Deciding Which Attorney to Hire
Madeleine Alberts, Children, Youth and Family Program Leader
M. Kathleen Mangum, Sandra Syverson, and Barbara Radke, Extension Educators
Minnell Tralle, Extension Educator — Family Resiliency
How do you choose the right attorney to handle your divorce or legal separation? Look around and ask good questions.
Deciding which attorney to hire for your divorce or legal separation can be difficult — especially the interview process. You might be tempted to skip interviews altogether, but don’t! Hiring an attorney to handle your divorce or legal separation is an important decision, and you should do what you can to find the right attorney for you. That requires interviewing potential attorneys about their qualifications.
If possible, interview more than one attorney before making a decision. If you live in a rural area, that might require driving to another town. Wherever you live, interviewing three or four attorneys will not be a waste of time. You will learn about the divorce or separation process from each one, and equally important, you will find out which attorney you feel comfortable with and trust. Some attorneys charge for an “informational” interview like this, so ask about that before making an appointment.
During Your Interview
Take adequate time to ask questions and collect information about each attorney you interview. Here are some sample questions to get you started.
About Their Background
- How long have you been practicing law? How long have you been practicing in this state?
- How much of your practice involves family law? Look for an estimate of 25 percent or more.
- What are your views about mediation or family counseling? Attorneys are not counselors or mediators, but one with this kind of background may empathize with your situation and approach the divorce from a non-adversarial stance.
- Will you represent me if I decide to use mediation? An attorney is needed to review and finalize mediation agreements with the court.
- How do you view the role of children in the divorce process? How do you understand the impact it has on them?
- Have you had trial experience related to divorce and family transition? Most divorce cases do not reach a trail phase, but it’s especially important to ask this question if you anticipate a difficult divorce that may go to a trial.
- What is your caseload like right now? Do you have adequate time to represent me?
- Will you handle my case yourself, or will you refer all or parts of it to associates or a legal assistant? Referring parts of the case to associates or assistants is not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s useful to know an attorney’s plan in that regard — especially if you want to interview others assigned to your case to see whether you are comfortable with them.
About Their Fees and Costs
- How much can I expect the divorce process to cost? Part of the cost will depend on the complexities of your case, so attorneys cannot give an exact figure. However, they should be able to give you an average range and an hourly rate.
- Is your hourly rate the same for office consultations, phone calls, reparation work and trial or court time? What are the charges for services rendered by others in your office who may work on my case?
- How much is your retainer, and may I get a copy of a standard retainer agreement? The client must pay a retainer fee in advance. Additional fees may be charged for services not covered by the retainer for additional time spent on a case. In Minnesota, retainers can range from $1,000-$25,000, depending on how complex your divorce is, and how many issues can or cannot be settled easily with the other parent. The more issues are disputed, the higher your cost.
- Are your fees and overall costs above or below average for the community?
- What is your policy on payment? Will I be billed on receipt or monthly? Are there finance charges on the balance, and — if so — what rate of interest do you charge? Do you accept debit or credit cards? Do you allow payment in installments?
About Their Work Methods
- What will you expect of me?
- How soon might I expect phone calls to be returned?
- What can I expect of you?
- How will you keep me informed about the progress in my case?
After the Interviews
After you have completed your interviews, ask yourself several questions about the attorneys’ qualifications.
- Who do I feel most comfortable with as a person and as a professional?
- Who do I feel I can trust?
- Who has the experience I’m looking for?
- Whose work methods am I most comfortable with? Whose style might work best with the other parent’s attorney?
- Who can I talk freely to, and who do I sense will talk freely to me?
- Who do I think is most open to my questions and concerns?
- Who answered my questions clearly and in a straightforward manner — so that I understood?
- Who seemed confident but not arrogant?
- Who treated me with respect?
- Can I afford the attorney I liked the best? If not, who in my price range could I work with? Or, how could I find funds to pay the attorney I liked best?
Office of Minnesota Attorney General. (n.d. ). Hiring an attorney.
LawHelpMN.org. (2013). Getting a divorce: A basic guide to Minnesota law.
Controlling Attorney Costs — Paying for an attorney can be very expensive. Find out about typical attorney costs and how to save money during the process.
Legal Advice Clinics and Self-Help Centers — Minnesota Judicial Branch — In Minnesota, Self-Help Center workstations are available in all county courthouses and a limited number of public libraries. Find the contact info for the center nearest you.