Written by attorney Galen Gentry

15 questions to ask a prospective divorce lawyer before you hire

It is natural when dealing with professionals from dentists to the guy that fixes your car that asking questions about their qualifications and skills is embarrassing and a little intimidating.

That's all well and good if we're talking about an oil change or a transmission job, or a root canal but a divorce is one of the important events in your life. And the jokes about lawyers caring more for the their fees than their clients have some truth to them.

Here are 15 Questions You Should Ask Potential Divorce Lawyers Before Hiring. Your lawyer should be able to answer these questions. If he or she cannot it is a bad sign, and I would urge you to pick someone else. Feel free to take notes during your meeting.

Question 1: Does the county have a self-contained family law division of judges familiar with dissolution law, or is there a chance that a motion or trial will be heard by a judge with unknown family law experience?

Question 2: Are there one or two appraisers or auction houses in the geographical area that do most of the furniture evaluation in dissolution cases?

Question 3: In this county do all judges refer custody disputes to mental health professionals to prepare a recommendation to the court.

Question 4: Is mediation of custody disputes confidential or will the mediator reveal my statements to the judge.

Question 5: If mediation fails is the mediator the person who makes a custody recommendation to the court.

Correct answers to questions 1 to 5 above are an indication that the lawyer is capable of representing you in a custody or visitation dispute and knows the county procedures regarding family law and property division issues. An attorney who does not know the local procedures for determining these matters is at a disadvantage which means you are at a disadvantage. You should also ask about the following issues relating your relationship with the attorney.

Question 6: Is the attorney a certified family law specialist? This doesn't mean the attorney is great. But it is something to consider. It means the attorney passed an examination on family law and is required to take a certain number of continuing education classes in family law each year.

Question 7: Is the attorney rated by Martindale Hubbell? An A-V rating is the highest possible and only 5 percent of U.S. attorneys have the rating. It's an indication of the highest legal skill and ethical conduct.

Question 8: Even more important is how many divorce cases does the attorney handle. Is he a "dabbler"? Is he offering to take the case as a favor to you or a friend? If so he's not the right guy. Family is very complex in California. You can't "wing" it.

Question 9: Is the firm a divorce mill? (Not a good sign.) A divorce mill handles lots of cases. At your first meeting you will be introduced to the owner, or a partner. After that all work on your matter will be done by non-lawyers or inexperienced young lawyers. Your interrogatory responses will be drafted by these persons. Pleadings drafted by these persons. Experts will be hired by these inexperienced persons and when it comes time to go to court Mr. Big will appear, and may be prepared to argue the motion. But, he won't know your cases and won't be able to intelligently discuss settlement, and for that matter won't want to discuss settlement because it will cut off a firm income stream. Your case means money to the divorce mill.

Question 10: Will the attorney send you copies of all letters sent to and received from opposing counsel, and copies of all pleadings filed with the court? (A good practice is to send these documents as .pdf files via email to make it easy for the client to store them.) You want this so you can remain current on your case status.

Question 11: Will the attorney personally return calls about substantive questions? Obviously, if you are calling to confirm a hearing date or a location you needn't speak with your lawyer, but if you have a question about the matter it is better to be able to speak to the lawyer or lawyers working on the case.

Question 12: What other lawyer will work on the case for you? If your spouse files an emergency motion for example (known as an ex parte motion) and your attorney has a conflicting appointment who will accompany you to court?

Question 13: Will you be charged for secretarial time? (I think this practice is very unfair to a client. Beware also of being charged for paralegal time. A paralegal is not a lawyer. He or she is usually simply an experienced secretary. Charging for paralegal time is something you should refuse to do.)

Question 14: Will the attorney be willing to suggest a settlement conference to opposing counsel as soon as possible? Usually after you and your spouse have made their financial data available. Will the attorney be willing to commit to a face-to-face settlement conference if your spouse's attorney agrees? (Obviously, the more you can agree upon the less there is to fight about and the less traumatic, expensive and time consuming your divorce will be)

Question 15: If your spouse already has an attorney, ask if the attorney is familiar with the lawyer. Has the attorney worked with the other lawyer before? Does the spouse's attorney normally make reasonable efforts to settle the case?

I suggest you interview two to four lawyers, and more if you are not comfortable with the ones with whom you have spoken. Some lawyers offer free consultations. Some do not. It is worth it to pay what is a small amount compared to the total fee in trying to select the right attorney for you. Whether a lawyer is a good lawyer is probably moot. Of course you need a good lawyer. The real issue is will your lawyer put your interests first or line her pockets unnecessarily at your expense. Obviously, you need a lawyer who will put your interests first.

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