Choosing a divorce lawyer may be one of the most important decisions you make during your divorce process, not only are not all divorce lawyers created equal, but each of us have our own unique persona and set of priorities in our case, which makes it even harder to find a great fit. I spoke to Tiffany Hughes Esq. of The Law Office Of Tiffany M. Hughes, of Chicago to gain some insight into the divorce attorney choosing process.
Why do we make such bad choices with the lawyers we pick?
Consumers tend to make bad choices since cost is typically the driving factor in choosing an attorney. While it’s important to keep budget in mind, many consumers unfortunately choose cost over quality, ultimately leaving them dissatisfied with their representation. Choose an attorney based on the quality of their service, and the zealousness of their advocacy. Clients can always discuss their monthly budget, as well as any payment plans, with their attorney. Attorneys are more than willing to work with their clients. However, as a consumer, picking an attorney purely based on cost is never a good idea—and it may not be the most cost-effective decision in the long run either.
How can we make best possible choice when choosing a Lawyer?
Do research. Get recommendations from people in your network and look at endorsements and reviews online. Searching for “top attorneys” on Google and Avvo will get a good amount of peer and consumer-endorsed attorneys. Look at awards as well—find out which attorneys are known for their outstanding client service. Furthermore, look at firms that only practice in the area of law that you are specifically looking for. There are many general practice firms that do a little bit of everything. However, the smaller firms that focus on 1-2 areas of law (ex. boutique family law firms, personal injury firms, or traffic and criminal defense attorneys) are essentially experts in the field. They tend to have a variety of experience in these smaller areas of law, and tend to be more familiar with the local rules that govern each city or county. Lawyers who have practice in a single or couple areas tend to be the best, most experienced in their field.
Lawyer practices that we should be aware of, that are a red flag to consumers?
Lawyers and/or firms that offer flat fees in domestic relations cases specifically should be a red flag for consumers. These offers seem like a great deal, which is why many consumers choose family law firms with flat fees. However, what’s important to note about domestic relations cases is that proceedings always vary in length, complexity, and contested issues. There is no “one size fits all” for divorce and parentage cases, so choosing a “one fee fits all” is not setting yourself up for success. One common consequences of choosing an attorney with a flat fee for a family law case is that the lawyer cannot afford to be aggressive in representing the consumer. In especially contentious cases, where there are Emergency Motions that need to be filed in a timely manner, lawyers with flat fees are hesitant to take action, since they would likely be exceeding their flat fees and essentially losing money. In high-asset divorces, lawyers may choose not to move forward with formal discovery in an effort to save money and cut costs. Formal discovery is critical in cases where there are lots of assets or debt. Choosing to avoid this is extremely damaging to a consumer’s case. These “deals” are most certainly not cost-effective. Choosing to move forward with a flat-fee domestic relations attorney puts a consumer at a big disadvantage, and limits how effective and aggressive an attorney can be with representation.
The fact is in most divorce cases, neither party will win everything they ask for, or think they are entitled to, we all can only make the best choice based on the information we have, and accept that each person in a divorce case will both win and lose something in the legal process. This is why it is important to have realistic expectations going into any courtroom, and use your money wisely when picking the legal team you may need.