The single most important factor to consider when deciding who to hire as your lawyer is the attorney’s experience handling divorces. You could hire an older, very expensive generalist—someone who practices in many areas of law—but later discover that this particular attorney has only handled a few, simple divorce cases. In this instance, you'd be relying on someone with limited family law experience.
On the other hand, you might find a younger, cheaper lawyer, whose entire practice is devoted to family law. Although these types of attorneys may not have as many years under their belts as their more expensive counterparts, they've only worked in the divorce field, so they will understand how to apply relevant laws to the facts of your case.
Much also depends on an attorney’s affiliation with a law firm. Some firms are very old, large, and prestigious, and their divorce lawyers can command high fees. Other firms are small and charge far less. If you must decide between the two, the best thing to do is ask questions about a divorce lawyer’s experience and competence. It may well be that the more expensive lawyer is the better fit for you. Or, the lower-priced attorney might be more experienced in the area that's most important to you and thus, a better bargain.
The Intersection of Competence and Complexity
If your spouse is disagreeable, or you have a very complicated case, for example, with complex custody, property, or alimony issues, you should look past hourly rates, and hire a lawyer that can effectively handle your divorce.
For example, if you and your spouse both want sole physical custody of your children, you need to find a lawyer that has a proven track record of litigating—and winning—custody cases. Or if one spouse has been a stay-at-home parent while the other spouse pursued a lucrative career, you’ll want a lawyer who’s an expert in alimony. What you need to do is find a lawyer with a quality record and demonstrated understanding of the issues in your particular kind of case. After you find that, then take attorney's fees into consideration.
Even if your case is simple, and all you need to do is work out a few minor details with your spouse, you’ll still need a competent and experienced attorney to complete your divorce.
It’s critical to determine what kind of reputation an attorney has in the family law industry where you live. Lawyers live and die by their reputations, and a judge may be more persuaded by a well-regarded, experienced lawyer than a Johnny-come-lately. There are many ways to find out how others would rate your prospective lawyer:
- You can contact your state’s bar association, and inquire whether a specific divorce lawyer has been cited for any ethical violations.
- You can talk to other people who are divorced, and see what they have to say about their lawyers.
- You can search the internet, and view websites for local family law attorneys, which usually post information about their experience levels and competence and may include client reviews and ratings.
- You can contact special interest groups for men or women, and ask for recommendations.
What You Can Afford
Ultimately, cost is a factor. If you’re reading this article, you probably don’t have unlimited funds. Look at local family law attorneys and consider their experience, competence, and reputations. You may discover that the best divorce lawyer in your region is also the most expensive. Or, you may find a well-regarded, low-to-mid-range family law specialist who seems like a better fit for you. Do some homework on how attorneys charge for their services in your area, be sure that you’ll get along with the lawyer you choose, and hire the best person for the issues in your case.