We have posted on this blog before about how to choose the right attorney for you, as recently as Eric Solotoff’s post of December 28th, but one related point worthy of discussion is whether your divorce lawyer actually knows what he or she is doing. Seems easy enough, right? Well, all too often a case may very well fall "off the rails" from both a time and cost standpoint because your lawyer may not know how to handle a divorce matter, despite what was indicated to you during your initial consult.
What are the potential pitfalls and perils of retaining a lawyer who does not have a strong grasp of family law and how to represent a client in such a matter? There are many, but a few are notable for this blog entry:
Time Is Not On Your Side: What may be a simple case drags on for what seems like years (or, in some cases, may actually be years), because your lawyer does not know how to bring such a case to conclusion. This can cause fees to escalate unnecessarily.
Law? I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Law: A lawyer who knows the law seems like a no brainer, but you would be surprised to know how many attorneys handling divorce matters do not actually know the applicable law, in even the most basic sense. I recently experienced a trial judge having to pull out the Court Rules and point the other lawyer to the page of the Child Support Guidelines dealing with unreimbursed medical expenses because the lawyer was simply taking a position contrary to well known existing law. Only after having this occur in front of her client, on the record, did the lawyer back down.
Money, So They Say: No one likes or wants to spend money on a divorce, but ultimately divorce lawyers provide a necessary service to clients, and are supposed to act zealously on a client’s behalf to protect rights and interests under the law. When your lawyer does not know what he is doing, the, perhaps, unintended impact of the representation will be higher counsel fee payments than you may have anticipated. In a way, this ties into what I said above about bringing a case to a conclusion. Having a lawyer who knows the law, and can appropriately act on your behalf based on a given set of circumstances will avoid additional fees that could have been avoided had that unnecessary motion not been filed, that unreasonable position not been taken, or that lengthy research on basic points of law not been performed.
Don’t Look Back in Anger: Believe it or not, a lawyer who does not know what he is doing can increase acrimony between the parties. As lawyers, we tend to let our clients know when we think that the other side is being unreasonable, or simply is leading the case off of the beaten path due to a lack of understanding as to what is happening, or how to move the case towards an end. Clients also tend to have a strong grasp as to when this is happening, and the result is often added frustration or acrimony with the other party, who, in many cases, may believe that he or she is being properly represented. With delays and increased counsel fees, the atmosphere surrounding the matter is only going to deteriorate with time.
Ultimately, choosing a qualified attorney requires a thorough and careful determination that the person can properly act on your behalf through what may be one of the more difficult times in your life. This is not a decision that should be taken lightly, and I recommend that you review the steps in the prior entries on this blog to determine who is the right attorney for you.
Robert Epstein is an associate in Fox Rothschild LLP’s Family Law Practice Group. Robert practices in the firm’s Roseland, New Jersey office and can be reached at (973) 994-7526, or firstname.lastname@example.org.