I had a long talk a couple of weeks ago with a local woman I’ll call Alice, who is on her third divorce lawyer. It was clear the first two she’d hired didn’t do much with the ample retainers she gave them. Now she’s having to start from scratch, not knowing how she’s ever going to afford her divorce. Her husband is stretching out the case, not playing by the rules. She’s terrified of what he’ll do next.
I was dumbstruck when she told me what firm her first attorney came from: not a firm related to any of my sources, but a prominent, highly regarded law firm. She hired a founding partner. My go-to suggestions for hiring an attorney had previously been to:
1. Always ask for personal referrals.
2. Interview several so you can see who truly gets your case.
3. Try to hire the best your money can buy. An inexpensive lawyer might cost more than one whose hourly rate is higher. Why? The good ones know they can get their price, whatever it may be. They’re apt to see right through whatever’s going on. They can wrap it up quickly.
Now, I realize there was a big crack in Commandment Number 3 — to hire the best your money can buy. Alice did. It got her no further than the second two, lesser known, attorneys that followed. (Well, if Attorney #1 had managed her case well, Attorneys #2 and #3 wouldn’t have been necessary.) So what was I to tell the person who has actually hired the best lawyer money can buy, and is crushed her careful choice hasn’t done well by her?
What do I say now?
Here are my revised suggestions, with rose-colored glasses toned down to a cool amber. (I am not a lawyer, nor a legal professional. I’m a journalist who has specialized in crime and legal matters. And I’m someone whose choice of a lawyer was one of the most critical decisions of my life.)
1. Get recommendations from friends and associates
Put out the word that you need a good lawyer, and fast. Your religious and social communities are good sources too. Look for track records. It’s best if there’s a personal connection somewhere; the attorney has more to answer for.
2. Interview several
, or as many as you need to, to strike the right chord. Two of the attorneys who were recommended to me by people I knew were not the right fit. One didn’t get it — my case was already too complicated. The other was going to be out of commission for two weeks because of a surgery. Next. I went to the one recommended in the first place, by my closest friend. He immediately knew what was up, charged a comparatively high retainer, and had my divorce granted in two and a half months. Maybe he wanted to go on vacation. But he also knew the stakes were high, and that the funny stuff had to stop. Too many attorneys let their most beleaguered clients twist in the wind indefinitely.
Read reviews. Make sure to post reviews when an attorney does or does not work out. This helps keep these attorneys in check.
4. Georgia has a “Top 100″ list of attorneys
They’re ranked on track record, reputation, and good will. So anyone whose state has such a list can consult it – but realize it’s just a go-to list. Certainly there will be many excellent lawyers who don’t make the list. However, realize it’s best when your attorney knows the judges and is at home in the local legal community.
5. You might not get what you pay for
Realize a longtime divorce lawyer who heads up a large firm will likely rely heavily on associates. Likewise, realize a self-employed attorney will have limited time for your case. You’ll need to ask the former how much time he or she has to devote to your case (maybe you’ll want a junior partner instead). Ask the latter if he or she can handle the extra workload your case will require, especially if it’s complicated.
5. Trust your personal wisdom and good sense
If I’d gone on recommendation alone, I’d have hired that first attorney who was perfectly adequate for my friends, but who would have been over her head given my buffet of problems.
So — is lawyer-hiring a science? No. Is there some luck involved? Yes. But, even in games that depend partly on chance, knowing what you are doing can do an awful lot to nudge chance in the right direction.
Janie McQueen is a multi-published author and career journalist. She writes columns for major metro newpapers, HopeAfterDivorce.org, FamilyShare.com and LAFamily.com. Visit her website at www.janiemcqueen.com, follow her on Twitter @janiemcqueen.com.