What Should I Expect From My Divorce Attorney?
Learn what separates bad or average divorce attorneys from the great ones
What your expectations "should" be depends on several factors
What you should expect depends on whether you hired a good attorney or not. It also depends on whether your own expectations are reasonable.
Attorneys are professional service providers. Just like doctors, accountants, contractors and other professionals, the quality of service can significantly vary from one attorney to another.
And just like you would not think that all doctors, accountants, contractors and other professionals are the same, you should not think that all divorce attorneys are the same.
Family law experience, knowledge of the law, communication skill, courtroom litigation skill, writing skill, negotiation skills and other skill sets make up a divorce attorney's talent base, efficiency and effectiveness inside and outside the courtroom.
For that reason, we broke up this article into what you should expect from a great divorce attorney, an average divorce attorney, and a bad divorce attorney. This may even help you choose the right attorney.
What to expect from a bad divorce attorney
- Poor communication, including failing to respond to your calls or emails
- Selling you on litigation that does not make sense from a cost versus benefit perspective,
- Spending time and money on issues that are more fluff than substantive,
- Sloppily drafted paperwork that includes significant typographical errors, proofreading errors, incomplete or incorrect factual statements, and/or incomplete or incorrect statements about the law,
- Lack of preparation for hearing including preparation him or herself and you for the hearing,
- The inability or unwillingness to communicate efficiently with you including telling you what the attorney thinks you want to hear instead of what you need to know,
- Playing on your emotions and getting you emotionally riled up regarding the case instead of helping you make logical choices.
There are many other examples I can give you but hopefully this gives you a taste of what you typically can expect from a bad divorce attorney.
What to expect from the average divorce attorney
Average divorce attorneys make up the great majority of attorneys who handle divorce and parentage cases.
Many of these lawyers, similar to bad divorce attorneys, do not dedicate their full-time and resources to divorce and family law. They often practice different areas of law such as criminal defense, personal injury, bankruptcy, estate planning or others.
Here is what you can expect from an average divorce attorney, regardless of whether they have a dedicated practice family law or not.
1. Difficulty in reaching them
The average divorce attorney will call you back but most of the time you have to wait an unreasonable time to hear from them. This can vary from one attorney to another.
2. A lack of deep knowledge about the case's facts
The average divorce attorney goes through the motions more than they understand the details of the case. It is often in the details that the most important facts are found including those facts that can make a difference in an evidentiary hearing,
3. A very basic understanding of family law
The average divorce attorney has a basic understanding of family law. That may be okay for a very short marriage with little to no assets and little to no custody issues but for cases that become complex, that basic knowledge may not be enough. Family law is a complex area of law.
This is especially true in complex child custody cases that involve move away, abduction, child abuse and complex financial cases that involve self-employed spouses, valuation of businesses, separate versus community property disputes over property, etc.
4. A basic to below average understanding of the rules of evidence
One of the most common issues we see with the great majority of divorce attorneys is their lack of command of the rules of evidence. It is incredible to me how so many of these lawyers walk into a courtroom and cannot properly put on case.
Their knowledge of hearsay rules are typically very basic, if they have any.
Their ability to lay foundation for questions they ask and to avoid evidentiary objections is sometimes dreadful.
Their inability to separate relevant evidence from that which is irrelevant is similarly awful to the extent they waste so much time on facts that rarely if ever will make a difference to a family law judge's ultimate order.
5. Too much reliance on forms and cookie-cutter approach to cases
This is another common issue we see with the average divorce attorney.
We most often see this in settlement offers and judgments they draft. They take a cookie-cutter approach instead of customizing the settlement to that individual client's needs.
While there is overlap between issues from one case to another and there is nothing wrong with having a template for the more common issues, individual cases still need individual customization.
The failure to take the time or have the knowledge to customize the issues for the client, which not coincidentally can avoid many post judgment issues or disputes over orders, can do the client a disservice.
Similar to bad divorce attorneys, we could give you many more examples. Let's move on to what you can expect from the great divorce attorneys.
What to expect from great divorce attorneys
Great divorce attorneys have the following qualities.
1. Extensive courtroom litigation experience
Great divorce attorneys are not paper tigers. Their courtroom experience is what sets them apart from the majority of other attorneys.
Great divorce attorneys have substantial experience handling evidentiary hearings including but not limited to trials. There are a lot of pretenders out there who talk a good game. When it comes time for the hearing, a pretender is not what you want as you advocate.
2. Excellent communicators
Great divorce attorneys are excellent communications.
Communication is not just returning phone calls. Communication is providing a client with objective analysis based on facts and the law. Great divorce attorneys provide this information early and often, throughout the divorce.
3. Avoiding wasteful litigation
Great divorce attorneys tell clients when litigation makes sense and when it does not. Since litigation, especially trial, is expensive, choosing what issues are worth litigating is essential to success.
4. Quality paperwork, filed and served on time
Great divorce attorneys produce quality work product, focused on relevant facts and an accurate representation of the law.
The paperwork, including declarations, points and authorities, briefs, etc. advocates the client's position without infusing irrelevant emotional drama.
Family law judges, who read more paperwork than you may imagine on a weekly basis, appreciate this fact driven and efficient approach.
Expect more from your divorce attorney
Now that you know the differences between a bad divorce attorney and a great one, and everything in between, you have a choice to make.
What is it that you want?
The search for a divorce attorney requires discipline and diligence. Take the process seriously.
We are one of the premier family law firms in Southern California. Contact us for an affordable strategy session. Put our experience and knowledge to work for you.