The process of finding an attorney to represent you in your divorce can feel confusing and overwhelming. Is the lawyer charging a fair price? How do you know his or her style is the right fit? The attorney may seem friendly and attentive now, but what about down the road? Here are 5 inside secrets some divorce attorneys DON’T want you to know about hidden costs and strong-arm tactics to retain clients. Finding a good attorney becomes much easier when you know how to avoid these five common traps.
Secret #1: Say No to the “Yes” Lawyer
As you interview law firms, be on the lookout for attorneys who sugarcoat your chances of success by making unreasonable promises, especially if you have yet to give them any substantial documentation. We know that some lawyers will tell you what you want to hear, no matter what the question, essentially “yessing” you throughout your first meeting. Without having much information to go on, these lawyers will intentionally guarantee a successful (and sometimes unrealistic) outcome for your specific divorce matter as a selling point for you to sign their retainer agreement.
To avoid this trap, look to retain a divorce lawyer who will candidly review your options and provide realistic probability of success based ONLY on the unique facts of your case. Bottom line, watch out for attorneys who seem to be over-promising. They probably are, and you may end up paying for this with a divorce settlement that is far from your desired outcome.
Secret #2: Be Aware That “Rock Bottom” Retainers Often Lead to More Expenses
Many people are often under the mistaken impression that an initial retainer fee equates to the actual cost of handling a divorce matter. This is not true. A retainer is only an initial advance on work undertaken by the attorney. Some lawyers will take advantage of this common misconception by trying to hook you into signing a retainer agreement with a low retainer fee. After these funds are quickly depleted, however, a refresher payment will be required for the lawyer to continue to work on your file.
If you make a decision based upon the lowest quoted fee, be aware that the initial costs are not indicative of how much the entire case will ultimately cost. You would be best served by making your final decision based upon your confidence in the attorney’s ability, their experience, their strategy and your overall comfort level.
Secret #3: Solo Practitioners Won’t Tell You How Busy They Are
Some people seek out the services of a solo practitioner because they perceive that these professionals can provide them with personalized services and attention during this difficult time in their lives. Since solo attorneys often operate alone, there are naturally going to be times when they will be out of the office or working on another file and unable to assist you for an indeterminate amount of time.
When consulting with a solo practitioner, make sure to evaluate their support system, case load and vacation schedules. Be up front in asking them, do you have time right now to make my case a priority? If the solo practitioner does not have adequate support staff in the office, your call may be lost in a web of voice mail messages. Since so many family related cases are time sensitive and require immediate attention, it is imperative to ensure that your matter will not take a back seat to their other cases and that there will be appropriate staff members available to help you at all times.
Secret #4: Overly Aggressive “Shark” Attorneys May End Up Costing You More
Anyone who is going through a contentious divorce will sometimes look to hire the services of a lawyer who has a reputation of being a “shark” attorney. This is probably because they feel vulnerable during the process and therefore want to seek out a divorce lawyer who can fight the “big battle” and get aggressive at every turn. In your search for the right attorney be careful not to misinterpret an overly litigious lawyer from a strong one. There is a significant difference between acting zealously on your behalf and simply creating work for billing purposes (i.e. being overly litigious). There is a time to negotiate toward a reasonable settlement and there is a time to litigate. “Sharks” are hired to take the most irrational positions, even if it means making mountains out of molehills. While this aggressive approach might intimidate your spouse, it will also cost you significant time and money. Plus, if the court believes that you and your counsel are taking unreasonable positions, you may be responsible for paying your spouse’s legal fees as well. Ultimately, you want a strong attorney who will not take advantage of your desire to fight.
Secret #5: Flat Rate Divorce Fees Often Fall Flat
You may see advertised that for one low “fixed price,” an attorney will handle your divorce from Complaint to settlement, guaranteed. Sounds like the a good deal, right? It may be, if your divorce ends up requiring the amount of work the fee covers. However, perhaps your divorce could have been settled for much less? Or on the other hand, what if issues in your divorce arise that require a great deal of time of attention and time in court? A lawyer who has promised to handle your divorce for a certain fixed amount may not be willing to go to the lengths needed to truly represent your best interests because of the added time and lack of payment. When it comes to fixed price divorces — as with almost anything related to divorce — proceed with caution and carefully think through your options.