Lawyer Reviews – Reader Beware!

“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers!”  Clearly, William Shakespeare was not in the midst of an ugly divorce or custody battle when he wrote those immortal words.  Had Will actually needed a divorce or custody lawyer, instead of killing them, he would have done an internet search on family lawyers and carefully read all of the reviews before considering which lawyer was represent his rights in court.

Everyone hopes that they can share the opinions of William Shakespeare and never need the assistance and guidance of a family lawyer.  What do you do however, when the unexpected happens and you are in need of someone who is going to fight for you and more importantly your children?  The decision to hire a lawyer can be one of the most impactful decisions of your life.  It is imperative that you find the best fit for you.   A savvy consumer will research websites, consider experience and read reviews.  When you read the reviews, however, you need to consider if you are reading an actual client review of an attorney or if you are reading a story of defeat, retaliation or just plain vengeance. Some clients will turn to the internet to share their opinions of the legal process and their respective attorneys.  However, many times, reviews that are written, are written by opposing parties who left the process scorn and need to seek vengeance on the attorney that made the legal process so unpleasant.

When you read a negative review, consider the author.  Is the author actually a client of the attorney?  If, in reading the negative review, it is obvious that the author is the opposing party then consider why the opposing party took the time and energy to write a negative review of the other attorney.  Sometimes the best compliment of an attorney doing his or her job comes from the other side leaving the courtroom upset.

If the negative review is written by a client, read and consider the other reviews.  Does the negative review conform to what others are saying or is the negative a review a stand alone?  There are times when a client wants a lawyer to take a position contrary her advice.  When that happens, an ethical lawyer will withdraw from the case, likely leaving the client upset.  Is the negative review written by a client who is upset that the attorney did not do what he wanted her to do?  Or, perhaps the client is upset at the amount of fees which were charged.  However, that could have been due to circumstances beyond the lawyer’s control such as a difficult client or difficult opposing counsel.  Some clients are upset at the situation itself but the lawyer is the handy target to blame.

Most people do not realize that ethical rule prohibit lawyers from responding in detail to a negative review.  Always keep in mind the old adage, there are two sides to every story.  There have been times when an attorney reads a negative review and literally screams at her computer screen, “that is not what happened at all!”  The reader of that negative review will never know the “other side” because the ethical lawyer is prohibited from sharing any details that could even remotely violate the attorney client privilege.   A savvy reader of lawyer reviews will consider the fact that there is an explanation (or even correction) to the negative review, that that explanation will never be known by the reader.

Make sure that you read all the reviews from all sources.  A client may review an attorney on AVVO, but not on Google.  Make sure that you research several review platforms (Google, Yahoo, AVVO, Yelp, Yellow Pages, etc.) to obtain a full picture of what clients are saying about your potential lawyer.  While reviews are pivotally important, you must also consider experience.  The more experienced the lawyer, the more likely he is to have a negative review or two.  It is simply the law of averages.  Do not let a negative review deter you from scheduling a consultation.   If reading a negative review gives you pause, ask the lawyer about it in your consultation.  For instance, if a negative review indicates that the lawyer was unresponsive, ask the lawyer, “what is your policy for returning phone calls and emails?”  If after reading a review, you have concerns about a lawyer being unnecessarily litigious, ask the lawyer what her policy is on settlement.

In summary, it is imperative to read attorney reviews prior to selecting an attorney.  However, it is just as important to be smart about what you read and consider the author.  Finally, never let a review stop you from consulting with a lawyer that you feel will be a good fit.  You can judge for yourself after that meeting whether you are comfortable with the lawyer after listening to what he or she has to say.

 

 

Do I Need a Divorce Lawyer?

Our last post talked about how you can file for divorce by yourself.  The paperwork is easy and readily available at the courthouse or online.  But, that doesn’t mean you don’t need to hire a divorce attorney.  Of course, you are going to think that, as a divorce attorney, I am just trying to drum up business for myself or my colleagues.  However, I can tell you some of the horror stories of people who come to me after their divorce trying to “fix” their mistakes or address issues that they missed.  Sometimes, such as in the case of property division which is final upon divorce, these things simply cannot be corrected later and you will be out of luck and could cost yourself thousands of dollars.

Here are some situations where we absolutely advise you to hire a divorce lawyer.

1.        You don’t have an agreement with your spouse.  There is no getting around this one.  If you don’t have a complete agreement with your soon to be ex-spouse, your only option is negotiation and/or trial.  Without an experienced divorce attorney, you will not be aware of all of the options to be able to come up with a creative solution to settle your case.  We have been doing this a long time and will be able to pose a variety of options for you and to know what is reasonable in terms of settlement.  And, when all else fails, you must try your case to the judge.  There is no way that you can do yourself justice in this regard.  We know the law, the judges and the procedures.  Whatever you pay in attorneys fees, you could cost yourself in the long run in terms of what the court will award you at trial without an attorney.

2.       You have children.  In Wisconsin, there are three different issues related to children: custody, placement and child support, which can include the payment of children’s expenses.  There are many different options when it comes to placement and many factors which must be taken into consideration.  Therefore, by nature, custody, placement and child support can be complicated.  Without a specific divorce agreement, difficulties and problems may arise in the future.  An experienced divorce lawyer has handled enough of these cases to be able to point you in the right direction in terms of a placement order.  Even though we are not child or family therapists, we have some ideas about what works best for kids. We also have experience in the types of issues which can cause disputes between parents in the future and how to address those.

For example, I sometimes have people who don’t want to be away from their children for a long period of time so they come in and tell me they worked out a schedule in which the parents will alternate placement every other day.  This is a terrible schedule for most children!  The transitions are very disruptive to children and they are never able to get settled.  Or, similarly, parents come in and tell me they agreed to an alternating week or two week schedule.  Again, except for teenage children, this is not generally a good schedule.  Young children cannot handle being away from either parent for such a long time.  However, if you have never been divorced before, you may not realize this or you may not be aware of other (better) options for placement. An attorney can help you with this.

Another common issue which causes disputes is the payment of variable expenses or uninsured medical expenses for children.  Under a shared placement schedule in Wisconsin, variable expenses are shared. Medical expenses are always split. But, how does this work?  Not very well, actually.  Experienced attorneys have standard language or options to address the payment of these expenses and put into place a method which minimizes disputes in the future.  If you fail to specify how these expenses get paid, it will be difficult to enforce this order in the future which could cost you thousands of dollars.

Not having an attorney to guide you through these complicated issues can cause you to have disputes and problems down the road.  In the end, you may end up hiring an attorney anyway because you cannot resolve these problems yourself.

3.      You have assets with value.  Even if it is just house, there are numerous options when dealing with property.  Do you know all of the options you have and the bases you have to cover when awarding or selling real estate?  I had a situation once where the parties did their own divorce and simply agreed to sell the house and split the proceeds.  Later, the husband, who was living in the house, was failing to maintain it, refusing to cooperate with the sale process and stopped paying the mortgage.  Unfortunately, because their agreement was silent as to any of the specifics regarding the sale, there was little the Wife could do.  Eventually, the judge did step in at my request and ordered the Husband to vacate the house so it could be sold.  But, because the judgment did not indicate who would pay the mortgage during the sale process, she could not order him to make up those back payments.  A very costly mistake for my client.

If you have a business, investments and/or retirement accounts, there are various considerations which go into a divorce judgment regarding those assets such as value, taxes, capital gains, etc.  Even though an attorney is not an accountant or financial advisor, experienced divorce lawyers can navigate you through these waters.  Did you know there is a special type of order which is needed to divide a retirement account?  Again, if you try to save attorneys fees, you may just cost yourself more money down the road by missing a crucial point or dividing your property in a way that is financially harmful to yourself.

4.         There is abuse or a power imbalance between you and your spouse.  We are seeing more and more cases in which there is an abusive or controlling spouse.  If you are on the wrong end of this relationship, it is very difficult to stand up to this person and make good decisions for yourself.  Often times, even with lawyers, the abused or controlled spouse doesn’t want to fight and just wants to get it over with.  This can have a devastating financial impact on your or your children down the road.  A lawyer is a buffer and someone to stand up for you in these situations.  You are getting divorced to break away from this toxic relationship – don’t let your spouse poison your freedom by bullying you into leaving the marriage in a detrimental financial position just because he or she wears you down and you are not able to stand up to them.  A lawyer is there to protect your interests and fight for what you are entitled to – not what your spouse thinks you deserve.

5.        Your spouse is hiding assets/income or being dishonest.  An experienced divorce attorney will know where to look to uncover hidden assets or income.  They also will know how to conduct discovery in a way which does not rely solely on your spouse.  For example, attorneys can subpoena employers, bank accounts, etc.  A party cannot do that on their own.  For more information on this topic, see our website at Uncovering Hidden Assets in Divorce.

6.        Your spouse has an attorney.  You don’t absolutely need your own attorney but you do need to realize that your spouse’s attorney is only representing his or her interest.  People often try to minimize costs with only one lawyer and that can work if you are cooperating and are able to reach an agreement between yourselves.  However, if that is not the case, then you need your own attorney.  If you are uncomfortable or if you don’t agree to what is being proposed, you also need your own attorney.  Again, regardless of how nice or civil they are being to you, your spouse’s attorney can only represent their interest and cannot give you legal advice.  At your final hearing, the judge will question you extensively about your right to have your own attorney.  If you choose not to and later you determine that the agreement was not in your interest or more beneficial to your spouse, you will not be able to change your mind – especially in the case of property division or a waiver of maintenance.

There are other situations as well where you will be better off with an attorney.  I cannot cover them all in this article.  Just remember – if you are uncomfortable, overwhelmed or feel like you are getting the short end of the stick, consult with an attorney!  You may feel that you cannot afford the attorneys fees or simply don’t want to waste the money.  However, you need to ask yourself – what are you really saving if you cost yourself money with an unfair agreement or if you create a situation where you end up having to go back to court because of a deficient divorce judgment?  I have a saying – “don’t step on dollars to pick up pennies” which certainly applies in this situation.

If you have any questions or would like to meet with one of our lawyers for a free initial office consultation, please call us at 414-258-1644.  You can also visit our website for more information.

-Teri M Nelson

What To Expect From Your Divorce Consultation

In researching potential blog topics, I ran across an excellent article written for the State Bar of Michigan: The Initial Consultation with Your Divorce Attorney: What to Expect When You Don’t Know What to Expect .   This article is so well written and so thorough that I really don’t have much to add.  But, I will summarize and comment.  I will also discuss in terms of our office and our procedures at Nelson & Davis, LLC.

The first topic discussed is the article is the initial contact and information you need to provide.  When you call our office, we will ask for some basic information such as what type of action you have or may have, what county you reside in and whether an action has already been started.  This is important because it assists our intake coordinators in determining whether we can help you at all.  We do not practice in certain counties and people sometimes are confused as to what constitutes a “family action”.  Our office only handles divorce and paternity cases.

If we determine that your case is something we can help you with, we will tell you what our retainer is and ask you whether you would like to schedule an office appointment.  We don’t want you to be surprised by our retainer only after you take the time to come to our office and we don’t want to waste your time or ours if you don’t want to, or can’t, pay our fees.  We also will only do in-office appointments and not telephone consultations except in rare cases.  There are some attorneys who will do telephone consultations but we find it works best if we meet potential clients in person.

If you decide you want to schedule an appointment, we then ask your name and the name of your spouse or other party.  This is crucial information and sometimes people do not want to give it to us but we will not schedule an appointment without it.  We keep that information confidential but we must determine if we have a conflict of interest.  The most common conflict is that we have already met with the other party.  In that case, we cannot meet with you.  We do not disclose that fact (nor will we ever disclose that to the other party if he/she contacts us) but simply will tell you that we cannot meet with you because we have a conflict.  However, there may be other conflicts.  One of our attorneys may know you or your spouse/the other party in another way and may feel it would be a conflict to represent you.  Or, we may have represented someone connected to you such as your employer, an employee, a relative or a business associate.  Those individuals are a great source of referrals for us and it usually is not a problem but, depending on the facts, we also may consider it a potential conflict.  Whenever there is a potential ethical issue for us, we try to err on the side of caution.

When you come in for your appointment, we will also ask you to fill out an intake questionnaire.  We will ask you to provide more specific information including your income and assets.  The reason for this is so we can provide you more detailed information about what to expect in your case.  All of this information is kept strictly confidential.  The article does a very good job in describing the type of information you will be asked to provide and why.  Keep in mind, if you are uncomfortable in providing any of this information, simply discuss that with the attorney you are meeting with.

The one difference or problem I have with the article is that it indicates that the attorney will be giving you advice at your initial consultation.  This is not true! Until we are actually retained, we cannot provide you with legal advice.  However, what we will do is review the facts of your case, tell you what the law is, what the process is, what you might expect to happen and what we can do for you.

In our firm, it is our goal to provide you with realistic expectations about your case.  Keep in mind, we may tell you things that you are not going to be happy with.  However, we are going to give you an honest evaluation of your case.  It does not help you if we fill you with unrealistic expectations only for you to lose or be disappointed later.  If you want the kind of attorney who is simply going to do whatever you want, then we are not the firm for you.  Be forewarned though – hiring that kind of attorney is only going to cost you attorneys fees and disappointment later.

We have some other blog posts which you may find helpful which discuss what type of attorney to look for, when to start looking for a divorce attorney and what questions you can ask at you initial consultation (Archives – May, 2012).

If you have any questions or would like to meet with one of our lawyers for a free initial office consultation, please call us at 414-258-1644.  You can also visit our website for more information.

3 Questions to Ask a Divorce Lawyer Before You Hire Them

Going through a divorce can be a difficult and painful process. It’s made even worse by the fact that most people aren’t emotionally or financially ready to handle what’s ahead – even if they are the ones filing for divorce from their spouse. Nonetheless, finding the right divorce attorney is an absolutely critical decision, and one you don’t want to put off any longer than you have to.

With the right divorce lawyer on your side, you can stand a good chance of achieving a fair resolution and protecting that which you are legally entitled to. With the wrong divorce lawyer, however, you could find yourself in the midst of a long struggle that leaves you dealing with unintended consequences for the rest of your life.

Because this is such an enormous decision, it’s important that you do the right kinds of research. Here are three questions to ask a divorce lawyer before you hire them:

How many clients have you represented as a divorce lawyer in the past?

Although experience isn’t everything, it’s important for your divorce lawyer to have a sense of the way things work, and several past cases to draw lessons and insights from. Additionally, having a divorce lawyer with lots of experience allows you to take a closer look at their previous track record and see what they’ve been able to achieve for other clients in the past.

There isn’t any set amount of experience that’s perfect for a divorce lawyer, but be careful working with anyone who hasn’t been practicing for at least a few years or more. Given that the outcome of the proceedings will affect you, your finances, and your family for a very long time, you probably don’t want to entrust the job to someone without a little history behind them.

Who is your perfect client?

Because divorce is such a personal and multifaceted process, there are divorce attorneys who specialize in different types of cases, situations, and even clients. And so, the chances are very good that you could find a divorce lawyer in your area who has helped lots of other people who were in a situation similar to yours in the past.

Ask about your divorce lawyer’s perfect client, because the answer will tell you what sort of situations they are most familiar with – and the ones where they are most likely to get the results you are hoping for.  Also, ask your attorney how you can help and what types of things you can do to assist in the process.  You should be able to have input and control into your own case.  This will save you attorneys fees and give you greater satisfaction with the end result.  Your attorney should welcome your assistance and your input.  After all, it is your life and you have to live with the results.

How will you handle my case?

Depending on the reputation, schedule, and experience of your divorce lawyer, he or she may maintain a very small staff with a couple of executive assistants, or a very large one with several junior attorneys in the office. Neither of those is necessarily better, but it is good to find out from the outset how much of your case will be handled personally by your divorce lawyer, and how much will be assigned to other members of the team.

You should ask your attorney how they will communicate with you, what you should expect in terms of procedure and how things work in general.  You should also ask how quickly your attorney can respond to your questions and/or what happens if they are in court or you can’t get in touch with them.  Communication is key and you need to know up front how this will be handled.

Lastly, you should find out if your attorney will work cooperatively with the other party or his or her attorney or if they plan on litigating from the beginning.  You should decide the answer to this question – not your attorney.  Everyone has different expectations in their divorce and how they want their case to be handled.  Your attorney is working for you and in your best interest.  Sometimes what you want is not necessarily in your best interests, however, and you should feel comfortable listening to your attorney’s advice on this.

Even the most amicable divorces are rarely easy, from a legal standpoint or an emotional one. For that reason, you need to have the right divorce lawyer on your side.

If you have questions about the divorce process, or just want to meet with a divorce lawyer call us at 414-258-1644 to set up a free initial consultation today.  You can also visit our website for more information.

Why All Divorce Lawyers Aren’t the Same… and Why it Matters to You

If you are just starting the process of a divorce, you might be feeling a bit overwhelmed and frustrated. Your first impulse might be to find a great divorce lawyer with reasonable fees who can help you through the process and just get started right away.

That’s understandable, but it can also lead to big problems later.

Navigating the legal framework of a divorce is a lot more complicated than filling out forms, and there are many different ways to approach the process. Even the best divorce lawyers can have very different strategies and methods. More than that, working with one or the other can entail big differences in costs, stress, and even damage to your future relationships with your ex-spouse and children.

To put it another way, not all divorce lawyers are the same, and the differences are important to understand. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Divorce attorneys can have very different strategies

Some divorce lawyers are great at protecting assets, while others are experts in securing things like child custody and placement. To find the right match for your situation, consider what your biggest priorities are, and then try to find divorce attorneys who have matching experience. Once you meet with them, get a sense of what their legal strategy is like, and how that might affect your divorce proceedings.

It’s important to agree with your divorce lawyer’s negotiation style

Although there will undoubtedly be attorneys acting as middlemen, your divorce lawyer is essentially helping you to negotiate against your former spouse. That can be an emotionally draining process, and one that leads to poor decisions if it isn’t handled properly. For that reason, it’s important that your divorce lawyer have a negotiation style (no matter how aggressive or consolatory) that you agree with and support.

You may want a divorce lawyer with trial experience

Once things go to a courtroom, the entire dynamic of a divorce proceeding can change, and you’ll want a divorce attorney who’s comfortable in that environment. A divorce lawyer with trial experience will know how to manage emotions, make a favorable impression of the judge, and generally ensure that your best case is being put forward.

You don’t want to have a personality conflict with your divorce lawyer

You don’t have to like your divorce lawyer, but it is a good idea to choose one who doesn’t have a personality that clashes with your own, or one who doesn’t seem sympathetic to your situation. Whatever the outcome of your divorce proceedings are, it’s likely that they’ll continue to affect you for a very long time to come, so don’t partner up with a divorce attorney who doesn’t seem like a good match for your personality.

New clients are often surprised at the big differences that can exist between different divorce lawyers and the types of cases they handle. It might seem like a lot to take in at a particularly difficult and stressful time, but finding the right attorney for you is the first step toward a fast, efficient, and favorable divorce proceeding.

Are you looking for a great divorce lawyer to represent you? Call our office at 414-258-1644 to arrange a consultation today.  For more information, see Nelson, Krueger & Millenbach, LLC.