How to Select and Hire a New Jersey Divorce Attorney
How to Hire a New Jersey Divorce Attorney
Being a divorce attorney, I am amazed at how often I see clients who were unhappy with their prior divorce attorney. It is very discouraging when the person you hired to be your advocate lets you down. You can end up feeling like both your ex-spouse and your attorney are against you. This article is designed to prevent that feeling from ever taking place. This article will look at three aspects of hiring a lawyer, the price, the skills of the attorney, and the style of the attorney. We will start with price because, after all, you can not hire an attorney that you cannot afford.
PRICE AND AFFORDABILITY
Price is often confusing to clients. Lawyers often quote prospective clients a retainer price but then also include hourly rates. This can cause some unnecessary confusion. Almost all New Jersey Divorce attorneys work on an hourly basis and charge an upfront retainer to begin the representation. All to often I see clients select an attorney based on the cost of the retainer. This is a big mistake as there are far too many attorneys that solicit small retainers and then demand big sums of money shortly thereafter.
As an example, Attorney A charges $1500 for a divorce retainer and Attorney B charges $3500. Many clients see this and believe that Attorney A is less expensive. But what they fail to understand is that Attorney A may charge $400/hr and Attorney B may charge $250/hour. The net result is that the client ends up owing Attorney A more money well before the divorce is finalized. If the money isn't paid, Attorney A will file a motion to be relieved from the case, leaving the client without money and without an attorney.
This can be avoided by asking the right questions. A client should always ask what the attorney's hourly billing rates are. A client should also ask what the support staff rates are. This is important because much of a client's interaction with a law firm may not be with the attorney himself, but with a paralegal or secretary. Support staff rates can range from $50/hr to $200/hr or more. As such, the cost of support staff can be just as important as the cost of an attorney.
One question that every client would like to know but that can not be easily answered is "How much will it cost to do the entire divorce?" Or, "Will my retainer last me throughout the entire divorce process?" Unfortunately that question simply cannot be accurately answered. The cost of a divorce is a consequence of the amount of time it takes to complete a divorce. The time required depends on several factors, most important of which is how well the parties are able to compromise. I have seen cases where parties with little assets will spend $2000 in attorney's fees to fight over a $500 piece of furniture. As ridiculous as that sounds, it is actually quite common. This is true because divorce is an emotional process and some people want particular results not because they make financial sense, but because they feel they deserve something, or because they want to feel like they were right and the other party was wrong. This emotional side of divorce is hard to avoid, but it must be minimized in order to keep the costs of divorce down.
EXPERIENCE AND EXPERTISE
The second area of consideration in hiring a divorce attorney is expertise. Many people believe that the same attorney that drafted their will or helped them with a real estate transaction can help them with their divorce. While some attorney practice across different areas of the law, it is important to know what type of experience an attorney has with divorce. The Family Part of the New Jersey Superior Court has its own set of rules and an attorney can easily be confused if he or she isn't familiar with how the Family Part works.
When considering an attorney to handle a divorce, ask him or her what percentage of the practice is dedicated to family law work. A second good question to pose is how many divorce cases they handled in the previous year. Finally, if you think your divorce is going to be very contentious you may consider asking how many divorce trials the attorney has conducted. While it is true that the overwhelming majority of divorce cases settle without a trial, they do occur, and you don't want to be caught with an inexperienced attorney on the day of trial.
APPROACH AND STYLE
A third consideration in hiring attorney is the attorney's approach and style. Some attorneys want to control the litigation and want as little input from the client as possible. These attorneys tend to say "I am the expert, I'll handle everything." Other attorney's want to know the client's thoughts on different courses of action. I personally believe that a balanced approach is necessary to a successful representation. Client input is certainly important and has a place in the litigation. At the same time, an attorney tends to have a bit more objective view of the realities of a case, and also has the expertise required to navigate procedural and factual hurdles.
It can be quite difficult to glean an attorneys approach and style from just one meeting so one should consider seeking reviews of an attorney from their former clients. With so many review sites online it should not be difficult to find client feedback on a New Jersey divorce lawyer's approach and style.
Hiring a divorce attorney does not need to be as difficult as the divorce itself. Some people are intimidated by attorneys and are afraid to ask questions. The best way to overcome this is to be prepared and to know what to look for. For more information on our Family Law services visit our New Jersey Divorce Attorney website.