Finding the right attorney

Going through a divorce can be stressful and highly emotional. If couples can't reconcile their differences, it can often turn ugly. Therefore, it's essential to find an attorney who specializes in divorce so you know you'll have someone representing you who understands the issues, the changes in the law and the small details that can mean the difference between getting your needs met and being "taken to the cleaners."

Overall criteria include finding someone who:

Most attorneys initially charge a retainer when they first take your case, which covers the initial expenses. After that they charge an hourly rate and bill the client for every function they perform, including phone calls. In most cases they charge in 15-minute increments.

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Only you will know if there is chemistry between you and your attorney. The process will be infinitely easier if there is a reasonable level of comfort and trust between you. If your gut tells you this isn't a good fit or if you feel in any way uncomfortable with an attorney after the first phone call or office visit, it's time to keep looking. The best way to find a good attorney is by word of mouth, from friends, relatives, a trusted minister or colleague who has used and been satisfied with this attorney. If a trusted person hasn't been through the process but knows someone who has, get that person's name and also the name of the attorney so you can give each of them a call.

If none of that works, check the Yellow Page directory for the number of a local bar association's Help Line. Get at least six names of attorneys who are experienced in divorce cases. Contact and interview each until you've found the one that you feel will best represent you.

Statistically, many consumers are dissatisfied with their lawyers. A Consumer's Union survey, taken in 1995, indicates that fully one-third of 30,000 respondents were not satisfied with the quality of the services provided by their attorneys. Their reasons included:

Part of the problem is that there are so many specialties practiced by lawyers. This is due, in part, to changes in technology as well as changes in laws and regulations. New attorneys spring up to deal directly with those issues.

Preparing to meet with an attorney

Before you retain a lawyer you need to ascertain his or her experience in handling divorces, check to see if your communication styles and goals are in sync; and if the attorney you're considering has sufficient time and resources (support staff) to devote to your case.

Following are some questions you can ask during an interview before retaining an attorney: