Whether you've been contemplating a divorce for months and are taking your time looking for the right attorney, or have been served with divorce papers and need to find a Minnesota divorce lawyer quickly, your choice of representation is important. In fact, it can be life-changing, for better or worse.
Divorce can be overwhelming, and you might be tempted to hire the first attorney you meet. While time may be of the essence, it's also important to find a lawyer who is skilled, ethical, and meets your particular needs. Here are some tips for just how to do that.
As the song goes, “you can't get what you want 'til you know what you want.” Determine what the probable issues are in your divorce. Is custody or parenting time likely to be contested? Are there significant assets to be divided? Once you know what type of help you expect to need, start looking around for prospective attorneys.
A good place to start is with family and friends who have been divorced. Remember, however, that every divorce is unique, so don't expect an identical outcome. If they liked their attorneys, ask for specifics. Satisfaction with the resolution of the process is important, of course, but so is the process itself. Divorce is stressful and anxiety-provoking. Did their lawyer return phone calls promptly? How did they feel after talking to their attorney — relieved, or more anxious than before? Did they feel prepared for court hearings?
Divorce can be expensive, so it's tempting to go with the attorney who has the lowest hourly rate. This is often a mistake. The lowest rate may belong to a less-experienced attorney, who works less efficiently and winds up costing more in the end. A less-experienced attorney, of course, may also lack the overall skill to get you the outcome you need.
However, just because you shouldn't necessarily go with the lowest-priced attorney doesn't mean billing questions are irrelevant. Always ask friends and family if their attorney's bill was clear and made sense to them, and whether the attorney was willing to answer questions about billing.
Once you have a list of 3-5 names, do some deeper research online. Exclude immediately attorneys who have ethics violations; you can get this information from the Minnesota Supreme Court's attorney registration system. Consider online reviews, but take them with a grain of salt, because you don't know the reviewer. However, multiple negative reviews should make you think twice.
When you have learned about your prospective attorneys online, it's time to meet them in person. Many attorneys offer free in-person consultations, but don't be put off if an attorney charges for an initial meeting. That can be a sign of an attorney who knows what his or her time is worth and is efficient in scheduling. When you call the attorney's office, notice everything, from how pleasant the receptionist is to how organized the intake process is. If you don't like dealing with an office even before you've hired the attorney, your experience is unlikely to be any better later on.
When you meet the attorney, go in armed with a list of questions. Ask the attorney his or her philosophy of practice. It should align with the goals you've identified for your divorce. If you're hoping for an amicable, reasonably-priced divorce that doesn't traumatize your kids, an attorney with a win-at-all-costs, scorched-earth policy probably isn't right for you.
Ask your attorney also about how often they go back to court with their clients; an attorney who is able to help you find resolution that you can work with as time goes on will end up saving you time and money arguing later. You may want to seek out an attorney who offers collaborative divorce, a unique process focused on reaching settlement without going to court.
Although approximately 95% of divorce cases settle rather than going to trial, you should also ask the attorney about his or her trial experience. An attorney who is experienced at trial knows how to assess the strengths and weaknesses of a case. This makes the attorney a stronger negotiator who will likely achieve a better settlement for you. An inexperienced trial attorney may push you to take a less-than-ideal settlement in order to avoid a trial. In the event your case does go to trial, an experienced trial attorney is best prepared to protect your interests.
Last but not least: trust your gut. Even if an attorney says all the right things and seems perfect on paper, if you're uncomfortable, look elsewhere. Your relationship with your attorney is a close and critical one, and you need a divorce lawyer you trust implicitly.
Divorce is never easy, but the right family law attorney makes it much easier. Please contact us at Mundahl Law with any questions you have about finding the right divorce attorney for you. We look forward to working with you.