“I want a shark!” or “Mr. or Ms. Lawyer, is a known as a shark!” is a sentiment I hear often when either someone is looking for a divorce attorney or referring a divorce attorney. However, as most attorneys experienced in the field of family law are well aware of, the label of being a “shark” should not be the first quality you look for in a good divorce attorney.
One of the most crucial decisions you must make when getting divorced is who to hire as your divorce attorney. Hiring the right attorney can make all of the difference in the level of success you attain in the outcome of your divorce matter. Hiring a bad attorney will cause you to fight your spouse and your attorney at the same time.
For example, I had a client a couple of years ago that came to me extremely upset about his attorney. In fact, he was shopping around for a new attorney to take over representation of him during his matrimonial matter. As a divorce attorney with thirteen years of experience, I have had many individuals dissatisfied with their attorney sitting in my office. Typically, they are unhappy because their attorney failed to manage their expectations and promised to grant them all of their wishes, without explaining to them the legal constraints and realistic and probable outcomes of their situation. However, in this case the individual was unhappy with their attorney because she would not listen to his goals of settling the case in a fair manner without spending an obscene amount of money to obtain a divorce. He hired her because she was recommended as a “Shark” and that is exactly what he got. She would go head to head with his wife’s attorney over every little thing. Additionally, she would never discuss any options of compromise with him. The attorney would constantly file motions before the court for minor issues, making it seem that he was difficult and unreasonable while also making herself an annoyance to the Judge. The worst part is that he was spending triple the amount of money that he initially told the attorney he could afford because the attorney was so busy fighting and billing and fighting and billing. After he fired his attorney and hired me, within three month I secured a settlement on his behalf that I believed matched his ultimate goals. Don’t get me wrong we did not give up on his so-called “ideal situation”, but we did prioritize and compromise where he felt that he could. In fact, we ended up protecting his pension and getting him more time with his children then he ever thought was possible.
The moral of the story is, do not confuse an experienced, knowledgeable, cordial and capable attorney with a shark. A shark is a predatory fish that eats and bites all of the other fish around them. Sharks prey on others without concern for consequences. No one wants an attorney that no one else in the community wants anything to do with because they have earned themselves a reputation for being disrespectful to colleagues, judges, court staff and personal. Quite the opposite, the kind of attorney one should want by their side during a divorce is one that is well respected and welcomed by colleagues and the court. This is not to say that the attorney should be meek, lack confidence, poise or the ability to zealously argue on your behalf. The client must have confidence in their attorney, that their attorney will not simply stand back and let their spouse’s attorney walk all over the attorney and/or their client.
Just as important, focus on hiring a lawyer who specializes in family law. The worst mistake you can make is to retain a family friend who practices commercial litigation, but does an occasional divorce case as a favor for a friend. The field of family law is a very specialized field of law, with its own body of laws, a small and tight knit legal community, and case law that occasionally requires years of experience to understand and apply. Just as you would seek out a specialist to cure you from a rare disease, you need a specialist to cure you from, well….ok, you get the idea. As significant, a lawyer with years of experience in the field has inevitably been before the family law judges countless times. Having an attorney aware of the preferences of each judge, what drives them crazy and how they usually rule on any given issue is invaluable. With this sort of knowledge comes the power of persuasion and is exactly what one must look for when hiring the right attorney.
Prior to hiring an attorney ask around. People in the community have surely been divorced. In fact, statistics show that approximately 50 – 51% of all marriages end in divorce. But, don’t ask those individuals to recommend a shark. Rather, ask those individuals if their attorney had time for them, whether their attorney was patient and took the time to return their phone calls, help them fill in their documents, guided them and explained all of their options to them. It is imperative to hire an attorney that supports their client at a difficult time by taking the time to explain different options and the law. An attorney should help the client build confidence, courage and be able to stand up to your spouse and their attorney if necessary. Protecting a client’s rights does not require a shark; rather, it requires an attorney that cares and who will approach every case with the goal of helping the client achieve realistic expectations.
If you are getting divorced in New York, attorneys licensed to practice in the state cannot claim to be certified in a certain field, an expert in that field, or even that they specialize in the field. This is because New York has no way of knowing whether you are actually experienced enough to bear any such label and do not want individuals fooled by inexperienced attorneys falsely advertising simply to drum up clients. Unlike the state of New York, in New Jersey certain attorneys are certified as matrimonial attorneys (or certified trial attorneys, etc.) They must fill out an extensive application listing their cases, experience, as well as provide recommendations from judges and colleagues in the legal community. Once their application is accepted they must take a test to prove their extensive knowledge of family law. Only after passing the exam are they certified. While many certified attorneys are fantastic, many of the most experienced family law attorneys in the state of New Jersey are not certified as family law attorneys. Do not be fooled by fancy credentials. Becoming a certified matrimonial attorney does not mean the attorney is any more capable, experienced, or knowledgeable than other family law attorney in the state. Your focus should be on the attorney’s reputation, creativity, experience and availability, not on their exam taking techniques.
In conclusion, when searching for a divorce attorney stay focused on your goals, know what you want and what you can compromise on to get what you want. Next, ask for referrals from friends, family, colleagues, and/or others in your community. You can also look on sites like avvo.com, yelp, and simply conduct a Google search for referrals and reviews of local attorneys. Once you have a list of a few attorneys, interview and research potential attorneys, making sure that those attorneys are specialized in family law, have the proper amount of experience and availability. Ultimately, find the one you believe will best serve your needs, by protecting your interests while also being honest with you and managing your expectations by letting you know when you are simply asking for the impossible or unreasonable. Don’t go for an attorney simply because they are a shark, but make sure they will protect your rights with fines, decorum and respect.