
Money is important. Be sure to ask as many questions about hourly rates, billing, and payment as you feel comfortable. You don’t want to get mid-way through the proceedings and discover hidden charges or unexpected bills. A professional attorney will give you a detailed breakdown of billing and prices and work with you to enter into a payment plan. Boutique firms may also offer more flexibility to billing and additional pricing options.
6. What hard costs do you expect will be involved (for example, for private investigators, forensic accountants, physicians, and/or psychologists), and how will you charge me for them?
These tie into the money question above. Attorneys will often contract outside experts, particularly during asset division and child custody agreements. Be sure to ask your attorney what experts he believes may be warranted in the case and an estimated price for these experts.
7. What’s your estimate of the total cost of this divorce?
This is an excellent question to decide the trustworthiness of your lawyer. An honest attorney who wants to build a collaborative relationship based on transparency will often answer that it is difficult to estimate the costs in advance, but provide you with the firm’s detailed pricing and billing information. An attorney who gives you an unrealistically low amount may just be trying to get your business or has a limited understanding of your divorce. The answer you want here is truthfulness with some billing and payment information, as well as a billing plan that includes your approval as you move through the proceedings.
8. How can I keep the cost of my divorce down? Are there tasks that I can do myself to cut down on the amount you will charge me?
As you consider the billing and payment information the attorney gives you, ask them if there are any areas you could complete on your own or together with the other party. If you are amicable, there may be a lot of preliminary work you can do together and then bring to your lawyers for consideration. Your attorney should work with you to identify some of these areas and help you understand your role.
10. What do I need to know about my case or divorce proceedings before we begin?
This question gives the attorney a chance to tell you what they think about your case, and it gives you a chance to experience their communication and collaborative style. An important part of the attorney-client relationship involves the attorney communicating issues, laws, and details of the case to their client in a way that the client will understand. This question will give you a look into the attorney’s ability and style of communication and give you some insight into parts of the proceedings you may not have considered.