A lawyer chump recently wrote me and asked for a column on the pitfalls of choosing a good attorney. Now in the spirit of legal discussion, let me begin with a disclaimer — I am not an attorney and nothing here is to be construed as legal advice — talk to a real lawyer! But I am curious about your experiences, good and bad.
How did you find a lawyer? Did you shop around? Did you have any interview questions? Did you ever change lawyers? Got any advice for the newbies?
As someone who’s had the misfortune to spend a decade in family court, here’s my advice:
1.) Document, document, DOCUMENT. The law is based on evidence. You can’t have enough. Collect all your financials. Do spreadsheets of how much time you spend with your kids, things you take for granted and wouldn’t think twice about — time stamp that shit and write it down. Go crazy with binders. DOCUMENT! Your lawyer will thank you. The judge will be impressed with your cool analytic ability to build your case. DOCUMENT!
2.) Your lawyer is not your therapist. These people bill in 6 minute increments. Save it for your support group. Some emotional sloppiness is to be expected — this shit sucks — but try to keep it business-like and focused. You want this person to represent you, not wipe up your snotty grief.
3.) Manage your expectations. You want an advocate, someone who will champion your cause, but you also want a straight shooter. Trust no lawyer who guarantees results or says “slam dunk.” Lawyers will assess your odds, and they’ll probably tell you things you don’t want to hear. You are PAYING FOR THEIR ADVICE. Listen to it.
4.) He with the coolest head wins. That’s a little saying my trial lawyer husband says about court. The other side will try to paint you batshit crazy, provoke you, say terrible things. Do NOT take the bait. In trying to defend yourself, do not become the thing they are accusing you of. I know it’s crazy making. I know it’s counter-intuitive to react to insults and untruths with unflappability, but it’s a crucial survival skill in court. LEARN IT. Don’t be overly emotional, be determined.
Finally, some resources (for the U.S. anyway — if you’ve got some for other countries please post.)
One stop shopping for divorce, custody laws and everything domestic violence-related — check out www.womenslaw.org
To shop for a lawyer near you, who comes recommended from other lawyers — check out www.superlawyers.com
(Neither of these groups pay me to promote them. Just passing this along.)
Now then, CN, help the newbies LAWYER UP!