right divorce lawyer
is very important. It can affect your satisfaction, the outcome, the cost, and
even the process options that are offered to you. The practice of law is a melding of many disciplines and
can be viewed as being closer to a learned art than to a science. Not
all divorce lawyers work the same or even give similar advice. A lawyer's experience in the
unique dispute resolution process you are
considering is one factor to consider. Each divorce lawyer brings his or her own
unique personality, intellect, skill set, and background to the practice. There
are profound differences between lawyers. Fortunately, the Seattle area has many good divorce
lawyers, so you have the opportunity to choose the best one for you.
A. Knowledge, Skill and Experience
Most people realize that the more that they
know, the more they recognize they do not know. Just because someone has a law
degree and passed the Bar examination does not mean that he or she knows anything about you, your
family, or even your type of case. Before
hiring a lawyer, you should ask the experience that lawyer has with your type of
A lawyer's knowledge and skills
are important. An unknowledgeable lawyer will not be able to identify questions
to be addressed, and an unskillful one will be unable to effectively address the
questions. Except perhaps for the simplest of cases, family law is not a matter
of checking boxes on forms. The training and experience of a lawyer
in an area of law may be one indication of skill. Law can be complex, and an attorney who
may be knowledgeable and skilled in one area of the law (for example, criminal defense) may not be
knowledgeable and skilled in another area of law (such as family law).
Look at the organizations in which
a lawyer maintains memberships. Some have criteria for qualification
which may be an indicator of knowledge. The American Academy of
Matrimonial Lawyers, for example, requires that its members pass an
examination on family law. Not every lawyer can pass that examination.
Similarly, King County Collaborative Law has minimum Collaborative Law
training requirements for its members.
Similarly, a lawyer’s involvement in professional
activities (such as being on committees or boards regarding certain areas of law) can be
a sign that the lawyer has a deeper commitment to understanding that area of law. If the lawyer
cares, he or she may be better informed and may have better skills in that area.
Financial and parenting questions lie at the
heart of divorce decisions. Given that, many are surprised to learn that most divorce
lawyers (and judges) lack any formal training in finance, taxation,
business, family systems, or even
post-divorce parenting. If you have financial or parenting issues to
resolve, you may wish to ask about which of those skills applicable to
your situation have been developed by any divorce lawyer you are
considering hiring. When doing so, don't be afraid to ask questions,
being careful not to confuse confidence with understanding. Taking the time to select professionals with
true subject matter
expertise in areas to be addressed can result in better and more
Just as skills among lawyers vary as to
subject matter expertise, they also vary as to process skills. For example, a lawyer who is skilled in
litigation might be less skilled in settling cases. Ask lawyers you interview
about some typical recent examples of how their cases were concluded, and what
was required to conclude them. If you are looking at resolving your case
other than through litigation or threats of litigation, it will be helpful to inquire what training and
experience he or she has in non-litigation forms of dispute resolution, such as
mediation or collaborative law. Ask about the number of cases they have
standard law school curriculum for lawyers has historically not included any negotiation theory or skill
building; even nowadays, that type of education is spotty at best. Individual lawyers who are interested in gaining those skills need to seek out that training.
majority of lawyers have no formal training in negotiation or
dispute resolution. It is unlikely that a high level of skill in negotiation can be
acquired solely through the on the job training that most lawyers receive.
Collaborative Divorce is a specific process, and uses several skill sets that require training to understand and experience to develop. For that reason,
Divorce training and experience is particularly important if you
wish to use Collaborative Law, because it requires a significant paradigm
shift and different skills for the attorneys. A list of local Collaboratively-trained lawyers is
available at King County Collaborative Law.
Like other persons, lawyers' focuses and
greatly. There is no one “right” way to practice law. Is the style of the lawyer
you are considering hiring to minimize the use of the courts? Is the lawyer more
of a thinker or more of a do-er? These are only a
few of the many focus differences between lawyers.
Similarly, the level of diligence that lawyers
apply to their cases vary widely. Some lawyers carefully review all
documents and consider all options, others prefer a less thorough
approach. Diligence results in higher attorney's
fees, but may result in savings over the long-term by avoiding mistakes
that could be costly. Consider a cost-benefit analysis for what is best
in your situation. If your decisions are likely to make big difference
in your future life, it may be worth selecting an attorney who applies some additional
diligence to make sure.
All Washington lawyers must abide by
ethical rules of the Rules of Professional Conduct, and are
regulated by the Washington Supreme Court through the Washington State Bar Association (“WSBA”). The WSBA
investigates grievances against lawyers and can discipline lawyers.
You may wish to ask whether the WSBA has
disciplined a lawyer. Lawyer discipline (once final) is a matter of public record and
you can search on the WSBA website to check. If a lawyer has been disciplined,
consider the reason, and whether you are still comfortable having that lawyer
Does your lawyer listen to you? Listening
is an important skill. No lawyer can know what is best for your situation, or
even advise you, without gaining an understanding about your situation and what
is important to you. This means that a good lawyer will listen to you to gain
And, do you understand what your divorce
lawyer is saying? There is very little in the law (or elsewhere) that cannot be
explained so you
can make good decisions for yourself. If you have troubles truly understanding what the lawyer
is saying or if it does not make sense to you, ask for clarification. If the lawyer is unable to do so, it
could mean that the lawyer is unable to effectively communicate
with you, or even that the lawyer does not understand the topic sufficiently to be able to
explain it. (It happens!) Since communication is so essential to
providing legal services, you should consider hiring another lawyer if you
can’t understand what your divorce lawyer is trying to communicate.
Will your lawyer be available to meet or
you on reasonable request? Or will you always be unable to speak with your
lawyer except through secretaries or paralegals? (Remember that better lawyers
are usually very busy, so some communications through secretaries and
paralegals and some delay in setting up meetings will probably be inevitable.)
Who will be doing the actual work on your
case? Will it be the lawyer with whom you meet? Will it be a secretary or
paralegal? Will it be another lawyer altogether? And, if your lawyer steps in at
the last minute after delegating all prior work, how do they ensure that they
understand your particular circumstances? You may wish to ask.
A good lawyer will insist in honesty in all
his or her dealings. In order to make good decisions, you need
good and honest guidance. A good lawyer will not avoid the difficult questions
or try to minimize difficult information you need to hear. Instead, a good
lawyer will give you an accurate
and honest assessment of the issues and questions in your case. However,
recognize that in areas such as family law, there may be a large range of
possible outcomes and there will be times that the advice will be "I do not
know." If a lawyer promises a particular outcome ... be very suspicious.
Good lawyering requires good writing
skills, if only to prepare a clear
agreement that you can follow. A good lawyer is a good writer. Read the
writing of your lawyer. While legal writing is not literature, it should be
accurate, clear, grammatically correct, and well-organized. Good writing takes
time and results in some costs.
H. Keeping You Informed
A good lawyer will keep a client informed.
Ask every lawyer you are interviewing how he/she does that. If
you have a question about a matter, can you discuss it with the lawyer? You
should insist on remaining fully informed, because you will be unable to make
good decisions if you are not.
Did the attorney fully answer your
questions about fees? To ensure you completely understand, you may want to ask:
What advanced fee/cost deposit, if any, is required,
and is that likely to cover the entire cost? Is any part non-refundable?
What is the basis for calculating the attorney’s fee
(flat, hourly, etc.), including the specific rate and the measurement? For
instance, is the hourly fee calculated in increments of one-quarter hour or
one-tenth hour? Does the attorney charge a minimum for short phone calls and
What are the costs and expenses that you will be
likely to pay, and are they marked up?
What is the billing frequency (monthly, quarterly,
Most attorneys will not commence work
without receiving a deposit. Ask
whether the deposit is a separate retainer fee, or will be held in trust as
security for fees.
A lower hourly rate, or a low initial deposit, do not necessarily
mean that the costs in the end will be lower. More experienced attorneys
usually have higher hourly rates; experience can result in lower fees
overall as work is performed more efficiently. Consider also that more
skilled attorneys can potentially save you indirectly, for example by
properly addressing financial and tax issues, making sure that questions
are appropriately raised, and in thinking through possible options to
make sure they are complete and can be implemented. A more skilled
attorney will also be more likely to be able to craft an agreement that
is "out of the box" if that is more suitable to your needs.
The first step is to find a list of
potential lawyers. Be sure to look at the website of each, and try to
learn what you can about them.
There are directories of lawyers,
but remember that all directories and rating services are imperfect at best.
Many are are geared to generate revenue from lawyer advertising ...
meaning you are the product sold to the lawyers who advertise on them.
Be skeptical with ratings and reviews—rating systems are necessarily
subjective and there is no scale that can measure what makes a “good”
attorney. Nor are ratings systems necessarily even internally reliable;
at least one well-known legal rating directory has become known for
having its sales representatives work with attorney-advertisers to
influence the ratings. Similarly, treat reviews skeptically. Family law
attorneys, by virtue of their work, don't always get flattering reviews,
which sometimes are not even checked as to whether they were the client
of the attorney who is reviewed.
Two directories where you might
want to start your search
(subject to the cautions above) are
Avvo.com, perhaps together with some searches with your favorite search engine. If
you are seeking representation by an attorney with special skills, such as an
attorney trained in Collaborative Divorce, most are listed on the websites of
member organizations, such as websites for
King County Collaborative Law and
the International Academy of
A more traditional resource for finding a
lawyer is word of mouth. Ask family members, friends, co-workers, and
acquaintances if they can recommend an attorney. The majority of
new clients for most attorneys come from recommendations from former clients and other lawyers.
Take such recommendations as a starting point — a lawyer or approach who was
right for someone else may not be right for you. Different people have