Divorce is almost always a scary time for people. It comes packed with much emotion and uncertainty. And while many people think they are an “expert” on divorce because they’ve been through it or have a friend or family member who has been through it, the reality is that (a) every divorce truly is different, and (b) divorce is guided by the Texas Family Code that is hundreds of pages long. You need legal representation from an attorney who regularly handles divorce cases, who understands the complexities of divorce law in Texas. Here are some questions you should consider asking when searching for a divorce attorney:
(1) How much of your practice is with divorce cases vs. some other area of the law?
Some attorneys practice exclusively in the area of family law, and more specifically handle only divorces. Other attorneys cast a wider net in terms of the types of cases they handle. For example, in addition to divorce cases, they might also handle personal injury cases, wills and probate, and small business transaction work. An attorney who handles only family law cases will have more experience doing specifically the type of work you need direction with – divorce.
(2) Are you trained in the Collaborative Divorce process?
More and more clients are learning about the Collaborative Divorce option – a way to divorce without the need for the courtroom and large litigation expense. However, not all attorneys are trained in the Collaborative Divorce process. Ask the lawyer you are interviewing a series of questions about their experience with Collaborative Divorce. What type of training have you had? How many Collaborative Divorce cases have you handled and for how many years? Are you a member of any Collaborative Divorce organizations? Are you a Credentialed Collaborative Divorce Attorney?
(3) What is your fee and how do you bill for your time?
You should always know up front how the attorney will bill you on the case. Almost all family law attorneys require an up front retainer and bill by an hourly rate against that retainer. But once the case has started, make sure you know where your money is going. Ask in what increments they charge. Is it in 6-minute increments or 15-minute increments? For a 5-minute phone call on your case, one attorney will charge you for 6 minutes of time while the other will charge you for 15 minutes on the same phone call. But whether it is an hourly rate or one of the few who charge a flat fee, ask whether and how often you will receive an invoice for services. Make sure that you are seeing an invoice at least once a month so that you know how your money is being spent.
(4) How is communication handled?
We live in an age where there are many ways for attorneys and clients to communicate. Some lawyers prefer phone calls, some face-to-face meetings, others e-mail. Most likely have some combination of the three. Some attorneys do not share their cell number, others do. You should also ask whether most of your communication will be directly with the attorney or rather with a paralegal or legal assistant. Decide which you prefer to help you make your decision on which attorney is right for you.
(5) How many clients do you represent at one time?
The answer to this question could be a reflection on how much time you will personally get from the attorney you choose versus a member of his or her staff. If an attorney represents 25 or even 50 clients at one time, you will not have as much access to that lawyer as you would with one who represents only 10 or 15 at a time.
In the end, there is no right or wrong answer to any one of these questions except as they apply to what you are looking for in an attorney. You have to be the one to decide the qualities you are looking for in an attorney and then ask the right questions to help you find the answers you are looking for.
Rhonda Cleaves is a Collaborative Divorce Attorney in Plano, Texas. She represents clients throughout the DFW metroplex, including clients in Collin County, Dallas County, Denton County, and Tarrant County.