Do a search for “divorce lawyer” or “family law attorney” in your area, and you’ll come up with dozens — maybe hundreds — of names. How do you know which one to choose? Does it matter?
The truth is, yes, it matters.
The lawyer you choose to represent you in a divorce can have a big impact on both the process and the outcome. They’ll be offering guidance, and you’ll be relying on their expertise.
Hopefully, you’ll only go through this once. Your divorce attorney can bring insight and strategy from hundreds or thousands of divorces.
Learning from their website
Like you, your attorney is a human being. They have their own preferences, skills, and ways of looking at the world. Some divorce attorneys love the fight. They’re more likely to handle cases where the parties battle it out in court. They may say as much in their profile.
If you’re not interested in fighting, you’ll find yourself at odds once the representation begins.
You may see a divorce attorney’s website that mentions mediations, amicable divorces, and compromise. Those references can help you identify someone who takes a more peaceful approach. And they may come right out and say it.
You can learn a lot about a divorce lawyer from their website. A little digging can help you find an attorney whose approach matches yours.
These questions will help you get started.
Do they have a particular specialty?
Divorce is not a monolithic experience. You want to work with someone who understands the particular type of process or outcome you seek. You may also need specialized services.
There are many attorneys that specialize in a certain type of divorce or situation. For instance, there are attorneys that work primarily with men. There are attorneys that specialize in situations where there’s abuse or addiction.
If you’re focused on moving forward and looking for a more peaceful divorce process, you’ll want an attorney with that specialty.
Clues on their website? They may refer to uncontested, low-conflict, or amicable divorces. You might see that they’ve received training in mediation or conflict resolution techniques.
How long have they been practicing?
A fresh-out-of-law-school divorce attorney may do a fine job, and they’ll likely have a low rate. But they won’t have the same insights and experience as someone who’s been practicing longer.
Some divorces follow a by-the-book process that’s very straightforward. Unfortunately, you may not know at the beginning how yours will proceed. Plus, less fighting takes more expertise and outside-the-box thinking. Any lawyer can make demands. It takes finesse to help two sides come to an agreement they both accept.
If you know you want a low-drama divorce that doesn’t end up in court, consider choosing someone with more experience.
Have they handled cases like yours?
Your divorce won’t be like anyone else’s because it’s about you and your spouse. That being said, certain shared characteristics of divorce cases might guide your decision-making.
For instance, if you have kids, you should work with an attorney that has helped couples work out custody agreements. If you’re a queer couple, you might want to work with an attorney that’s worked with queer couples in the past.
Separating your interests in a shared business venture as well as your marriage? Work with an attorney who’s handled something similar.
An attorney may not have handled a situation exactly like yours, but you don’t want to go into the process feeling like a guinea pig.
How do they charge?
Not all divorce lawyers use the same fee structure.
The traditional method of charging for divorce lawyers has long been an hourly fee with an upfront retainer. Under this arrangement, you provide a lump sum at the beginning of the relationship — say, $3,500. The lawyer then uses that money to pay themselves as they do the work. So if their hourly rate is $350, they’ll use that money to pay for the first 10 hours of work. If the case is still ongoing at that point, they’ll ask you for a new retainer.
They’ll generally also charge separately for “costs” associated with your case. These are things like filing fees with the court or the cost of postage.
The problem with this fee structure is that attorneys aren’t always right about how much work a case will involve. They may estimate that the whole case will take 10 hours. Then an unexpected issue comes up, and it takes double that. You thought your divorce was going to cost you $3,500. Now you’re getting a bill for another $3,500.
Those surprises can be hard to take.
Some divorce lawyers are working to modernize their fee structures. They recognize that cost uncertainty creates stress in a process that’s already anxiety-inducing.
These attorneys often charge a flat fee rather than an hourly rate. They do their best to effectively estimate the hours they’ll take. But if the divorce ends up taking more time, the attorney bears that risk — not you.
The contract you sign up front determines how much you’ll pay, so there are no surprises.
How accessible are they?
Your divorce lawyer isn’t your therapist or your coach. They shouldn’t be. It’s not what they’re trained to do.
But they should keep the lines of communication open to talk about the ins and outs of your case. Not having access can make you feel anxious or insecure about your case.
Your attorney should encourage you to contact them if you have questions or concerns. They should respond quickly to emails or phone calls — generally within 24 hours unless they’ve notified you otherwise.
It’s important to note firm structure and fee structure can impact access to your attorney.
Here’s how: At a larger firm, your attorney may work closely with an associate or paralegal. That individual may be your primary point of contact rather than the attorney you hired.
Fee structure can also have an impact. If you’re paying an hourly rate and worried about racking up a bigger bill, you may avoid calling with a question. On their end, your attorney may limit conversations if they know you’re cost-conscious.
Do they belong to any groups or associations?
There are state and national organizations focused on more peaceful divorces. For instance, the Amicable Divorce Network is a membership organization of Georgia professionals that help people experience a respectful divorce process.
The Amicable Divorce Network isn’t only attorneys. It’s also mediators, psychologists, divorce coaches and other professionals.
Want to work with an attorney that’s committed to a low-conflict process? Want them to refer you to other committed professionals? Look for an attorney that’s a member of that network.
If you identify as queer or non-binary, you may look for an attorney that’s affiliated with your state’s lambda legal or stonewall bar association. You can also check an attorney’s website for merit-based organizations they’re in. These could be as a state’s legal elite ranking or the National Academy of Family Law Attorneys.
Of course, you’ll want to verify that your attorney is a licensed member of the state bar association.
How do they make you feel?
This last question can seem a bit…squishy. We already said you’re looking for an attorney, not a therapist, right?
True, but things can get pretty personal during a divorce. You may talk to them about events, feelings, or plans you’ve never shared. They may know more about your marriage than your closest friends or family members.
Of course, attorney-client communications are confidential. All lawyers must also follow a set of strict rules of professional ethics. That being said, you want to work with someone you trust — not only to behave ethically but to listen to your wishes and have your best interests at heart.
If you want to work with someone caring and compassionate, look for evidence of that on their website. If it’s aggressive and filled with language about winning, that might not be the right attorney for you.
Reviewing several divorce attorneys’ websites can help you clarify what you want before you pick up the phone. There’s little more overwhelming than an afternoon spent calling every divorce attorney that pops up on Google.
At Porchlight, we’ve built our processes (including our website and our legal clarity session) to create ease during your divorce. The last thing any uncontested divorce lawyer should do is create more stress. Contact us to learn how we can help you have a drama-free divorce.