Get the best from your divorce lawyer - learn how to be a good client

Divorce is a difficult, stressful and frightening time and it can also be tough for the lawyers too.  They very often have to work with people who are going through an intense personal crisis and are running scared.

However, they at least got to choose their profession.  Now before we all indulge ourselves in a wave of sympathy for those noble men and women who practice Family Law, we should ask how all this might impact on the lawyer/client relationship.  The answer is quite a lot. 

istock_justice_in_red_dress_000017611400xsmall.jpgThe key objective of any divorce action is to complete it as quickly and efficiently as possible.  Anything that gets in the way of that objective will cost money.  All lawyers charge by the hour so the quicker it is all done the lower will be the cost.

Now efficiently can relate to anything from a cooperative and compassionate dialogue through to a forensic stripping your partner of both their money and their dignity.  Whichever way you want to go it literally pays to be a good client so you can get the best from your lawyer at the least cost.

A good client from the lawyer's point of view has the following characteristics.

Get a basic knowledge of how the divorce process works
Seek out a basic understanding of how the divorce process works.  You don't need or want to know about the details, that's your lawyer's job, but just some basic principles.  He or she will be able to do this so that you have an understanding of what will happen and why the divorce process works like that.

A key principle is that the state and indeed your lawyers are not interested in the reasons for the divorce.  Their only concerns are either to get you to agree or the state to judge, how the assets (money, pensions, property, etc) will be divided up, the residency arrangements for the children, how this is to be financed and the provisions for co-parenting.  They are not interested in why the marriage is failing or in apportioning 'blame'. 

Get organised
A divorce is a complex and detail driven project.  Overlay this with the emotional trauma and it is clear that in order to keep the whole thing under control and on track you have to be totally focused and organised.  When meeting with your lawyer make sure you have an agenda and have your questions written down in advance.

Both the agenda and your questions can be emailed to her/him so that they have time to consider any points you raise in good time for the meeting.  If you are working with your lawyer remotely through email and the telephone then the same discipline will apply.  Before an email or phone call get everything that needs to be said clearly organised in your mind before sending the email or making the call.

It will really ramp up the cost if you make daily phone calls and send flurries of badly planned emails.  Every one of them will cost you money and be less effective than carefully thought out communications.  Email tennis is an expensive sport!

Have reasonable and realistic expectations
Your world may be turning upside down and your life be in complete turmoil but you do need to stay grounded.  It's difficult when fear and anger are raging through you to take stock of the reality of the situation and understand what a realistic outcome of the divorce looks like.

Divorce is very often a protracted and complex set of negotiations.  Stand up for what you believe to be fair and just but don't dig your heels in on issues such as parenting time or the division of the property that your lawyer and you both know are unfair and will not be agreed by your partner or if it comes to it by the Courts.  It will be a lengthy and expensive wrangle which could even end up with you worse off than you would have otherwise been.

Get on the case with providing the information and documents required
This can often be a mammoth task especially if your financial lives are complex and intertwined.  Not having the right information and appropriate documents can really hold up progress.  If you can stay on top of this aspect of the divorce process it will contribute greatly to the speed, efficiency and hence cost of your divorce.

Discuss fees upfront and negiotate!
Just because it's a divorce does not mean that you can't ask for and get a better hourly rate for the work.  Lawyers like everybody else operate in a competitive marketplace.  Agreeing a monthly billing statement so you know exactly where you are financially is a good thing for you and also benefits your lawyer.  It avoids any surprises when the first tranche of fees have to be paid.  The last thing you need is a wrangle over money which will sour the relationship and probably adversely affect the quality of work done for you.

Divorce is never going to be easy and there will always be the unexpected.  However, if you can work well with your lawyer then it will give a more effective and quicker result which will mean the sooner you can embark on your new (and better!) life after divorce.

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