Knowledge of family law and experience are the most important criteria for selecting a matrimonial lawyer. An experienced matrimonial lawyer will be familiar with the law, its trends, and the legal system. When a problem or crisis arises in your case, the seasoned lawyer is less likely to be caught off guard and more likely to be prepared to handle it.
Here are some questions that you can use to learn more about the attorney:
As a client, you deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Go with how you feel about the attorney. Do you feel comfortable talking with the attorney? Keep in mind that you will probably spend many hours with your lawyer during the course of your case. The process of a divorce is often time consuming and emotionally draining. If you are uncomfortable with your lawyer, this may be a constant source of additional stress to you. A matrimonial attorney often needs the assistance of other attorneys and paralegals. Ask how many lawyers in the firm handle matrimonial cases and about their availability. You may also want to meet other lawyers in the firm or department to determine whether you can establish a rapport with them as well.
A lawyer should have a reputation for being trustworthy, credible, well prepared and reasonable. To obtain objective information, ask other lawyers, accountants or former clients of the firm. Your lawyer can also provide you with references from former clients who have consented to the release of their names.
Divorce cases often require knowledge of other fields of law (real property, bankruptcy, personal injury, trusts, etc.). Find out what resources your attorney has available - it may be other departments within the same law firm or outside experts.
Every case requires a plan of action consistent with goals that are mutually agree upon. Unless strategy is developed and your goals focused upon, your case may become prolonged and costly. Ask the lawyer what result could be reasonably obtained and what strategies could be implemented to achieve your goals. The lawyer's response to this question will give you insight into his or her analytical skills and ability to develop a strategy.
The Rules of Court mandate that an attorney and client have a written fee agreement. The agreement normally provides for a retainer (an initial lump sum payment that will be applied towards future bills) and an hourly rate charged by the attorney. The difference in hourly rates and retainers among experienced divorce lawyers is relatively insignificant. It is most important that you feel confident that the lawyer is trustworthy because you cannot independently verify all the time spent on each task even though you should receive timely bills. Although the written fee agreement may be long (some are over 20 pages), it is important that you read it carefully and understand what you are signing. If you are not clear, ask the attorney to clarify.
It's important to realize that an expensive attorney is not always a skilled attorney. On the other hand, don't let somewhat higher legal fees deter you from retaining a skilled lawyer. An experienced lawyer may cost more now, but the long-term financial benefits may outweigh that cost later. For example, if your lawyer obtains $50 more per week in child support for your three year old, after 18 years you would receive an additional $46,800. Look at Matrimonial Rules for New York State for more information on Client's Rights and Responsibility Statement and Written Fee Agreements