When divorce becomes more of an eventuality than a possibility, you will need to begin thinking about the attorney you will hire to protect your interests. Technically speaking, you are not required to retain legal counsel during a divorce, but to proceed without one can be a costly mistake.
There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of attorneys to choose from in the greater Chicago area, so how do you know which one is right for you? During your search, you should compile a list of several law firms or lawyers whose values seem to align with yours, then schedule an appointment to meet with them. It is also helpful to prepare a list of questions that can help you determine the best choice. These may include:
- How long have you practiced family law? – While young lawyers certainly deserve a chance to prove themselves, there is no substitute for experience. It is also worth finding out how much of the attorney's practice is dedicated to divorce and family-related matters. If your candidate is a personal injury lawyer who handles one or two divorce cases per year, you may want to look elsewhere.
- Will I speak directly with you each time I call? – This question addresses two concerns at the same time. First, how accessible will your attorney be? Your divorce can be slowed considerably if you are not able to communicate well with your lawyer. The second concern is that of the division of labor. Is your attorney planning to remain active in your case or will legwork be handed off to an associate, paralegal, or secretary?
- How much do you charge? – Again, this question includes multiple components. Some attorneys offer divorce representation for a flat rate, which can be suddenly disregarded later as your case becomes more complex. Most, however, charge an hourly rate, so it is important to know what constitutes billable time and what the smallest billing increment is. For example, if you attorney says that time spent answering your email is billable, will he or she charge in increments of 6 minutes—tenths of an hour—or 15 minutes—quarters of an hour? The difference between the two can add up quickly.
- How committed are you to reaching an amicable settlement? – Studies have shown that a negotiated divorce agreement is often more stable and easier to follow than a judgment issued by the court. If such an agreement can be reached, you and your attorney should remain committed to the process until a resolution is found. Some attorneys are quick to push for litigation, while others all but refuse to enter the courtroom. By asking questions, you can ascertain where your candidate stands and whether the intended approach matches your needs.
Of course, there are dozens of other questions you may have. These are just a few of the most basic ones to get the ball rolling....