St. Louis is a city that is highly populated with countless attorneys and law firm choices. At Zolman Law Firm, we understand that there is no divorce attorney or firm that is “right” or “perfect” for everyone, especially when it comes to personal matters. So where do you start? We suggest making a check list of the following topics and keeping appropriate notes on the check list for every divorce attorney or family firm that you contact:
Experience in Family Law
Yes, any attorney that is licensed and in good standing with the Missouri Bar is deemed capable of handling a divorce. But that doesn’t mean that they have ever handled a divorce case. Family Law or Divorce Law needs to be the number one type of cases that they handle. If Family Law is listed as the 7th thing on a long list of cases they handle, you may want to move on and carefully weigh your other options.
Experience in Family Law in the country in which your case will be, or has been filed:
Each county in Missouri has Local Court Rules that pertain to that specific county. Your attorney needs to be familiar with the rules of that particular county. The alternative could lead to a disadvantage to your attorney, and thus to you as well. In addition, knowing the “peculiarities” of each Judge that handles family law within that county can give your attorney an “edge” in your case, such as knowing which topics to promote or which topics to avoid. And even when to file for a change of Judge.
Each attorney has their own personality and you need to feel comfortable with the personality of your attorney. You don’t necessarily want a “go for the Jugular” type that will waive off a reasonable offer for settlement just to prove a point. Remember that the Judge is going to try to be fair on each case and has boundaries on what they can or will do. If your attorney annoys the Judge to a great extent, you may end up worse off than you otherwise would have, had your attorney been more civil. You likewise don’t want a carefree, laid back “I don’t really care” type that won’t fight for your rights or present your case in the best possible light.
In general, attorneys with more experience charge more for their time. Sometimes it is worth paying more, and sometimes it is not. For instance, in cases without children, it is not worth paying more for an attorney than the sum total of your assets.
If any attorney promises you “the world”, run. Unfortunately, some attorneys tend to over promise and under perform. Make sure your attorney will discuss the “downside” of your case as well as the “upside”. Don’t interpret this as the attorney not being willing to present your case in the best possible light to the Judge. It is important that you understand the weaknesses of your case in addition to the positives.
Attorney-Client Agreement (ACA)
Make sure that your attorney presents you with an ACA, and then read it before you sign it. There is valuable information in the agreement and you need to understand the terms. For instance, in contested cases, you will typically pay a deposit up front that will be placed in the Attorney’s Trust Account. In almost all cases, this will not necessarily be the final cost for your case. Most attorneys bill hourly for work on contested cases and they do not have a crystal ball that will tell them exactly how many hours will be necessary on your particular case. If you don’t understand any part of the ACA, ask them to explain it to you.
Nothing is more frustrating than an attorney (or client) that won’t return phone calls. If your attorney is not returning your phone calls, they are likely not returning the phone calls of the opposing attorney either. This will make a reasonable settlement outside of court almost an impossibility. And this means all negotiations are going to take place at court and thus cost you more in fees. And it’s going to perturb the Judge that the attorneys aren’t making a reasonable attempt to settle the case.
Mountains and Molehills
Be wary of any attorney that wants to make a mountain out of a molehill. Keep cost in mind when deciding whether or not to tackle each particular issue (the molehills). Ask yourself if fighting this battle is worth the possible cost. Also be firm with your attorney regarding the mountains. Generally, it is worth fighting a battle if it is in the best interest of your child or children.
Don't be willing to take any settlement "just to get it over with"
Almost every client will end up regretting that decision. If your attorney is trying to talk you out of accepting a particular settlement offer, at the very least listen to their logic. They have more experience in family law than you do, and they are not acting on their emotions.
After you make your decision and hire an attorney
Try to relax as much as possible. You have done your homework and put your case in the hands of a professional. If you call them five times a day to inquire as to the status of something, you are going to drive them crazy; and, you are going to have a huge attorney fee bill to pay. And when your attorney or their staff asks you for certain documents, be responsive. Don’t make them contact you over and over again. This, too, will run up your bill more than necessary.
Zolman Law Firm has been successfully executing divorce and family law matters to the metropolitan St. Louis area since 1996. If you are looking to discuss your divorce case or other legal matter, contact us today.