Like the gloves that Orenthal James Simpson tried on, but couldn’t get to fit, or the glass slipper that just fit Cinderella (but none of her stepsisters), it is good to know yourself well enough to know what you need, and more pointedly, what fits. This principle applies to many things in life, including your selection of a good divorce attorney. Like a stinky sock with holes in it, a bad divorce attorney probably does not fit anyone’s needs. Good divorce attorneys; however, come in many different forms. When looking for a good fit you should at least consider the following attributes:
LISTENING: If your attorney hears you, then he/she should get the material facts of the case out of you, and you will have a shot at presenting all the issues you should present. Imposing counsel who makes a dramatic entrance, looks good in that expensive suit, and sounds like they know everything is the sort of attorney that makes for good television shows, but not necessarily what you actually need. You need an attorney who hears you and understands your case.
Ironically, this attribute is best determined by exercising it yourself first. Listen to the attorney you think you want to help you, and see if you hear details about your own case coming back to you. Listen and observe.
STABILITY: The Dissolution process can be very emotionally draining, and it is very common to find yourself getting emotionally off center. It can be just like riding a small fishing boat out to sea, where you are leaning one way one moment and the opposite direction the next moment. Having what you thought was solid under your feet shift repeatedly can cause seasickness, and your emotions function much the same. On that boat, if you had someone with good sea legs standing next to you to prop you up so you would not fall down (or hold you at the rail), that would be a good thing. Select a divorce attorney who steadies you. That’s what good counsel does – reminds you what common sense suggests that you should do, and helps you to avoid making rash decisions based upon pain, fear, confusion, anger, or greed.
Sorting out whether an attorney steadies you should be straightforward: after you talk to your attorney do you feel more or less certainty? A good Family Law Attorney might reveal problems you did not know about, but after speaking with him/her you will be less confused, not more. You will feel more steady.
KNOWLEDGE: This attribute was purposefully stated third, rather than first. Nevertheless, you should seek out a divorce attorney who knows what he/she is talking about. Knowing the rules is good, but if they do not know the facts of your case (SEE LISTENING, above), then the results may be less than you need. Good legal argument is the application of the facts of your case to the law. The facts and the law work together, like a double-barreled shotgun. If either barrel is empty it will not work out so well, but if both barrels are loaded, then the other party better watch out if they want to get into a shootout. A good, knowledgeable divorce attorney who knows the rules and applies them to your facts is what you should look for.
EXPERIENCE: The cliché is that a job often done is often done well, and a job rarely done is rarely done well. The reason it is a cliché is that it is true most of the time. This attribute is usually closely related to the STABILITY factor described above, but not always. Ask the attorney if he/she has dealt with the issues you expect to have to deal with. You should try to not be the client the attorney uses as his/her test case.
MATCH-UP: The fact is that there are some attorneys who are really good at reaching settlements and creatively drafting agreements. At the same time there are some attorneys who are born to fight. These are the extreme ends of a spectrum, and most divorce attorneys are not found entirely on either end. Nevertheless, there are two distinct types of divorce attorneys, and with the right match-up the results can be spectacular. Unfortunately, that deal maker could spin his/her wheels trying to make a deal with your spouse who never listens to reason, and/or that fighter could blow up your chances of settling the case early on by hurtling too many verbal firebombs.
You need to calmly consider what will work best in your case and tell your divorce attorney. The more he/she knows about how your soon-to-be-ex does things the better your chances of getting a good result. Think about the match up.
CONCLUSION: A good divorce attorney will be one (or a team) that fits both you and your case. You need to be heard, steadied, informed about the rules, and given the benefit of counsel’s experience. You should consider the match up. If you spend about as much time selecting your divorce lawyer as you spent on Edmunds.com looking up the pros and cons of the various new car models before you bought your last car you should do just fine. Just like the car example though, be wary of slick salesmen who look great in a suit and only want to close the deal.