Family proceedings are often a stressful, emotional and lonely experience. As helpful as people try to be well–meaning non–professional advice can simply add pressure on you. Your divorce lawyer is there to be a constant support to you and to help guide you through the process.
You don’t choose your lawyer to be your friend. You choose him/her to be your committed advocate and sympathetic adviser. Your lawyer should be the one person you can rely on to steadfastly look after your interests. Look at advertisements. The Yellow Pages is a good place to start. Search for those who hold themselves out as specialists. Lawyers who mix divorce in with other work are unlikely to have either the experience or the commitment to look after you properly.
Check out websites, this will tell you a lot more about their style and the kind of operation they run. Then phone them up and ask about a first interview. Many people think they would prefer a lawyer of their own gender. Other clients have no preferences whether they see a man or woman. In our experience the gender of the lawyer ceases to be an issue within 5 minutes. A good lawyer is a good lawyer and no-one has shown that having a male or a female lawyer makes any difference to client satisfaction or to results.
1. Choose a specialist
Avoid firms who refer you to their “Litigation Department”, this often mixes everything concerning court work together. Firms that specialise solely in Family Law are better equipped to recognise the legal issues in your case.
2. Approaching the firm
You will first need to telephone the firm to discuss making an appointment. You will usually be asked to give a brief summary of your situation to ensure they can assist you and that your case does not involve some sub-speciality they do not practice, such as child abduction and other child issues. All information you give is confidential. If the firm is able to assist in your matter you will then come in for an interview, alternatively if you are unable to do so an interview can be conducted by telephone. The reception you receive will help you decide if you want to continue discussions. If you are told you can make an appointment a fortnight ahead, but are unable to have a preliminary talk to a lawyer, or worse the preliminary talk is charged for, it is not a good omen.
You should be able to give a clear picture of your situation without being charged for it. On the other hand, a free first interview is generally worth precisely what you pay for it – nothing!Find out what the first interview will cost, and how long it is expected to take, and what, if anything you will need to bring with you. In our experience it usually takes the best part of an hour to get all the facts and explain the various options to a potential new client. You are unlikely to find a specialist lawyer at much under 200 per hour, so be prepared to pay according to your individual circumstances.
3. The First Interview
This is where you will know if you have selected the right lawyer. You should come away from the interview knowing what the law says in your situation, what your options are and what steps you need to be thinking about. By the end of the interview you should have a “road map” of where you are going, and an idea of the general options and costs. Quite often this will be all a client wants at that stage. Around half our clients come to our firm for just that, this allows them to leave knowing exactly where they stand.A face to face interview is not always possible. Some of our clients live overseas, but we achieve the same effect by telephone calls and email.
4. Your Divorce Lawyer
Do remember your divorce lawyer can only give legal solutions and legal solutions are not appropriate to all human conflict. Very often, you will be concurrently talking over the issues – or arguing over the issues – with your former partner. There is not much point in telephoning your lawyer to complain that your spouse is so obstinate he/she will not give an inch. The lawyer probably has worked that out already, which is why he or she recommended court proceedings as the means of getting a solution. But you can and should expect them to hear out your emotions as well as your instructions. For example, if you are considering giving away more in negotiations than your lawyer has recommended, your lawyer needs to know the reasons why you are thinking of doing that.
Often mothers will do that because they hope it will lessen their husbands’ aggression from the breakdown of the marriage, and so improve things for the children. Men may be feeling guilty. Your lawyer needs to hear that, and you need to hear your lawyer’s advice as to whether that is realistic. When you give instructions to your lawyer, things should start to happen. You should keep copies of correspondence and documentation and be informed about what is happening next. You must keep your lawyer updated with your circumstances. Henry Brookman was presenting a husband’s divorce in court one morning when the judge said politely “Perhaps you could look behind you at your client and take some fresh instructions”.
The client and his wife were wrapped in each other’s arms, sobbing; and they walked out of court as a reconciled pair of lovebirds. Warning signs of a solicitor who is not keeping you adequately informed is failure to answer your letters, return your telephone calls, but instead summoning you in for a face–to–face discussion. If after the first interview you simply feel the lawyer is not for you, then do not have any reservations in changing to another lawyer.
Some lawyers have reputations as aggressive fighters, and others as mild mannered conciliators. A good divorce lawyer will be able to wear both hats. There is no “one size fits all” solution. You may have a tough-minded and aggressive partner who takes a delight in the idea of a court showdown. If so, your lawyer should be able to give him that with interest. But more often it is a matter of the lawyer persisting in getting some facts and figures, perhaps applying a bit of pressure, perhaps giving your partner time to catch up, and then opening up a firm but amicable negotiation.
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