BEWARE OF GIMMICKS AND FLAT FEES WHEN HIRING A DIVORCE ATTORNEY!

In this digital age, there is much competition among any business but, in particular, among lawyers.  Most lawyers practice in one particular area or niche such as personal injury, drunk driving, bankruptcy or divorce.  We have all seen the commercials which can be tacky, harsh or, frankly, even embarrassing!

In some areas of the law, many lawyers ascribe to the quantity over quality philosophy.  Their goal is to get as many clients in the door as possible and they often succeed.  However, that does not mean they are good attorneys or provide quality representation to their clients.  It simply means they are good at advertising.

In the area of divorce or family law, it is even more important to stay away from this gimmicky type of advertising.  Your entire future, and the future of your children, could depend on your attorney.  You need to have experienced and caring representation to guide you through what can be the most difficult time in your life.  So, what can you do to ensure you pick the right divorce attorney?

Most people start with an internet search.  Searching for terms such as experienced divorce attorney/lawyer or best divorce attorney/lawyer in your specific city or county is typically a good place to start.  This will bring up a list of attorneys either in the Google Business Pages (in the directory with the map) or the organic search engine results.  Most search engines have an algorithm which takes into account a variety of factors.  However, the attorneys at the top of these search results are typically (a) the attorneys who have the most and highest reviews and (b) attorneys who have the most long- standing websites. Therefore, these attorneys are typically the ones who are the most experienced and highly rated attorneys in your area.  But, buyer beware, some attorneys listed high in either results may also just be the ones who pay the most to advertise.  Make close note if the word “ad” appears next to or within the listing.  This means that the attorney has paid to appear high on the page or high on the Google Business listing results.

Once you choose an attorney or law firm to look at from these results, you need to investigate further.  First, go to their website and check it out.  Who are their attorneys?  Look at their profiles and what is their experience?  How long have they been attorneys? Do they have any awards or specific recognitions identified?  What are their practice areas?  What is their philosophy about the area of law they are practicing in?  Having the most attorneys or a high number of attorneys doesn’t mean much in the area of divorce law. 

Next, look at the details of the firm itself.  Where are they located?  Is this a convenient location for you?  In what areas or counties do they practice?  If they limit their practice areas, that means they are familiar with and are well known in those particular counties.  This will help you and your case.  Has the firm received any awards or recognitions?   Do they offer free consultations, or do they charge for their consultations?  Do they discuss fees on their website?

When discussing fees, beware of gimmicks! If it is too good to be true, it probably is! Many lawyers are advertising flat rate fees now.  However, the economics of a divorce and a law firm are not very conducive to flat rates.  For example, if a firm has numerous lawyers, they have to be paid somehow.  If they have numerous locations, the rent and expenses need to be paid in all of those locations.  So, either the flat rate is often very high from the start or there will be a “catch.”  It will say “starting at” or the flat amount will only cover a certain part of the divorce.  A recent case with one of these law firms had one party paying a $7,000 flat rate but, because it was a simple divorce, the other party whose lawyer charged hourly only paid about $3,500 in total fees.  While it is predictable at the start, a flat rate is NOT always a good deal. And what happens when the simple divorce becomes not so simple? Will the firm demand more money to continue on the case?  What if your case demands attention, such as the issuance of subpoenas or depositions, but your flat fee does not cover that?   If you are contemplating hiring one of these attorneys, read the contract very carefully and make sure you understand ALL of the terms.

What is also crucial when selecting an attorney is to know who will be with you throughout your case. Will your file remain with the attorney who you hire, or will you be shuffled around the firm? Having consistency in your representation is so very important. Without this, you are telling your story over and over and lacking continuity of representation.

You should also check the reviews for the attorney and law firm.  The reviews should be from an independent, neutral source like Google or Yelp, not the reviews which are posted on the attorney’s website. Reviews that are posted on the firms website are controlled by the firm. They can post the positive but leave out the critical.    In the area of family law, it is important to note that not all negative reviews are accurate since sometimes the opposing party is angry when a lawyer obtains a good result for their client so you should read those carefully. For more information on attorney reviews, please see our blog here:  Lawyer Reviews – Reader Beware!

Of course, a personal referral is also important when retaining a divorce attorney. Having a recommendation from a family member or friend can be the most valuable resources when considering attorneys.

Once you choose a lawyer or two who you feel will best meet our goals and objectives,  contact their office via email or telephone to schedule a consultation.  How does their staff treat you?  How do they handle appointments?  Do they answer your questions, especially about fees?  If a lawyer gets on the phone right away, that is not necessarily a good thing! That usually means that their lawyers are not busy.  Most well-respected attorneys have a healthy caseload and an appointment is required, just as if you were to call a doctor or any other professional to schedule an appointment.  On the other hand, if you can’t get an appointment for weeks, that is also not a good thing!  That means the attorney may not have time for you or your case. 

When meeting with the attorney, judge their demeanor.  Do they seem interested in you and your case?  Do they seem knowledgeable about the issues you may face?  Are they willing to answer your questions?  Keep in mind that lawyers cannot give you legal advice unless you are client, but experienced and caring lawyers can at least give you an idea as to what you may expect from your case.  Are they willing to explain their billing and office practices?

So, when hiring a divorce or family law attorney, shop around.  Ask questions.  Meet with more than one attorney.  As exhausting as that sounds, it is in your best interests to do so.  Go with your instincts and who you feel the most comfortable with.  Make sure the lawyer provides detailed, monthly billing and a detailed written fee agreement which clearly sets forth what you are being charged for and how the billing at that firm works.  Also make sure that the lawyer sets forth clearly the expectations for both you and your case.  A lawyer should be able to advise you how the process works, what you might expect and possible outcomes given the facts of your case. 

Any lawyer who can tell you what your divorce will cost or what results you will receive is not being truthful with you. There is no way to tell how the case will proceed.   Therefore, it is impossible to classify a divorce as “contested” or “uncontested” before it even begins. Those are factors that cannot be pre-determined or predicted and fees should not be decided up front based on unrealistic expectations or predictions about a case.  This is just a gimmick and should be treated with healthy skepticism.  It is more important that you find a divorce attorney with  reasonable fees, a reasonable retainer, and transparent billing practices, who is also experienced and caring.

We welcome your comments or questions. We will do our best to try to respond. However, please be advised that we cannot give legal advice in this forum and all communications are for general informational purposes only. Communication should not be construed as forming an attorney-client relationship. This is an open forum and any information you provide may be posted and will not be held confidentially. By posting a comment or question, you are expressly giving consent for the publication of same. If you have any specific legal issues or concerns, we always recommend that you consult with an attorney in the county and state in which you reside.

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