How to find a divorce attorney, contrary to Magnum, P.I.’s advice

By Tonya Graser Smith

In my last post, I wrote about TV’s new “Magnum, P.I.” and how – from the perspective of a family law attorney – to hire a private investigator. In this installment, I offer tips on how to hire a divorce lawyer. On this topic I disagree with Magnum, who in the first episode of the new series explains to one of his clients what to do about her cheating husband.

Magnum: “Tomorrow I will email you a list of all the top divorce lawyers on the island. You should meet with all of them right away.”

Client: “I can’t afford a $700-an-hour divorce attorney.”

Magnum: “I know. But once you share the details of your case with them it becomes a conflict of interest, and your husband can’t hire any of them.”

Nah. Don’t waste your time on this strategy. Instead, spend time finding a divorce lawyer with whom you click. You might need to meet with one or perhaps several, but the motivation should be signing on with a lawyer you trust and can envision a successful working relationship and a satisfactory or better resolution to your case.

How do you choose? What do you look for? Here are my top tips for selecting a divorce attorney.

  1. Make sure you are heard. You want a lawyer who listens to you and lets you fully tell your story. You’ll know that you are heard when the lawyer repeats back to you your goals and priorities.
  2. Know that there are no dumb questions. Your would-be attorney shouldn’t talk down to you or make you feel stupid for asking questions. You should feel like you can ask anything and have it explained to you on terms you understand.
  3. Pay attention to how your prospective attorney communicates. Email? Phone calls? In-person meetings? If you have a preferred method, find out if the attorney is on board. After all, this is someone with whom you are going to have frequent contact.
  4. Ask if this attorney has time for your case. If the attorney is about to start a three-week trial, and you need immediate help, this is not the attorney for you.
  5. Make sure the fee structure works for your budget and goals, which are not always aligned. Understand where you might have to give on budget or goals. Understand that you aren’t going to be at all excited about paying any attorney fees. But this is life. And your family’s life. Recognize you need an expert to reduce stress, hassle and uncertainty for you. Attorneys don’t always produce tangible results. More often, we advise and guide you so you can make the best decisions based on your circumstances and goals.
  6. Consider an attorney’s reputation and client reviews. What are past clients saying about the attorney on the internet? Around the community? What are the attorney’s colleagues saying?  What does the attorney say their former clients would say?

So, yes, while Magnum is generally right that if you meet with an attorney or firm, the attorney and firm are usually unable due to conflict of interest from working with your spouse. However, conflicting out firms and attorneys is no guarantee. The better use of your time and money is to find the divorce attorney who fits you best and will see you through this difficult chapter and onto happier times. —TGS