How to Find and Hire a Good Divorce Lawyer and Minimize Legal Expense
To start your search, you should look for those divorce lawyers that practice in your area that have a high ranking on AVVO, a credible national ranking service, or that otherwise have a good reputation. (Mr. Hippe has obtained a 10/10 on AVVO.)
You also need to find the "right" lawyer for you, someone with whom you are personally comfortable and who will seek to minimize expense in good faith. This process is critical. You do not want to have to change later. (A party who changes lawyers may be stigmatized, and any new lawyer will have to spend considerable time getting up to speed.)
Below are some tips on finding the "right" lawyer:
- Interview only those lawyers who have obtained a high ranking on AVVO or otherwise have a good reputation.
- Ask if the lawyer agrees with the Roadmap steps and will accept the Pledge or something similar.
- Interview at least three. Almost all lawyers offer a consultation. Make sure the divorce attorney you hire does not seem excessively combative. And don't make your decision on price alone. You should hire the attorney with whom you are most personally comfortable.
- Ask if the lawyer will discount his or her rate base on your ability to pay.
- Ask for a fee cap. The expense of contested domestic litigation can get completely out of hand. To hedge this risk, see if the attorney will agree to a "fee cap". (Mr. Hippe prefers to break down "fee caps" into stages: (a) pre filing negotiations, (b) initial litigation through a temp. hearing, (c) litigation through through discovery and mediation, (d) post discovery and mediation trial preparation, and (e) the trial of the case.)
- Make sure you carefully review your engagement contract before you sign and consider having another attorney review it, in particular if the billing may be substantial.
- Make sure the initial retainer is reasonable. Depending on the contract, the initial retainer may be non refundable.
- Ask for a minimum monthly payment plan. In contested litigation, there are periods of heavy activity and relative quiet. You need to make sure you have sufficient time to catch up on any negative balance before the firm can seek to withdraw.
Once the Attorney is Engaged, to Save Legal Fees:
- Make sure both you and your attorney are committed to the Roadmap steps.
- If you can't resolve the entire divorce uncontested, try to resolve at least some issues to narrow the scope of litigation.
- Make sure your settlement expectations are reasonable. And ensure your attorney makes formal, reasonable settlement offers at each major stage of litigation. In Georgia, this will strengthen your claim to attorney's fees at the end of the case.
- Function as your own paralegal. In areas of discovery, for example, you can do a lot of work.
- Consider early mediation and possibly arbitration as an alternative to protracted contested litigation.
- Review your legal bills carefully. Bring any good faith objections to the attention of your attorney as soon as possible.
- Avoid piecemeal communications. Every phone call and email generates a billing entry. Try to jot down your questions and hold them for a conference call or meeting.
- If you need a therapist, hire one. A divorce is extremely stressful. A therapist is cheaper than an attorney.