The following is a taken from Mark W. Haefner’s book, “Exit Strategy”, which is available for free by calling Haefner Law Office at 314-200-6101, or free to download here.
Many spouses thinking about divorce will procrastinate because they feel overwhelmed.
As soon as you think there may be a divorce, you should interview two or three attorneys who practice family law exclusively.
Some very important choices are made early in the process, and you need to make smart decisions now.
Divorce changes everything—from temporary support to health insurance—and family lawyers have important advice to share.
The first step in the divorce process is researching local divorce lawyers.
Look at online reviews. Talk to people you respect and trust. If you know a lawyer, ask for a referral.
Always ask for referrals to lawyers who practice family law only when possible. Most attorneys will agree to talk with you for a consultation.
Many experienced family attorneys require a fee for such meetings, but the phone consultation is usually free.
Armed with several referrals, read any one lawyer’s website, paying particular attention to his or her detailed professional biography and awards, if any.
You want a lawyer with expertise in family law and a serious commitment to that particular legal field, and a lawyer who practices family law exclusively demonstrates that commitment.
Family lawyers keep up to speed in their complex area of law by being members of the Missouri Bar Association Family Law Section, and other organizations specifically concerned with family law.
Subscriptions to monthly family law newsletters and books help lawyers track changes in the law.
Without a specific commitment to family law, many lawyers who practice in other areas won’t have the right reference material in their offices or to access online.
Every day the courts of appeal issue new opinions, and every year legislatures enact new laws.
Child support guidelines are updated every three years or so, so keeping up isn’t easy.
Find lawyers who display leadership and involvement with professional associations such as presenting seminars for judges, lawyers, and other divorce professionals, and check if they have published books and articles.
Gauging a lawyer’s leadership capabilities, public speaking experience, and history of publishing in family law is one way to objectively consider a lawyer’s reputation and competence.
Watch out for lawyers who do not focus on family law.
Experienced family lawyers can tell horror stories about being asked to repair devastating legal problems caused by lawyers who made avoidable mistakes.
But hiring a more expensive lawyer won’t guarantee a better result either.
Finding a cheap divorce attorney is certainly not the best strategy either.
You must do your homework and get someone who has good reviews and specializes in family law.
Make calls and set up consultations.
Expect the lawyer’s staff to be professional and courteous.
When you arrive at a lawyer’s office, expect the lawyer to pay attention to you and to be patient and answer your questions.
Expect your lawyer to be assertive without being arrogant.
Trust your intuition.
Run away from any lawyer who acts like you are lucky to be his or her client, or who makes promises on outcomes.
Expect the lawyer to present himself or herself in a professional manner.
The lawyer and the lawyer’s office should not be a mess.
Chapter 12 (of “Exit Strategy”) offers a thorough list of documents your attorney will ultimately need, but for your initial consultation with your attorney it could be helpful to have your hands on important documents, including:
You have every right to understand what the lawyer says; even if your contemplated divorce involves complicated aspects of law, it’s not a good sign if you don’t understand what is being said.
Expect the lawyer to keep your children’s best interest in mind.
A custody fight can be more devastating to children than to the couple involved.
Experienced and caring lawyers can teach you how to keep children out of the fray.
Some lawyers may refuse to represent parents who are hell-bent on putting their children in the middle of the litigation’s crosshairs.
Expect the lawyer to have a policy for returning calls, and some will even have their policies in this matter in writing.
Ask to see it and read it.
If a lawyer’s clients are unhappy, the most likely reason is that the lawyer continually failed to return calls and keep them updated.
Even though you should not feel you are personal friends with your lawyer, you should expect to feel comfortable on a professional level.
Expect the lawyer to interview you too.
Don’t be offended.
You want a lawyer who is selective in taking cases.
For a number of important reasons, better family lawyers are not interested in representing everyone.
Just like you may not feel comfortable with the lawyer, the lawyer may not feel comfortable with you.
That’s okay. If that happens, don’t take it personally.
Expect the lawyer to be up-front about who will taking lead on your case.
Some portions of every case can be handled by a competent paralegal under an attorney’s supervision, which can save you money.
Some clients may wish to spend most of their time with their attorney directly, though, seeking strategic planning and full discussion of all issues.
On the other hand, some clients would rather keep billing to a minimum by spending most of their time with paralegals.
Be sure to discuss your preference with your lawyer during the consultation.
Listen to what the lawyer has to say.
Determine if your goals are consistent.
Be wary of any lawyer who tells you what they think you want without listening to you.
Expect the lawyer to tell you exactly how he or she will try to get your case settled.
Expect the lawyer to be candid about his or her family law experience and current caseload.
Experience is important because less-experienced lawyers may advise clients to take unrealistic positions or have expectations not based on reality.
While no lawyer can predict the future, perspective and judgment come from winning and also losing cases over a career (as no attorney wants to repeat a loss).
Also, a lawyer with too many cases at one time without a team to help manage the caseload can be as detrimental to your case as a lawyer who does not have enough experience.
The most important factors to consider when hiring a lawyer are your confidence in the lawyer, experience, accessibility, responsiveness, compatibility, style, negotiating skills, reputation, and fees.
Expect a lawyer full of promises to be just that.
Family law is rarely black and white.
Leading you to believe a particular outcome is guaranteed can be downright irresponsible.
While it is human nature to gravitate toward a more positive person, the most important part of being a lawyer is advising a client about the realities of a situation.
The outcome of your divorce will almost always relate more to your ability to make smart decisions rather than the lawyer’s courtroom skill. Smart decision-making starts with understanding what can go wrong as well as what can go right, and a good attorney will make sure you understand this.
As a divorce attorney in St. Louis, we have heard our fair share of questions from clients regarding their divorce.
Questions are good.
Having a clear idea as to how the process works and the things to consider when filing for divorce will make the process go much more smoothly.
Here are some questions we always recommend our clients ask themselves when filing for divorce:
You should expect a clear picture of an attorney’s billing and payment policies.
The lawyer should detail the hourly rates of everyone in the office who will work on your case.
Some lawyers may charge a flat rate divorce fee.
If so, be sure to understand exactly what the flat fee covers.
You should learn how the lawyer charges for expenses such as photocopies, discovery costs, court reporters, and other expenses associated with your case.
Learn whether you are supposed to pay these expenses in advance.
Different lawyers have different definitions of the word “retainer,” so ask.
Be concerned with the detailed nature of the billing statements or invoices.
You should be able to clearly understand what work was performed and the length of time it took to complete the tasks.
Flat rates, hourly rates, and retainers vary greatly and depend on the lawyer’s practice, case load, and popularity.
If you ask experienced, professional family lawyers why divorces cost so much, they will tell you that it’s due to revenge, pride, and fear on the part of one or both spouses.
Aggrieved spouses seek revenge by directing their attorney to make the process as painful and expensive as possible.
In other cases, a high price tag may be reasonable if one party has been denied access to the other’s documents or accounts, causing costly discovery and motion practice.
Some other estates are just plain complicated or include assets that are difficult to value such as closely held businesses or professional practices.
Tell the lawyer what you can and cannot afford to pay.
You should agree to receive legal services only if you’ll be able to pay for them.
Contact Haefner Law Office at (314) 200-6101, and set up your free 30-minute phone consultation with a dedicated family law attorney to discuss your case, get some guidance, and see if we are the right fit for you.
It may just be the most important call you ever make.