What qualities in a matrimonial attorney are
As a prerequisite, the attorney must have a
demonstrated level of competence in matrimonial law. The
attorney need not handle only matrimonial cases, nor need he be
well known in the legal community, but he should have handled a
sufficient number of cases to be able to conduct yours
efficiently and properly. Resist the temptation to use a friend
of the family or your business lawyer who has never handled a
matrimonial case. Often such lawyers, however well intentioned,
must bail out of the case if and when it becomes too
complicated, leaving you in the unenviable position of having to
find a new lawyer in the middle.
Next, and equally important, you must feel at ease with the
lawyer. Some men feel more comfortable with a female lawyer,
others would not consider anyone but an older, male attorney.
Some women only want a female lawyer, while others, however
feminist they might otherwise be, feel their husband will only
listen to a man. However, do not hire a lawyer solely based upon
how you think your spouse will react to that lawyer. First, it
is the two lawyers--not your spouse and your lawyer (unless your
spouse is not going to hire a lawyer)--who will be dealing with
each other, so what your spouse thinks of your lawyer will be
irrelevant. Furthermore, your level of comfort is more important
than your spouse's level of discomfort.
Recognize, too, that hiring a "shark" (a term used for highly
aggressive lawyers) in order to impress your spouse is foolish.
You are getting divorced. What your spouse thinks--even if you
think a certain attorney will scare her into resolving the
case--should not play a role in who you select. Rarely do such
tactics succeed in any event.
Be sure you can afford the lawyer's fees. Ask about fees at the
initial consultation, and if the lawyer refuses to discuss them,
do not allow yourself to be put off. You would not buy a dress
or suit without first knowing its cost. When you hire a lawyer,
you must have that information. (See also retainers and fees.)
Be sure to know how accessable the lawyer will be. Will your
case be too small for a well-known lawyer to devote his time to
it? Is there going to be another attorney, more junior, handling
the matter as well? If there is, ask to meet that lawyer. Having
two attorneys work on your case is not necessarily bad. One
attorney, usually an associate who bills at a lower rate than
the other attorney, can do a lot of the paper work that a case
may generate, while the more expensive attorney can handle
negotiations and actual trial work. If two or more attorneys
will be working on the case, ask how the work is divided and
whether you will be billed for both lawyers when the two are
working together. Some law firms will automatically bill you for
both attorneys, other firms will only bill you for both when the
work requires two lawyers, such as at a complicated trial, and
still other firms will only bill at the rate of the more
expensive attorney working on your case. You can try to
negotiate with the lawyer, if you feel the costs will be
What shouldn't I expect from an attorney?
Although by its very nature divorce requires you to divulge
information to your lawyer even your spouse does not know, your
lawyer is not your "buddy," there to offer solace and hear the
latest tidbit. In short, while you and your lawyer may be or
become friends, her job is to marshal facts into sound legal
arguments, not to provide a constant shoulder to cry on.
Nor should you expect your lawyer to offer psychological advice.
Questions concerning the children's welfare or your emotional
state should be addressed to the appropriate mental health
expert. Once you have information from that expert, you can
present it to your attorney and ask that she try to obtain
relief from the court, or from negotiations, in accordance with
Finally, attorneys cannot act as career counselors. For many,
divorce means a major change in economic status, and there is a
need to begin to take steps to developing a marketable skill. A
lawyer can explain how long you can expect to receive support
from your spouse, but she can't tell you what field to pursue or
how to become more economically independent. Career counselors
are available to provide such help.