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Survival Guide Questions and Answers About Picking A Lawyer To Represent You

Excerpted From "The Survival Manual For Women In Divorce" and

Excerpted From "The Survival Manual For Women In Divorce" and

"Survival Manual For Men In Divorce"

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Maybe you've already asked friends to recommend a lawyer. Or you've paged through a phone directory, wondering if there was a better way to find the right attorney for your case. Here, you'll discover the dos and donts of choosing a lawyer. We'll also offer some money-saving tips on how to get the most out of the time you spend with an attorney.


How do I find an attorney?

It will take some work on your part, especially if you want to find an experienced domestic relations lawyer. But it will pay to shop around.

Where do I start? Any suggestions?

1. Ask friends who have gone through a divorce if they have a recommendation.

2. Ask a member of the clergy.

3. Visit the courthouse and observe the lawyers in action. (A phone call to the clerk's office can get you the date and location of cases and hearings)

4. Contact the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, Twenty North Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60602, (312) 263-6477.

5. Contact the American Bar Association, 750 North Lakeshore Drive, Chicago, Illinois 60611, (312) 988-5520.

6. Go to a library and look through a volume called "Martindale Hubble." This monstrous book has listings of lawyers by city throughout the United States. Read the descriptions of the work the lawyer or firm does, and read the biographies. Look for statements that indicate the lawyer is "Board Certified in Domestic Relations or Family Law", and see if he/she is active in organizations for domestic relations lawyers. Although the listings and information are supplied and paid for by the lawyer, this book is an excellent method of narrowing down your choice.

7. Call the state bar association and ask if they have a listing of lawyers who are members of the "Family Law Section" who live in your area. Note: some states now have certified specialists in family law. Ask if your state has such a system and obtain the names of several in your area.

8. Call the local bar association, listed in the white pages of the phone book, and ask if they have a lawyer referral service for domestic relations lawyers. (Sometimes the number for the referral service will be in the yellow pages before or after the listings of lawyers.) Remember that a referral is not a recommendation as to the competence of the lawyer.

9. Use the yellow pages of the phone book. Read the ads, looking for an indication that the lawyer specializes or emphasizes divorce work.

What are some things that I should not do?

1. Don't use an attorney that is a family friend or business associate of your spouse. Divided loyalties will probably be a problem.

2. Don't use your spouses' lawyer. (If you do, remember that this lawyer represents your spouse, not you, if the going gets rough.)

3. Don't use a lawyer just because he/she has quoted you the lowest price.

Is it OK to shop around"?

Sure. You need to feel comfortable with the attorney that is going to represent you and you can only find this out by meeting the lawyer face to face. Remember, the decisions the lawyer makes will affect you the rest of your life.

How much will a divorce cost me?

It depends on how complicated the situation is, and how much disagreement there is between the parties.

Should I ask the lawyer how much he/she will charge?

Absolutely. This may be one of the first things you bring up. Don't be hesitant. The attorney should even bring this up if you don't. As stated, the cost will vary depending on the circumstances, so an exact figure may not be possible, but the lawyer should be able to give you a reasonably good estimate and explain how fees are calculated.

I've heard that many attorneys want a part or all of their fee in advance. Why is this?

It's "insurance" that the fee will be paid. In the domestic relations field, it is frequent that a person filing for divorce will change his/her mind and not pay for the work that has been done.

What can I do to prepare for my first meeting with the lawyer?

Good question. Since many charge on an hourly basis, the more time you spend in preparation, the less of his/her time you will take. Here are some items of information to write down:

1. Information on your family such as name and ages of you, your spouse, and your children, when and where you were married, and how long you have lived in the county and state.

2. Ballpark figures on your family's finances, such as income, expense, property, and life insurance.

3. A summary of your marital problems

4. See Appendix B of book for a complete list.

What if I can't get some of this information from my spouse?

Your attorney can subpoena this information which means getting it through legal channels. This can be expensive so it is helpful if each of you provide this information for each other.

What questions should I ask my attorney?

You should ask questions such as:

1. How will I be charged?

2. What are the types of expenses I will be liable for, and how much do you think these will run?

3. How many divorce cases did you handle last year?

4. What portion of your law practice is devoted to divorces?

5. If we have to go to trial, what is your divorce trial experience?

6. Will you handle the case yourself, or will an assistant do the work?

7. What is expected of me?

8. What can I do to help you?

9. Tell me about temporary alimony and/or child support.

Who pays for my lawyer?

As a general rule, you must retain and pay for your own attorney in a divorce case.

What if I can't afford to hire a good attorney or expert witnesses because my husband handles the money?

It is typical that many women do not hire the help they need because for whatever reason, they feel they cannot pay for it. This divorce will affect your entire financial future and you cannot afford to scrimp now.

Any final hints?

Yes. First, tell your lawyer that you want him/her to tell you the good news and bad news, and not just what he/she thinks you want to hear. Secondly, don't use a lawyer unless you are comfortable with him/her. Depend on your "gut reaction", and if you don't feel comfortable, try someone else. Finally, don't use your lawyer as a therapist. They are not trained for such a role and will have to charge you for their time, even if you just want someone to listen to you.

© Carol Ann Wilson, Certified Financial Planner, and Edwin Schilling, III, Attorney at Law, Authors of "Survival Manuals"


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