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How To Select a Divorce Lawyer

Everyone has his or her own unique emotional response to the initiation of a divorce. Whether you are the party seeking the divorce, your spouse is seeking the divorce or the decision is mutual, the end of a marriage causes strong emotional reactions for all involved, particularly if children are involved. One key to successfully navigating this dramatic life event is to process and cope with ones' emotions and not allow those emotions to cloud or interfere with sound judgment when selecting your attorney.

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Consider that your divorce attorney's philosophy and approach to handling divorce may substantially impact how hostile the process becomes. A litigious and overly aggressive divorce lawyer may respond to your anger and frustration but this may well foster a contentious divorce process that causes needless financial and emotional harm. Alternatively, a divorce lawyer that prioritizes maintaining family integrity in an empathic manner, who has the ability to both be a zealous advocate and still treat all parties with fairness and respect, focusing the process rather than litigation, may be exactly what you need to minimize the emotional and financial damage of divorce.

So how do you go about selecting such a lawyer? First, assemble a list of possible lawyers to interview. There are several possible sources for lawyer referrals. Friends and family or acquaintances from a school or religious community that went through a divorce would be a good place to start as you can ask the referring person about their particular experience with their lawyer. Professional referrals from lawyers in other practice areas (such as trusts and estates), accountants or private wealth managers may also be helpful. Finally, you can do your own research by visiting the website of your local or state bar association as these groups often have referral services.

Interviews are the next essential step in the attorney selection process. Basic information regarding billable rates and retainer fees can be obtained via a telephone conversation which will help determine if the attorney is in your price range and if a meeting is worthwhile. It is best to have in-person interviews with at least three attorneys. During each interview you should be permitted time to explain the specific facts of your case. Some suggested topics for discussion in an interview are:

  • The attorney's experience in family law matters and any other areas of law.
  • The attorney's philosophy and approach to handling divorce cases; is the attorney's focus on cooperation or a more aggressive approach.
  • The attorney's assessment of the specific issues in your case
  • The attorney's recommended strategy to resolve your case
  • Strategies for handling your case cost effectively
  • The attorney's case load and availability to handle your case
  • The attorney's policy on returning client telephone calls in a timely manner
  • Whether any other attorneys would be involved in your case, and if so, who they are and would they be doing most of the work (sometimes a more senior lawyer conducts the interview while a junior lawyer does much of the work)
  • The billable rate of each attorney that might work on your case and the firm's billing practices.

During the interview, listen carefully to the answers provided and it may be helpful to take notes. Also, your first impression is important to record. After the interview, write down your feelings about the lawyer. Note whether the lawyer made you feel comfortable and whether the lawyer seemed accessible and responsive to your specific concerns. Also note whether the lawyer seemed knowledgeable and confident.

Below are some specific suggestions of what to observe and consider in an interview when seeking a divorce attorney that fosters resolution rather than conflict:

  • Beware of attorneys that agree with your negative comments about your spouse and/or make negative comments about your spouse. This maybe a sign that the attorney plays on clients' emotions to drive up fees.
  • Seek an attorney that will defuse rather than validate your outrage or sense of injustice. The attorney should focus on the divorce solely as a process by which to separate assets and resolve custody issues and not as a method to address all your grievances or prove in court that your spouse is a terrible person.
  • Seek an attorney that discusses optimizing the situation for the entire family, particularly the children.
  • Select an attorney that is sensitive to keeping costs down and that encourages negotiating a settlement. The attorney should be experienced at structuring settlements and should have a good relationship with the other attorneys and the court.
  • Seek an attorney that speaks plainly, clearly and directly about the issues that may impact your divorce. Beware of attorneys that predict or guaranty results or sugar coat difficult issues.
  • If you have minor children, seek an attorney that discussing prioritizing the best interest of the children rather than validating your emotions.
  • Don't assume that a fancy office or high fees reflects the quality of legal representation. Often, in larger and more expensive law firms the junior associates do most of the work.

Collaborative law or mediation may also be a great approach when pursing a low conflict and low cost divorce. However, this process works only if both parties are willing to participate in the process, be reasonable and make concessions. This may not be an option if there if there is a large disparity in financial resources or access to information or if one person is unwilling to compromise. In that case, it is still important to select an attorney that will support negotiation while still protecting your interest and resort to litigation only when necessary.

Divorce is a stressful transition for you and your entire family. The attorney you select will be instrumental in navigating you through this process. Using the suggestions in these articles to select an attorney that prioritizes seeking a fair and reasonable settlement rather than fighting over emotional issues may be the best way to minimize the emotional and financial devastation of a highly contentious divorce.

Interested in interviewing an experienced divorce attorney? Hurst, Robin & Kay can help you explore the different options for divorce, including traditional litigation, Collaborative Divorce and mediation. Let's talk about it today at 312.782.2400.

An associate at HRK, Olga Stambler heads the Alternative Dispute Resolution practice groups. Olga has practiced law for more than 15 years and her practice currently focuses exclusively on family law matters. Olga provides her clients with alternatives to litigation such as Collaborative Divorce and mediation. She is a fellow of the Collaborative Law Institute of Illinois and is co-chair of its Community Outreach Committee. Olga is also a member of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals, the Collaborative Practice Professionals of Illinois and the Association of Conflict Resolution. She is also listed on the Circuit Court of Cook County approved mediators. She received her undergraduate degree from Brandeis University and her Juris Doctor from Fordham University School of Law.

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