By Joy Dracup Stanley ESQ, and Brittany Dracup ESQ.
Feature image: @kellysikkema
Divorce has long been ranked one of the most stressful and traumatic experiences of one’s life, second only to the death of a child or loved one. One of the most unfortunate aspects of divorce is that your spouse in many cases wields the power to make your life a living hell during the process. Therefore, it is critical that you find an attorney who can defend and creatively protect you in the event you have a litigious/nasty divorce. A good divorce attorney serves two primary functions – that of the tough advocate, and that of a strong counselor. A tough advocate will think outside the box in presenting you with all of your legally available options. A strong counselor will educate and advise you of the potential consequences of each option from a comprehensive standpoint – a cost-benefit analysis that considers not only the price of your case plan and your goals, but also the impact your choices will have on your family post-divorce. Whether you are looking to settle or go to trial, a good divorce attorney will be able to guide you down either path.
- Referral from a Fellow Divorcee
The best way to find any professional in the service industry is to get a “direct referral.” This does not necessarily mean a referral from someone who just knows the attorney personally. A “direct referral” as used herein is a referral from someone who has personal experience with that attorney’s services in their own divorce, or other family law matter. There are three things a client will remember about their attorney at the end of their divorce case – How much it cost, how long it took, and most of all, how well they fared in the outcome. In family law, no matter how good the attorney, it can sometimes be difficult to find a happy client when all is said and done. A client’s heightened emotions combined with the high price they have to pay for one of the most difficult experiences of their life, can result in a pyrrhic victory. Hence, one of the best ways to find a good divorce lawyer is through a client who was happy with their divorce lawyer at the end of the game.
- Referral from Another Family Law Professional
Another good source for a “direct referral” is anyone who has worked in family law, including paralegals, legal assistants, file clerks, or even another family law attorney. In the unlikely event that you find an attorney who is too busy to work on your case, ask them if they have a referral. It is a good sign if an attorney is being referred to you by another family law professional, because that likely means they have had a good experience working with them and respect their work. When dealing with two dueling spouses, the last thing you need is an attorney that will pour gasoline on that fire. If you know of anyone who works in family law, that person would be another good source for finding your divorce lawyer.
- Referral from a Therapist, Accountant, Real Estate Appraiser, or Private Investigator
Family law attorneys frequently work with many professionals outside family law, such as therapists, accountants, real estate appraisers, and private investigators. Therefore, if you know of someone who works in these professions, they would be another good source to get a “direct referral” for a good family law attorney. The key for referrals is to find someone who has personal experience with your prospective attorney’s work and/or services.
- Beware of Attorneys with the Pitbull / Shark Reputation
There are many who believe a good lawyer is vicious and aggressive. However, contrary to popular belief, the “Pitbull” or “shark” attorney is not necessarily doing you any favors. The California Family Code, as well as the Code of Professional Conduct, are designed to encourage settlement between the parties in a divorce, and civility and professionalism between opposing attorneys. Therefore, before going to court on an issue, the attorneys (on behalf of the parties) are required to “meet and confer,” or negotiate, in an attempt to settle the matter without the court’s intervention. If an attorney achieves the reputation of being vicious or aggressive, this typically means they are highly litigious, and do not communicate with their client or the opposing party in a way that encourages negotiations. They make more money by being difficult when it will not necessarily get you what you want. This type of behavior, if proven in court by your spouse or their attorney, can cause you and/or your attorney to be sanctioned. Judges do not appreciate ill-behaved attorneys, and the courts have become less and less tolerant of those who exhibit unprofessional behavior and cause irresponsible litigation. Thus, be wary of the attorney with the “Pitbull” / “shark” reputation in your search. Do not misunderstand. You need a tough attorney, but an infamously difficult and nasty attorney, more often does not achieve your goals. The smarter attorney is not so obvious.
- Certified Family Law Specialist
A Certified Family Law Specialist is not necessarily the better choice. There are many top family law attorneys, and even “famous” family law attorneys, who are not Certified Family Law Specialists. Officially, the Family Law Specialist Certification became a permanent program under the California State Bar in 1985. However, family law attorneys did not really start to see very many Certified Family Law Specialists until the late 90s, and even then, the program was not taken seriously. Hence, many of the best family law attorneys in the game right now are NOT Certified Family Law Specialists because the certification was either not in existence, or new after they had already been in practice for many years. Thus, a Certified Family Law Specialist is not necessarily the better choice.
- Check the State Bar Website
A great place to obtain raw data on your prospective attorney is the California State Bar website (just Google, “California attorney search”). The California State Bar holds valuable public information you will unlikely find in an attorney’s bio on their firm website. Along with an attorney’s contact information, law school, and bar admission date, the California State Bar provides information as to whether an attorney has ever been professionally disciplined or had their license suspended.
- Size Doesn’t Matter – The Big Firm v. The Boutique Firm
Contrary to popular belief, a bigger law firm is not necessarily going to get you better representation in your divorce. If you are being represented by a big family law firm, this does not mean you have more attorneys working on your case. The structure of a big family law firm really only consists of a large cluster of boutique firms – it is typically split up into different teams of no more than three (3) attorneys. Very few cases in family law need more than two or three lawyers working on them at any given time. Any good boutique firm will be able to always supply whatever a case needs no matter how big that case becomes. The large majority of family law firms, even some of the most successful firms, have three or even two attorneys with staff and law clerks.
- Do Not Be Afraid of a Higher Hourly Rate
Do not shy away from an attorney because they have a higher hourly rate. This can be huge mistake. Good attorneys work with at least one or more associates that have a lower hourly rate. Choosing an attorney because they have a low hourly rate, can be one of the most expensive decisions you make in choosing your lawyer. For example, you can hire a lawyer who is $350 an hour, and they can take twice as long to do the work. They are also not as good as the higher rated attorney. This also results in paying more or even worse, needing to hire a better attorney later to fix the mistakes of the cheaper attorney. This is a common problem in family law. An ineffective attorney can really mess up your case in irreparable ways. Therefore, take heed when you choose your attorney based on their hourly rate. We all know that you often get what you pay for, and in law that is almost always the case.
- Do Not Be Afraid to Change Attorneys
If you have already hired a divorce attorney and are unhappy with their services, you should know that it is very easy for a good lawyer to take over an existing case without much expense. Clients are often afraid to leave a lawyer that they are unhappy with because they think it will be too hard for a new lawyer to come up to speed on the facts and history of the case, or that it will cost too much to do so. This is absolutely not accurate. A smart, efficient, and competent attorney will be able to take over even the biggest mess of a prior attorney with ease. You will end up paying a lot more staying with a bad attorney than you will switching to a new one.
Joy Stanley Law Corporation is one of the preeminent family law firms in Los Angeles. For over twenty-five years, the firm has been dedicated to exceeding client expectations with client representation at the highest level. The firm is internationally renowned for its child custody expertise in international Hague Convention proceedings, child custody move aways, and custody evaluations. While the firm’s reputation is well known for litigating with a high rate of success, the firm first and foremost focuses its efforts on working with its clients towards settlement to achieve the most efficient and cost effective outcome if at all possible. To this end, many of the firm’s cases are resolved in settlement conferences with a team of professionals if necessary to bring the case to a resolution in an effort to avoid costly litigation. The attorneys at Joy Stanley Law Corporation are well known for their innate ability to bring couples together to resolve their differences with a strong focus on limiting the emotional and financial costs of protracted litigation.