If you're considering divorce, or your spouse has already filed for divorce, you're about to go through one of the most important transitions of your life. One of the first, and most important, decisions you'll have to make in this process is the attorney who will represent you. Your choice of attorney really does make a difference, both to the outcome of your case and to your experience of the divorce process.
There are hundreds of attorneys in Minnesota who hold themselves out as practicing family law. How do you begin to choose? Here are three things you should look for in a divorce attorney, and one surprising thing you shouldn't.
Unsurprisingly, you want a divorce attorney who is experienced, but experience means more than how many years an attorney has practiced. An attorney who has been practicing for thirty years, but only takes on the occasional divorce, may not be as good of a choice as an attorney who's been practicing a shorter time, but handles exclusively family law cases. Family law attorneys will not only have more experience with divorce cases in general, but will have a finger on the pulse of family law developments, because that's their livelihood. They'll be familiar with the courts, with other divorce attorneys, and with best practices. An experienced divorce attorney may also be able to offer you alternatives to litigation, such as Collaborative Divorce.
Remember to ask: “What percentage of your practice is family law and divorce?” and “How long have you been practicing family law?”
Experience is important, but so is having time to give each case the attention it deserves. To that end, you want an attorney who is reasonably busy, but doesn't take on more cases than he or she can handle. When that happens, deadlines can get missed and crucial corners can get cut. At the very least, the attorney probably won't have time to respond to your calls and e-mails as quickly as you may need. An attorney should be able to explain to you how she makes decisions about managing her caseload, and let you know her process for keeping you informed throughout your case.
Remember to ask: “How do you decide how many cases to take on at one time?” and “If I have questions, how quickly will you get back to me?”
A very important factor that many people overlook is compatibility with their divorce attorney. Just like other people, attorneys have their own personalities and different approaches to their work. An “aggressive” attorney might sound like someone who will successfully fight for you, but in practice he or she might stir up conflict, which leads to more court hearings, difficulty reaching settlement, and higher legal fees. You need an attorney who can protect your interests, especially when you're feeling vulnerable, but who will not fight just for the sake of fighting. A good divorce attorney will also listen to and respect your opinions, but will also be willing to communicate truths you may not want to hear.
Remember to ask: “How would you expect to approach my divorce case?” and “How will you involve me in decision making about my case?”
Tread carefully with an attorney who promotes his practice primarily by advertising a low rate. There are several reasons for this. An attorney with a very low hourly rate may be inexperienced and need to charge less per hour in order to attract business. Attorneys typically don't emphasize price unless they know they can't compete on quality or experience. Unfortunately, those are also the attorneys who take on too many cases in order to make ends meet. Their inexperience may also cause them to take longer to accomplish work, meaning that you pay a low rate per hour, but multiply it by more hours.
That doesn't mean that a good attorney won't try to help you manage costs and conserve your resources, of course. But he or she will never compromise your case to save a few dollars.
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