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.
The following considerations may be helpful
to assist you to find a divorce lawyer who will be a good “fit” for you. Because the choice is so
important, we recommend that you meet with several lawyers before making your
final selection. It will take you some time and effort to do so, but the effort
will likely be worth it. Expect to pay for this education, because many
experienced family law attorneys charge for a consultation. The investment in time and money will be small compared to the
cost of selecting the wrong lawyer for you.
There are many ways to narrow down a list
of lawyers to interview. Nowadays, the Internet is a remarkable resource, that
can be used to start creating a list. Both
Avvo.com may be good places to start your
search, 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
Collaborative Professionals. Be skeptical with ratings and reviews—rating
systems and reviews 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 prestigious
legal rating directory has become known for having its sales representatives work with
attorney-advertisers to influence the ratings.
A more traditional
resource for finding a
good 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
Here are some considerations to think about:
A. Skill and Experience
A lawyer's skill can be important, and can be measured
many different ways. For example, the training and experience of a lawyer
in an area of law may be an indication of skill. Law can be complex, and an attorney who is skilled and
experienced in one area of the law (for example, criminal defense) may not be skilled
or experienced in another area of law (such as family law). Admission to organizations that maintain
criteria for qualification can be an indicator of the area of law in which the
attorney has interest, and has therefore more likely spent the time needed to develop knowledge and skill.
Many are surprised to learn that most divorce
lawyers lack any formal training in finance, family systems, or even
post-divorce parenting. Without that background, lawyers may be poor
resources to rely on for financial or parenting advice. While lawyers
may be good resources for legal requirements and crafting agreements,
and may know anecdotes and "rules of thumb" that may be applied by
judges, taking the time to select professionals with subject matter
expertise in areas to be addressed is worthwhile.
As important as selecting an attorney who
is skilled and experienced in a particular field of law (such as divorce law), it is also worth
taking time to decide which particular process skill set is most important to you.
For example, a lawyer who is skilled in
litigation may not have the training or talent to settle cases without resorting
to court. The opposite can also be true.
Just as a divorce lawyer without training and experience in mediation may not
have the skills to mediate or effectively facilitate a settlement discussion, a
lawyer whose career has been focused on mediation may not have the skill set for
litigation. If you are looking at resolving your case
other than through 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, and his or her settlement philosophy.
standard law school curriculum for lawyers has historically not included any negotiation theory or skill
building; even nowadays, that type of education is spotty. Individual lawyers who are interested in gaining those skills need to seek out that training.
majority of lawyers have no formal training or background in negotiation or
dispute resolution, and
therefore tend to use less-effective litigation tactics when negotiating.
Unfortunately, it is unlikely that a high level of skill in negotiation can be
acquired solely through the on the job training that litigation lawyers receive.
Consequently, many divorce lawyers who do an excellent job in court do not excel in their negotiation skills.
Sometimes, it is useful for such a lawyer to work with a negotiation consultant
to complement litigation skills.
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 www.kingcountycollab.org.
B. Focus and Style
Like other persons, lawyers' focuses and
greatly. There is no one “right” way to practice law. For example, does the lawyer you are considering prefer to file motions
with the court right away or to wait? Does the lawyer you are considering prefer
to conduct formal discovery (information gathering)? 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.
C. Ethical Complaints
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 may wish to 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? You may wish to ask.
A good lawyer will insist in honesty in all
his or her dealings. A good lawyer will not do things “under the table”, try to
hoodwink people, or coach you to create “facts” that do not exist. If a lawyer
you are considering appears willing to compromise his or her honesty or
integrity in any respect -- even if supposedly to your benefit -- it is a sign
that more may also be compromised. Leave immediately.
In order to make good decisions, you need
good guidance. A good lawyer will not be a
cheerleader for you, but will ask you probing questions to help you figure out
what is most important to you, and give you an accurate
and honest assessment of the issues in your case.
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.
H. Keeping You Informed
A good lawyer will keep a client informed.
Ask every lawyer you are interviewing how he/she does that. Will the lawyer send
copies of all documents to you? Does the lawyer make periodic reports? 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.
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 involvement in professional
activities (such as being on committees or boards regarding certain areas of law) can be
a sign that the lawyer cares about a particular area of law. If the lawyer
cares, he or she may be better informed and may have better skills in that area. You may wish to
ask a lawyer about his or her community and Bar activities.
Perhaps the biggest difference between
attorneys is style. There are flamboyant lawyers and quiet ones. There are
boasters and understaters. There are aggressive attorneys and passive ones.
There are performers and there are scholars. There are listeners and also
talkers. Lawyers can be oriented towards litigation or towards dispute
resolution. An attorney's style does not necessarily reflect on his or her
abilities, but a personality style will fit some cases and clients better than others.
When selecting a divorce attorney, look at
his or her style.
Do you believe you will be able to work with him or her? How do you think your
spouse will react to that style? Select an attorney
whose style is most suitable for you and your situation.
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,
What is the policy of the attorney if you do not pay
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.
If you cannot afford the fees of an
attorney, some alternatives are available. Many family law resources are
included on this site under “Family Law”. Other resources include:
Legal Services organizations provides free legal
representation to qualified low-income individuals.
Some Bar Associations (such as the
King County Bar
Association) offer free or reduced-fee legal clinics, classes, and some
special programs for low-income persons.
All counties have “Domestic Violence Advocates” at the
courthouse ready to assist domestic victims.
Become as informed about the law and the procedures as
possible. King County Bar Association publishes information for persons who
are not represented by lawyers, available
here. Follow other links in this web site for more information.
Many lawyers and law firms have pro bono
programs to offer legal services to the poor at no cost or a reduced rate.
You may wish to call law firms for this service. The Law Office of J.
Mark Weiss, P.S., performs pro bono work through organized bar
programs only. A list of pro bono programs is available
Hiring an attorney to provide “unbundled” services,
such as preparing only certain paperwork, or appearing only for one motion.
Some attorneys offer such services, which can substantially decrease the
cost of services.