Before hiring any attorney, the first question you must ask is whether you need to hire a divorce attorney at all. In California, if you a short-term marriage, with no children from the marriage, and little or no property and/or debt, you may be able to resolve the divorce without attorney assistance.
However, if the marriage is not short term, there are children involved and/or other issues, legal advice is probably the best way to handle a divorce.
Once you’ve determined that you need an attorney, the next issue is finding the right attorney for your situation.
Although there are many different ways to find an attorney, most people find their attorneys in one of three ways: through advertisements in phone books, etc.; going online for local attorneys, or referrals from friends or family. All of these methods are helpful, but more is needed to ensure the best possible outcome: a just divorce. Before hiring any attorney, do your own investigative work.
Schedule an appointment to meet with the attorney. At the meeting:
- Ask the attorney what his/her experience is with family law. How many years has he/she been practicing family law? Is family law the focus of the law firm, or is it just an adjunct? Is he or she a certified family law specialist and/or does he/she specialize in the practice of family law? How available will the attorney be to answer your questions? How does the client get in touch with the attorney in case of an emergency? If your divorce issues are unusual and/or complicated, is the attorney qualified to help you with your issues? (Many issues, such as future pension distributions, can be quite complicated.)
- Ask questions about costs and billing and communications procedures. How much does the attorney charge per hour? What are the attorney’s fees for his/her employees’ hours (such as paralegal hours)? Are there any other additional charges? (For instance, expect to be charged court filing fees, but be sure the attorney advises you of what those costs are as well as any other expected-fees/costs.) Besides in-person and telephone communications, does the attorney correspond via e-mail, texting, or any other form of technological communications?
- Check with the State Bar of California www.calbar.org. This will ensure his/her attorney status and determine whether he/she has a disciplinary record.
Finally, before hiring any attorney, be sure you feel comfortable with him/her. This person is going to be involved in some of the most personal aspects of your life and those of your family. Is this the person you want to handle these matters?