There are numerous articles telling you what you should ask a divorce attorney before you hire them. The typical advice ranges from the obvious (what are their billing rates) to the not-so-obvious (what percentage of their practice is devoted to your type of case). As a mediator, though, my advice is a little more personal.
While it is important to ask questions about the lawyer's practice, cost and experience, it is also very important that any counsel that you hire understands your goals. The type of lawyer you choose to meet with and hire can have a significant impact on how you view conflict in your case and whether those conflicts are resolved or inflamed (this is what we have previously termed the Observer Effect in Family Conflict). If the lawyer doesn't value or agree with your goals then your are guaranteed to have a negative experience in your case.
First, you need to make sure you understand your own goals and can articulate them. Ask yourself the following questions before you meet with an attorney:
- What is the most important issue for you?
- What do you need?
- What do you hope to accomplish in your case?
- What do you want your life to look like after your case is over?
- What do you want for yourself out of life?
- What do you want for the other people involved in your case?
- If your case involves children, what do your children need and what do you want for your children?
- Why are you choosing to meet with an attorney (instead of or in addition to a counselor, coach, mediator or other divorce professional)?
Now you are prepared to explain to your potential attorney what your goals and needs are and to then ask the attorney:
- Do you understand my goals?
- What are the different options for me to accomplish what I want in my case?
- How is your role different in each option, for instance if I choose mediation what would your role be?
- How do you prioritize potentially conflicting goals, such as reducing conflict vs. getting the best deal?
- If we disagree during the case about the best way for me to attain or prioritize my goals, how will you handle that disagreement?
These questions are not about testing the attorney's ability to think on their feet or their experience with your type of case. Instead, these questions are designed to illicit answers that will help you know whether this attorney is a good fit for you. Do they share your approach and your style or will their style conflict with yours? Going through any type of family dispute can be extremely stressful, and you want to find an attorney that reduces that stress by understanding you and your goals.
I once heard an attorney tell a client that the client got to set the destination, but that the attorney was the one who drove the bus. If you're concerned about who the attorney might run over getting to your destination then you may want to ensure that you hire an attorney who lets you navigate too.