If you sat down and tried to design something that would completely disrupt a person’s life, you would have a hard time coming up with anything more devastating than a divorce. The breakup of a marriage affects every aspect of the couple’s relationship – emotional, social, financial and, of course, legal. That’s why it is so important to find the right lawyer to guide you through the divorce process. In my next two posts, I will be outlining some of the most important factors to consider in choosing a divorce attorney.
Experience - Divorce law is a very specialized area of law, and it is very important to choose a lawyer that concentrates on divorces. If you know in advance that your divorce will involve certain issues, such as child custody or complex financial transactions, you may want to find a lawyer that not only concentrates on divorce law, but also one who has experience with your particular issues.
Professionalism – Some divorce lawyers have made a reputation for themselves by engaging in “scorched earth” tactics that are designed to beat the other party into submission. For these lawyers, fighting dirty is just part of the process. However, a lawyer who engages in unethical or unprofessional behavior often makes the divorce proceedings longer, more painful and more expensive than they need to be. In the end, most clients find that they have gained little and lost much by hiring an unprofessional advocate. Consider an attorney’s reputation for ethics and professionalism before making a choice.
References – Finding a good lawyer is no different than finding a good doctor. The best way is often to ask for a referral from a friend, neighbor or family member who has actually used the attorney’s services. You should also feel free to ask a lawyer for the names of former clients who can act as references.
Another good way to check an attorney’s reputation is to look up the lawyer’s rating in a reference guide called Martindale-Hubbell. Martindale-Hubbell ratings are based on confidential ratings by other attorneys. You can find Martindale-Hubbell ratings in most library reference collections or online at Martindale.com.
Finally, it never hurts to check on whether an attorney has been in trouble with the State Bar. If an attorney has been disciplined for illegal or unethical conduct, there will be a notation in his or her state bar record. You can search for an attorney’s discipline record at SupremeCourt.Ohio.gov
Fees – Most divorces attorneys charge by the hour, with fees typically running from $150 to $300 per hour. While it may be tempting to go with the lawyer who charges the lowest hourly fee, remember that a more experienced lawyer with a higher hourly rate may be able to complete your case more quickly and may obtain a better result, so that you actually pay less in the long run.
Most lawyers will require a substantial deposit, called a retainer, to be paid up front by the client before they will take the client’s case. In general, the attorney is required to return any part of the retainer that is not earned, based on the amount of work that is done. However, in certain cases, an attorney is entitled to keep all or a portion of the retainer, just for agreeing to take the case. Be sure to find out in advance whether the unused portion of the retainer is refundable.
The Ohio Supreme Court strongly encourages lawyers to put fee agreements in writing to avoid potential confusion, and most attorneys do so. Read the fee agreement carefully and be sure to get any questions answered before you sign it.
In my next post, I will cover some of the other factors to consider in choosing a divorce lawyer.
Have a question or a suggestion for a topic? Email dspirgen@SpirgenLawFirm.com.
Patch posts are general discussions and should not be used as advice on any specific legal matter. If you need legal advice on a particular situation, please consult an attorney.