Thursday, June 5, 2014

Lessons Learned in Picking a Divorce Lawyer

As soon as you begin to think about a divorce, the most important decision you must make initially is determining which attorney to hire. If, like me, your soon-to-be ex is a lawyer, you might feel extremely apprehensive, like a foreigner fighting a war on someone else’s own turf. Legal issues were only an abstract concept to me but second nature to him. My first instinct, and one backed by the well-intentioned but inexperienced advice of some friends and family members, was to hire a “shark”—the “You can’t handle the truth” type of lawyer you see on TV or in movies that takes no prisoners and wins by legal expertise and force of will. However, I learned that this approach might not be the best move.

"It's unwise to hire a lawyer who fights over everything," says Cheryl Young, a leading Philadelphia-area matrimonial lawyer from Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller. "Getting a difficult lawyer like that just drives up your bills. When a divorce is done, lawyers move on, but you have to live with the ending of that marriage forever, so if you can divorce in a civil manner, you are much better off. Making it a personal battle does not get the best results."

Fighting can take on a life of its own. There are all kinds of inconsequential issues that somehow grow in importance throughout a typical divorce proceeding—sometimes it’s hard to remember how they become so important or divisive—but these lesser concerns can be distracting and costly. They can consume you if you commit too much energy to them and fail to focus on the big picture of achieving your primary goals.

Now, while a ravenous shark might not be the best approach, you certainly do want a tough lawyer who is unequivocally on your side. Therefore, it can be a little unsettling when you see how that lawyer interacts with opposing counsel. For example, when I went to divorce court for the first time, I couldn’t help but notice my lawyer chatting and laughing with my ex’s hired gun before we entered the courtroom. Witnessing this exchange was off-putting for me. It made me wonder how my attorney could fight for my interests if she was so friendly with the opposition. As it turns out, I need not have been concerned, and you shouldn’t be if the same thing happens to you.

"The worst cases I have are those where I don't get along with the other lawyer," says Young. "I want someone who will be honest, responsive, return my calls and comply with my requests for documents so that we can get through the problems and find solutions for everyone."

So how can you tell who will best represent your interests? Having been through the process, I suggest that you select someone who possesses a balanced perspective with experience in a variety of cases so that he or she can look at your situation objectively. You also need to find a savvy negotiator and strong litigator so that you are prepared no matter how your case unfolds. That individual must also be reasonable with other lawyers, but fearless in the courtroom. And finally, you must feel comfortable emotionally with your counsel—the entire experience is draining and upsetting, no matter how hard you try to mentally prepare for it.

Once you have examined all of these issues,  then trust your instincts and go with your gut on this call. Good luck!

1 comment:

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