I never hesitate to tell people who are considering a divorce that if they can afford an attorney, they should hire one. That being said, sometimes the attorney you have isn't the right fit and it may be time to seek a second opinion, or even fire your attorney. People seem to forget that when they hire an attorney, the attorney works for them. The client pays the attorney for his/her services. Now, in the context of a divorce, the attorney knows the law and procedure much better than the client (which is why the client hired them) but that doesn't mean the client doesn't have a say in what happens.
I once heard an attorney characterize the attorney-client relationship this way; the client chooses where to go, but the attorney makes the decision on how to get there.
Do I really need a divorce lawyer?
Yes! Yes you do. Like I said above, most non-attorneys are not versed in the law and procedure of the divorce courts. Why would they be? Attorneys have to go through three years of intensive schooling, pass the bar exam and then understand the nuances of the court system in the state which they practice. Have you ever tried to read a court opinion for a case? It could make your head split! I'm an attorney and I often have to read cases multiple times to fully understand what the court is saying. I can't stand legalese or jargon. I mean, talk like a normal person!
But, unless you know the law and procedure for a divorce, you are much better off hiring someone who does and is comfortable preparing legal documents and appearing in court on your behalf.
The attorney-client relationship is just that…a relationship. It typically starts off really well with both parties excited about the future. Then, it can evolve into a number of things…it can become stale, argumentative, resentful, or flourish. You would think your attorney is the person you're divorcing! Just like any relationship, communication is key. It's a two way street and both the attorney and the client need to carry their weight in order to keep it going in a healthy manner.
This article discusses how to identify the signs to know when the attorney-client relationship turns sour and it's time to look for a new lawyer. It always surprises me when I tell people they can fire their attorney if they're not happy and get a new one. People don't question whether they can get a second opinion for a medical condition. What's different about the legal field? As the client, you can always release your attorney if you're not happy with the representation.
But, before you take such drastic action, here are some things to look out for that may indicate it's time for you to look at other options.
1. Your attorney doesn't respond to your phone calls or emails in a timely manner. It's just unprofessional if your attorney can't respond to you within a reasonable time. I try to always return phone calls within 24 hours and emails in even less time than that. Yes, attorneys are busy, but this is a service business and if you are not getting good service, you may want to consider looking elsewhere. If your attorney can't respond to you, that may be a yellow flag that they can't handle the workload they have, or they don't have the staff to help them. Either way, it's not a good sign for your case.
2. Your attorney shows up to a court hearing unprepared. If you're in a contested divorce, it won't take long before someone files a motion and you appear in court for what's called "oral-argument" where your attorney gets to argue the motion before the judge before the judge makes a decision. Some attorneys show up to these court hearings and have almost no idea about what your motion is about. They are reviewing the papers minutes, or seconds before the hearing begins. I've seen it many times. That's a yellow flag that it's time to look for an attorney who prepares before they face the judge in your case.
3. Your attorney shows no concern for the billing on your case. This is a touchy one. Most divorce attorneys bill clients on an hourly basis. This means that if they spend 20 minutes working on your file, they bill you for those 20 minutes, usually in 6-minute increments. If there is a lot of activity in your case, the bill gets high real quick. If you call your attorney for a "quick" question, you get billed. If you email your attorney for a "quickie" you get billed. Time is time and attorneys bill based on time. That being said, I try to make it a point not to nickel dime clients and bill them for every email or phone call. I do bill for these things, but if it's really a quick question that I can quickly answer, I might not bill for some of them. It's just my way of showing my client that they are more to me than just billing. If your attorney bills for everything they do, even the short quickies, that may be a yellow flag and you should have a talk with them, especially if it bothers you. Just to be clear, there is nothing wrong if your attorney does keep accurate billing. So, if your legal bill is your only issue, don't get concerned. Just be clear and talk it out so you both are on the same page.
Jason Levoy a/k/a The Divorce Resource Guy ™ is a divorce attorney who coaches people who can't afford an attorney how to represent themselves with confidence and integrity in their divorce. In addition to writing for major publications, he runs a premier online divorce membership community with video courses that teach you how to represent yourself like an attorney. Learn more about this unique divorce resource by clicking the link above, or at www.jasonlevoy.com .