What should I ask before hiring a divorce attorney?

Posted by Brian Waller | Mar 14, 2021

Some people do a lot of research before they hire a divorce lawyer, and others hire the first person they talk to. This depends on the person and the situation of course, but here are some basic questions you should ask before hiring a divorce lawyer:

1. How long will my divorce take?

In Massachusetts, a divorce is put on a "14-month track" by the court, which means that its goal is to resolve each divorce completely within a 14-month timeframe. Anecdotally, that feels about right as the average length of a divorce case, but individual cases can be completed in as short as 60 days or may take as long as 3 years or more. It all comes down to how many issues are contested, the level of conflict, and who is representing the other party. Some attorneys are known for dragging things out and being impossible to get in touch with. If one of those attorneys is representing your spouse, things will take longer. There are strategies that can keep things moving, but there is no way to create urgency in the opposing party or their attorney. If they want to drag it out and try to make you give in to unreasonable demands just to get the divorce over with, your attorney should be honest with you about the cost of continuing to fight about certain issues compared to the benefits.

With that timeframe in mind, you should choose an attorney that you are going to be comfortable dealing with for the next 2 years. You should feel like you can trust them and that they understand your concerns and your goals. You should not feel pressured to make decisions you aren't comfortable with. How will your attorney treat the other party? Will they be aggressive and come out with guns blazing? Will they be a push-over, or only care about getting the divorce completed vs. your desired outcome? Each attorney has their own style, but in general, the more confrontational the attorney, the longer your divorce will take. This doesn't mean   

2. How will you communicate with me?

The number one complaint about attorneys is that they don't keep clients informed. Some lawyers are better at this than others, but your attorney should set expectations with you about how often they will be in contact with you, and how. Will they call, email, text, or send you snail mail? When should you contact your attorney? When and how often will they contact you?

We rely on email because that tends to work for many people, but sometimes texting is better, it depends on the client. We rarely send clients anything in the mail except for original documents, but even that is unusual. What we focus on, however, is keeping clients informed at every step along the way. We try to over-communicate and make sure that you don't need to check in with us because you already know what is happening. There are often "lulls" in cases, but for us, no news means there is no news to share, not that we have forgotten about our client. 

3. Are you familiar with the local judges?

There are a total of 40 - 50 Probate and Family Court Judges in Massachusetts at any given time. In Worcester County, as of this writing, there are 5 sitting judges, but normally there are 6. This means that if you file for divorce in Worcester County, there are 5 judges that might be assigned your case. Your attorney should have a good sense for the style of each judge and how they manage their courtroom. Do they know how to get in contact with the judge's clerk? Have they had a case like yours with that judge? To be clear, I don't think there is any benefit to the judge being familiar with your attorney, but I do think it is helpful if your attorney knows how to navigate cases with each judge and can focus on the specifics of your case instead of the logistics of working each judge's clerks and support staff.

More importantly, though, do they care about their reputation? I personally wouldn't do something that might damage my reputation with a judge. If I went in front of a judge and knowingly spewed a bunch of inflammatory stuff about the other party that turned out to be false, that judge is going to question my integrity the next time I am in front of them. No single case is more important to me than my reputation, so but not every attorney takes that approach. There are attorneys that are known for ripping apart the other party, but to me, that is short-sighted. I know I am going to be back in front of this judge again in the next few days with another case, and I don't want them to roll their eyes and think I am full of it.

4. How much will my divorce cost?

This is usually a tough question for attorneys to answer. According to Lawyers.com, the average cost of a divorce in Massachusetts ranges from $10,600 to $12,800. FindLaw lists the average cost of a divorce in Massachusetts as $12,000+. This is based on hourly billing but there are a lot of moving parts when attorneys bill hourly. What is their hourly rate? Do they bill for every email or phone call? What if they talk to the other attorney or the court about your case? Will you be billed for their paralegal's time? What about waiting in court (or online) for a hearing to start?

We offer flat fees because, among other things, hourly billing just sucks. It sucks for the attorney to have to track and bill all their time. It sucks for the client that gets a bill that might be shockingly high. The biggest problem with hourly billing is that the time spent by an attorney hardly ever equates to the value received by the client. We know what matters most to clients is the comfort of knowing that their case is under control and that they know their attorney understands their goals and concerns and is doing everything they can to get the best outcome possible. Sometimes, a quick email on a Friday afternoon that sets your mind at ease for the weekend is worth 1,000 times more than the 4 hours your attorney spent drafting a motion. 

5. Are you the best divorce attorney?

Here is a dirty little secret: people hardly ever hire the best attorney. There are a lot of reasons for this. First, how do you define the "best" attorney? The attorney with the most cases? The attorney that charges the highest fee? The attorney that has been practicing the longest? The most aggressive attorney? The attorney that writes the best memos and knows the law the best? The most well-known attorney? That's the problem, there is no way to find the 'best' attorney because they don't exist. 

The second issue is that every case is different and presents a different mix of issues. An attorney that may be an expert in child custody issues may not be the best to hire if your financial picture is complicated. And an attorney that is an expert at handling divorces for high net worth (i.e. rich) clients may not be the greatest choice for a middle-class spouse. 

The third issue is style. Do you want an aggressive, boisterous attorney that will tear your soon-to-be ex-spouse apart in court? Or do you want an attorney that will take the high road because they know you will have to be in the same room with your ex-spouse for your kids' high school graduation or wedding at some point? 

There is no right answer to any of these questions, but the answers to these questions should give you some insight into what it will be like working with this person for the next couple of years. This is why almost everyone hires an attorney that they like, not the 'best', the most expensive, the cheapest, the fastest, the most experienced. 

How should I decide? 

If you are looking to hire an attorney for a divorce in Massachusetts, you should ALWAYS speak with more than one. Some attorneys charge for an initial consultation, others (like us) don't. We encourage potential clients to speak with other attorneys because we want anyone that hires us to feel good about it and to also have a point of comparison. Most importantly, get a feel for the attorney's style and make sure that this is someone you can see yourself working with for the next few years (but hopefully less!).

If you would like to discuss your case with our team, you can schedule a free consultation using the link below.

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About the Author

Brian Waller

Founder and Principal Attorney

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