Selecting Professionals

Getting the Help you Need

You are far more likely to achieve the outcome that you want from your divorce if you are able to get reliable advice and support from others.  Before ways to seek advice and support are outlined, let’s distinguish what is meant by advice and by support.  When the word advice is used, it’s referring to professional advice given by competent practitioners that you trust. When the word support is used, it’s referring to the emotional and personal support that you can receive from family and friends.  As noted above, separating the two is critical.

Support from Friends and Family

It is critical to seek out as much support as you can from your friends and family.  This is your time of need, in a way that is not too different from if you had a serious illness.  Do not hesitate to ask your friends and family to give you the support you need, in terms of listening, with empathy, assisting with childcare, giving you fun breaks, helping out with household chores that you are too overwhelmed to complete or simply to assure you that you are going to be okay.  It is important to assure them that you need this more than advice and that they do not necessarily need to take sides in providing the support.  There are many instances in which cherished friends and family members have provided valuable support to both spouses in a divorce.

Advice from professionals

There are many different types of professionals who can help you depending on the process that you choose.  In either case, you should be diligent in researching and selecting professionals who have the experience and training to help you and who you trust to work in your interests.  Professional help is expensive and the choices should not be taken lightly.  Competent professionals that you trust will be worth their weight in gold during difficult times. On the other hand, if you do not trust their judgment or advice, they will be of very little value to you.

Do I need an attorney?
Can one attorney represent both parties?
Can my spouse and I look for attorneys together?
How do I Find an Attorney to Interview?
Do I need an attorney?

Technically, you and your spouse can get a legal divorce without using an attorney.  If you’ve worked out everything you need to between you, to your mutual satisfaction, you can complete the process using standardized forms that are widely available online or at your courthouse. However, we strongly recommend that you hire a lawyer, at least in an advisory capacity, particularly if you have minor chlldren.

Because divorce can be very emotional, there is a danger that getting a divorce without professional advice could result in could reach an agreement that is not in your best interests or not in the interests of your children.  Having an attorney look over your paperwork can help you identify areas you may have overlooked as well as any potential legal problems that your agreements may inadvertently raise. It is almost always a good idea to purchase at least one hour of lawyer time so that you can make sure you have not made an error that could prove costly in the future.

Can one attorney represent both parties?

It is unethical for one lawyer to represent both you and your spouse.  Even in an amicable divorce, you and your spouse have different interests and therefore you need to be advised separately.  You may have heard of situations in which a friend or relative went through a divorce using only one attorney and it may have seemed that the attorney was representing both parties.  However, the attorney was very likely representing only one of the parties and the other party chose to waive an attorney.  It is possible to proceed with one attorney in this manner.  However, it is strongly recommended that the unrepresented party at least have an attorney review the paperwork on their behalf before signing the final papers.

Can my spouse and I look for attorneys together?

Some couples prefer to search for attorneys together, particularly if they use the Collaborative process. The advantage of this is that it helps them find attorneys with similar approaches, and, if possible, attorneys who have worked together successfully in the past.

You may even consider interviewing attorneys together, if the attorneys you are considering are willing to meet with the both of you. (Some choose not to do so, out of concern that it could create a conflict of interest.)  Another advantage of coordinating your attorney selection with your spouse is that it can help build trust between the two of you, and among the four of you. In a traditional divorce, it’s common for both spouses to fear that that the other’s attorney will be maneuvering for his or her client’s advantage.

How do I Find an Attorney to Interview?

Getting the right attorney for your case can be time consuming, but is generally worth the effort. In most cases, it is best to identify at least two or three attorneys that may be a good fit for you and to interview them thoroughly.   You can find attorneys to interview by asking for recommendations from friends and family members, by online research and by contacting organizations like your local bar association.  If you are interested in considering all three options, (traditional negotiation, mediation or Collaborative Law), you should make sure that you interview at least one attorney with substantial experience and training in each of these three areas.  To find Minnesota attorneys with experience and training in Collaborative Practice, visit the website of the Collaborative Law Institute at www.collaborativelaw.org. The website lists Collaborative attorneys throughout Minnesota and provides profiles for each of the attorneys. To find Collaborative Attorneys in other areas, go to www.collaborativepractice.com.

How to Hire An Attorney : Interviewing Prospective Attorneys

Once you’ve learned as much as you can through public information, contact the offices of some of the prospective attorneys and ask them to send information that isn’t available otherwise. You’ll probably get additional details about the size of the attorney’s office, availability of support staff, and philosophy. You might also ask to see a standard fee agreement, which will give you a better idea of how much you can expect to pay.

After you’ve put together a short list of candidates, schedule some interviews. There’s a lot to be said for chemistry, and since you and your attorney will be working closely together on a very important part of your life, it’s important that you feel that he or she is someone you trust and are comfortable with. Interviews are also a way to get a better sense of an attorney’s style, organization habits, enthusiasm for your case, and clarity in explaining options.

Ideally, your interview should be in person. However, if circumstances only allow a phone interview, that will have to do. Either way, before setting up the interview, you should be clear in your own mind why you’re calling. Is the interview only to help you make a hiring decision? Is it to have someone explain your options? Or is it to try to get some specific legal advice about your case. Many attorneys will provide brief informational interviews or explain your options (Collaborative law, mediation, litigation) for free, but it may well be worth paying a fee for a longer, more detailed session. And if you’re seeking legal advice, we can almost guarantee that the attorney will charge you. We suggest that you not seek any legal advice in your first meeting, since it will probably be too short for the attorney to have the information he or she needs to really address your specific situation.

Getting Competent Legal Advice about all options
Cost comparisons
What questions should I ask when interviewing attorneys?
Getting Competent Legal Advice about all options

An expert is a professionals with substantial training and experience in a particular area.   Attorneys have many areas of expertise but may not have experience or training in all areas.   It is important that you receive a competent explanation about all three of the primary options available in Minnesota; traditional negotiation; mediation and Collaborative law.   While almost all attorneys may have opinions about each of their options, it is important to make sure that their expert opinion is based on substantial training and experience.   Make sure you ask about their experience and training in each area.   For example, if the attorney does not have substantial experience in Collaborative Practice or mediation, he or she may be basing their opinion on individual biases, speculation or second-hand information.  Similarly, an attorney who does not have any experience in traditional negotiation may not describe that option accurately.  That is not to say that new or inexperienced attorneys cannot handle your case effectively.  In many instances, new attorneys can provide enthusiasm and individual attention to your case that can outweigh their lack of experience.

The best way to make sure that you get the information that you need is to interview at least two or three attorneys so that you get a clear understanding of all of all of your option.    If the attorney that you interview lacks expertise in a particular area, make sure you interview enough attorneys so that at least one attorney has explained each process choice.    The choices you make may affect you, and your family, for many years.  It is well worth the time to make sure you understand your options and that you select an attorney that can help you achieve your most important goals.

Cost comparisons

While some processes are less expensive than others, divorce is almost always expensive.  It is important that you understand as much as you can about the financial side of things so that you won’t be surprised, but understand that it’s not easy for any attorney to accurately estimate the total cost of your case.

Divorce attorneys bill by the hour and generally charge a retainer, which is a payment made at the beginning of the case that is applied toward the initial work on your case. Almost all attorneys use a written retainer agreement, which is a written contract that describes their billing policies and the financial terms of their representation, including how many hours the retainer covers. Review this contract carefully so that you fully understand it. It is important that you have confidence in your attorney so that your relationship will run smoothly.

Be careful not to assume that the total cost of your divorce will be directly related to the attorney’s hourly rate. Attorneys’ rates are usually tied to their experience level, and one with more experience may be able to handle certain tasks more quickly than someone with less experience. For example, an attorney who charges $250 per hour but can draft a certain document in two hours is ultimately less expensive than one who charges $175 per hour but needs three hours to prepare the same document.  Similarly, if an attorney has a paralegal who is able to do some of the legal work, the total fees can be reduced by having some of the work done at the paralegal’s hourly rate.

Whether you will need a more experienced attorney depend on the specifics of your case. If you have complex assets or a complicated child custody situation, you’ll probably save money in the long run by hiring some one with a lot of experience in those areas. On the other hand, if your case does not seem to present complex issues, you may be better served with a less experienced attorney who charges a lower hourly rate and is more accessible.  

What questions should I ask when interviewing attorneys?

Choosing an attorney is largely a matter of personal preference and you should focus on the characteristics that matter the most to you.  The purpose of this checklist is to simply help you think about the wide range of questions that you may have of your attorney.  Many of these questions can be answered through your prospective attorney’s website, brochures or sample fee agreements.  Other questions may need to be asked during your interview of your attorney.

  1. Questions Related to Experience.
    1. How much experience does the attorney have?
    2. How much experience do they have in family law?
    3. How much experience in Collaborative Law?
    4. Are they experienced in mediation and other forms of dispute resolution?
    5. Do they have trial experience?
  2. Questions Related to Costs:
    1. Fees
      1. What is their hourly rate?
      2. What is the lowest increment of time that they will charge?  (i.e. ¼ hour? 1/10 hour?)
      3. Is there some work by the attorney that is not charged? What work?
      4. Is the rate negotiable?
      5. Is their rate subject to change?
    2. Expenses
      1. What expenses will you have to pay, in addition to the hourly rate?  (i.e. filing fees,
        copy costs, postage costs, etc. ) 
      2. How will these expenses be charged?
    3. Retainer
      1. How much is their retainer, (up front payment)?
      2. Is the retainer negotiable?
      3. Is the retainer refundable?
      4. Does the retainer have to be replenished when it is used up?
    4. Billing Practices.
      1. How often do they send out bills?
      2. How much detail is shown on the statement?
    5. Staff
      1. What support staff does the attorney have available?  (i.e. paralegals, receptionist, associates, etc.)
      2. What hourly rate is charged for each staff member?
      3. Who else will work on your case?  What portion of their work will be charged?
    6. General Cost Saving Issues:
      1. Are there some things you can do to keep costs down?  What are some recommendations?
  3. Questions related to affiliation
    1. Are they members of professional organizations?  Have they been recognized by those organizations? 
  4. Questions related to philosophy
    1. What is their philosophy in relation to family law?
    2. Do they have any preferences, values or personal beliefs that could impact the type of advice that they give?  
  5. Questions related to training/education.
    1. How much Collaborative Training do they have?
    2. How much mediation training do they have?
    3. Do they have other specialized legal training?
    4. Do they have any specialized training outside of law? (i.e. accounting, psychology, a particular language or culture, etc.)
  6. Questions related to workload/timeliness
    1. Do they currently have room for another case?
    2. Do they ever turn down cases when they are too full?
    3. Will you be forced to deal with an associate during a large portion of your representation?
    4. Do they have any extended vacations or other matters coming up in the near future that could affect their availability?
    5. How long does it typically take to get in for an appointment?
  7. Questions related to experience in your community.
    1. What is their experience in your community?
    2. Are they familiar with the specific procedures in your jurisdiction?
    3. Are they familiar with many of the other attorneys or other possible team members in your community?
  8. Question related to technology.
    1. Do they use email?  Do they check it regularly?
    2. Do they have voice mail?
    3. Can you fill out some of their information electronically?
    4. Do they use spreadsheets?
    5. What other software or equipment might be used in their case?
  9. Questions related to specific issues in your case.
    1.  If your case presents issues that you believe may require specialized knowledge, (i.e. a complex business, a significant disability or health issue, a cultural issue,) you may want to ask if your attorney has experience or training in that particular area.
  10. Questions related to the other attorney or team members. (If the other attorney or team member has been designated.)
    1. Are they familiar with the other attorney that your spouse has hired or is considering hiring?
    2. If so, what has their experience been?
  11. Questions relating to achievements/recognitions.
    1. Do they have any recognitions, awards, etc. that relates to their legal ability?
  12. Questions relating to published articles. 
    1. Have they published articles or books relating to family law?
  13. Misc. Questions.
    1. Do they have any references?
    2. Do they have their clients complete questionnaires after each case?  How long have they had that practice?
    3. Do they have other relevant experiences? ( i.e. teaching, writing, speaking, etc.)
    4. What is their ideal type of client?
    5. What types of clients do they find to be difficult?
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