You want three things in your divorce attorney: expertise in divorce, reliability, and a good attitude. You want a lawyer who specializes in divorce (at least 50% of his/her case load), and unless you're expecting a no-holds-barred battle, you want a lawyer trained in divorce mediation who practices it professionally. Mediation-minded attorneys are more likely to give you neutral and problem-solving advice, whereas traditional attorneys tend to be more oriented to conflict and their advice tends to be adversarial. Your attorney must be someone you can trust and work with comfortably, someone who has your confidence.
Once you've found the right lawyer, here are some tips on how you can use your attorney in ways that will make your divorce go as smoothly and inexpensively as possible.
Using a lawyer efficiently. The most important thing is to be very well prepared whenever you contact a lawyer. Know your facts, know what you want to ask about, and know exactly what you want the lawyer to explain or do for you. Plan each conversation; make an agenda; write down the things you want to talk about; take notes on the content of the conversation; keep track of time spent on all phone calls and meetings. Keep a file for all your notes and all letters and documents. Do as much as possible on the phone and by mail to keep the office time at a minimum.
Regard your attorney as a resource, not someone you cling to or depend on for emotional support and stability. A lawyer is not the right person to make your decisions or lead your life--you are. Lawyers cost too much for you to use them for sympathy and consolation--that's what family, friends and counselors are for.
When you talk to a lawyer, stick to the facts and don't just chat, ramble, or complain about things your spouse did unless you actually want your lawyer to do something about it. Don't take your anger to an attorney; you want your best interests represented, not your emotions.
Taking control of your own case. Being in control of your own case and your own life is the single best thing you can do in any divorce, so it is essential that you have a lawyer who can work cheerfully on that basis. If you are well prepared and business like, that will help the lawyer see that you are in charge of things, but you should actually say that's how you want it to be. Tell the lawyer that you want good advice and will rely on the lawyer's experience, but that you expect to make decisions that concern the tone and strategy of the case. Ask that you be sent copies of all documents and letters. Let the attorney know that you expect phone calls to be answered by the next working day. These little things let the lawyer know you are the boss. After all, you pay the bills.
Using a lawyer for specific tasks. Instead of hiring a lawyer to get you a divorce, it may be far more cost-effective to use the lawyer just for information or advice on specific subjects. That may be all the legal help you will need. If not, you can always go back for more help later. After you have organized all your facts and read about how the law works in your case, if you still have questions about the law or what the likely outcome will be in your county, write all your questions down and ask a lawyer.
You may decide to have a lawyer help with your marital settlement agreement, either to draft one or just to check over one you have made yourself. If you get stuck or confused at any point in your divorce, that's a good time to go for help. The more specific and prepared you can be, the more you will get for your money.
My book Divorce Solutions: How to Make Any Divorce Better explains the process of divorce so you can become well-informed, and is full of information to help you get organized and prepared before you see a lawyer. It even includes worksheets to help gather all your information together. You will also find lots of practical advice on how to deal with your emotions during divorce, and an example of a marital settlement agreement that will help you create your own. For more information, go to www.nolodivorce.com.
Copyright 2005 Ed Sherman
Ed Sherman is a family law attorney, divorce expert, and founder of Nolo Press. He started the self-help law movement in 1971 when he published the first edition of How to Do Your Own Divorce, and founded the paralegal industry in 1973. With more than a million books sold, Ed has saved the public billions of dollars in legal fees while making divorce go more smoothly and easily for millions of readers. You can order his books from http://www.nolodivorce.com or by calling (800) 464-5502.