Many people want to know, How to choose the right divorce lawyer. In my business, like any industry, I see many gifted lawyers and some merely dreadful. Some do not care about their client; take their money, have big egos and do little work. And your job, as a newly separated individual, is to find a lawyer who fits on a scale from good to excellent. Otherwise, the consequences could be costly both emotionally and financially.
Before tackling this recruitment, you first need to understand, if and why you need a lawyer in the first place. As I highlighted in a recent blog, How To Get Divorced, a lot of people don’t understand the processes involved. So, put together your strategy, and then employ the people you need to help you execute successfully.
But when you decide that you do need the expertise of a professional, who do you employ?
There is also a lot of confusion around these different terms.
You might hear Solicitor, Lawyer, Barrister or Attorney. So which one do you need to help you? Are they all the same and do they have the same qualifications and abilities? Let me provide a brief explanation and the difference between the terms.
- A lawyer is a person with a certificate to practice Law. This includes Solicitors, Attorneys, Barristers, Judges and Corporate Counsel.
- Solicitor is a person who has a practising certificate but is not a Barrister or Judge.
- Attorney is a term used in the US and is unusual to hear in Australia. However, an attorney, solicitor and lawyer effectively mean the same thing.
- Barrister is a lawyer that passed the Bar Examination. They appear in Court on behalf of people and run technical arguments.
A Solicitor/Lawyer/Attorney ultimately can provide you with legal advice on your family law matter. You can give them instruction, and they can act on your behalf and negotiate for you, as your legal representative. They will also carry out admin tasks such as applications, writs, wills, correspondence, really anything pertaining to your case.
A Barrister is a person who has done further education and been mentored or worked under supervision for an additional period. They have expertise in dispute resolution and usually are a specialist in a specific area of the law. Simply put they cost more because they know more.
It is not uncommon to have a lawyer and a barrister if you go to court.
One will know the ins and outs of your case. The other would recognise the complications of the court. It is the barrister’s job to try and settle matters before they go to trial. However, in a small number of cases, this is unachievable, and the barrister will be required to assist in your hearing.
How to Choose the Right Divorce Lawyer
So in most case, as soon as people hear the words divorce, they think COURT. That is not true. A form of legal mediation either in person or via correspondence is how most divorces get sorted. It is only when couples can’t agree that things get costly and out of hand. And that is why picking a great team of professionals around you, is so important and having a strategic plan and sticking to it.
I also say to my clients for every dollar we spend; I want to see a $3 – $5 return. So what does that mean?
Let me put this scenario forward. We need to go to court and hire a barrister, to represent our client. Costing on average $10,000.00 @ day lets say. Our major concern or the outcome we are fighting over is an additional $20,000.00 of assets. Making no sense what so ever to me. In this case, we are considering a spend of 2 – 1. So for every one dollar, we spend we may get $2 back. But the odds are against us.
Let’s weigh the reasons up:
Assuming we already have an agreement on the table which is extremely close to what the client is entitled to from their financial split. If we are considering $100’s of thousands in assets then $20K is a drop in the ocean, and why waste it. We already have a substantial settlement, and when weighing up the emotional cost of going to court, is it worth it?
If we are talking $100,000.00, then it is a different story but still makes no sense to go to court because we have limited funds and need every cent for the future. Here are the difficulties which need to be weighed up and why. No barrister or lawyer can 100% confirm you will get the outcome you want. They simply can’t say, if you spend $10K I will guarantee $20K via court. If they do RUN, their ego is running the show.
There are too many variables
You have no idea what the other side may say, the evidence they have at hand or what the judge will rule. To be honest, it is a gamble. What happens if the judge disagrees totally and not only do you lose the $10K cost for the barrister, for the day but also the $20K you are fighting to get. You are now worsted off than when you got up this morning. That $30K is gone, and you now need to regroup and consider your options. Either, go back to the initial proposal which was on the table. Or spend more money and go back to court again. At this stage, everything is getting out of hand.
But we are contemplating an utterly different conclusion if it costs $10K to go to court and we are arguing over a $70,000.00 discrepancy. The risk is worth the reward. That is a 7 to 1 return. ( Seven Dollars possibly received for every one dollar spent)
Hopefully, now seeing the reasons a good lawyer is so important for a successful outcome. Firstly to negotiate on your behalf and secondly to help you stay level headed and realistic. Unfortunately, we hear so many stories of the opposite being true.
You need to decide as part of your strategy where you want this to lead. Do you know for sure your case will end up in court? Or are you both semi amicable and prepared to compromise.
How to Choose the Right Divorce Lawyer
People sometimes say l am looking for a BULLDOG to represent me. Right from the start, you are leading with aggression, and therefore l can assure you will end in that same position. And it will be extremely costly. The choice is yours but pick carefully. Selecting the opposite could get everything finished and finalised very quickly. If you find a lawyer who has the following traits:
For a successful outcome, you are looking for the following individual.
● A person who is a problem solver.
● Has a good repour with people.
● Is not afraid of compromise.
● Who is also a specialist in family law and not a generalist in all facets of law?
● You also need a person who is comfortable in court because you have no idea where this can lead and know you can rely upon their expertise is essential. As we learnt above not all lawyers like court and you may need a barrister.
● Also looking for a lawyer who is a team player and prepared to work with others.
● A person who is a problem solver.
Now let’s look at each area a little closer:
Has a good repour with people.
You want a person who talks English and does not try and baffle you with legal talk or speak over you. I recently had a person ring saying she was scared of her lawyer and felt bullied. She had told him how she felt, and he turned around and said ‘Well if you don’t like my style get someone else’. What a guy!
Listen to your gut as much as your mind and make sure you feel safe, heard and supported. The person has empathy and shows kindness, yet is knowledgable and firm when needed. In other words, has a ‘’Game Face.’’
Is not afraid of compromise.
If you have children this is especially a huge thing. The children’s needs should always come first including their safety and happiness. Also, just a fraction of common sense, as we discussed earlier with the dollar return. I encourage all my clients to consider the consequences and love it when the lawyers support me. It shows that they want what is best for the clients. And getting the proceedings finished as quickly as possible rather than prolonging and charging a higher fee. Occurring so regularly; it makes me sick. Why argue for the sake of arguing. The only reason is so the lawyer can charge their client for more time and get their billable hours up.
Who is also a specialist in family law and not a generalist in all facets of law?
I have spoken about this before, but you would not go to a GP if you needed heart surgery. The depth of knowledge and expertise required by the heart surgent is hours and hours of experience, learning and performing the operation. He/She sees all different kinds of hearts, big, small, faulty, enlarged; you name it they have seen them all. But if you went to a GP, they may have learnt the procedure in theory but never performed the life-saving operation.
No different to an inexperienced lawyer. Why spend your time working with a lawyer who does not know the ins and outs of the family law. Who has no previous experience debuting or negotiating on the one thing that could make all the difference to your life and future?
You also need a person who is comfortable in court because you have no idea where this can lead and know you can rely upon their expertise is essential.
Discussed Barristers earlier, this is if you need to get serious and go to trial. In a lot of cases, the word Court is thrown around to scare people. With 85% of cases being negotiated on the steps of court with the opposing side. No one wants to go to court; there are too many things out of your controlled.
Lawyer Hack Technique
If you do think you are going to court, a strategy I have used before is asking people who work in the court. Such as police, other lawyers and barristers, court staff and guards, who they think is the most well-regarded lawyer, solicitor, attorney in the building. Who do the judges or magistrates respect and think good at their craft? I then rang that lawyer and asked for his assistance. He agreed. The case he assisted with was heard and completed very quickly.
Also looking for a lawyer who is a team player and prepared to work with others.
This is extremely important when considering the complexity of your breakup. Especially if there is a lot of assets to divide. Recently my team came up against a young female lawyer, who for some reason, thought she needed to be rude and write aggressive correspondence. Unfortunately, she was far from perfect, but our lawyer was prepared to share our information to support both parties and get a better outcome for everyone involved. The problem was, she did not want to listen and said…’ What does this have to do with the case?’ This is a problem for her client because she was portraying herself as looking after his best interest, yet was not taking into consideration, issues, like refinancing of loans, capital gains tax implications, and so on. If you have assets especially investments and businesses, it is not as simple as dividing.
It required other professionals to be involved in helping achieve the best outcome.
In this case, our client walked away $400,000.00 better off. Why?? Because the other lawyer did not take into consideration a mountain of tax liabilities involved with dividing the family assets. Clapping hands for us, but it made me sad to think we were prepared to share our knowledge, but she did not want to listen. Not only did our clients, ex-husband get an undesirable outcome, he also paid double in legal fees for what l see as poor service. The problem is, he has no idea of these issues and either would you unless you knew the system.
Make sure the lawyer you pick is a team player and happy to work closely with other professionals for your best outcome and doesn’t allow their ego to get in the middle.
I have a downloadable e-book (Get a copy here) which l put together to assist further with this topic. It includes questions to ask when you are interviewing a prospective lawyer and other areas to be mindful of to help make the right choice and limit mistakes.
Author Tanya Somerton – Divorce Angel www.tanyasomerton.com