This is a post by guest blogger Joy Ragan.
There is often a misconception that your attorney should be an extension of you. People believe the attorney is supposed to “speak on their behalf” and, therefore, should say or do exactly as the client directs. This is a dangerous way of thinking. Attorneys do speak for clients. Attorneys are their voice in the courtroom. However, attorneys are not puppets. If you and your attorney are not on the “same page” it probably means you have a good attorney.
Think of it this way, attorneys work in the system daily. Attorneys know the ways of the court system. They see thousands of cases and have a very different perspective from those who are going through a divorce. Attorneys are trained to deal with a case as a set of facts and to apply those facts to the law to gain the best possible result for the client. A person who is going through a divorce does not look at the situation in this way at all. It is actually a very unnatural way to view your circumstances. Especially in a divorce, there are many emotions. On some level, you want your attorney to “be on the same page”; to share your emotions and disgust with your spouse. However, this is the exact opposite of what you should want in a divorce attorney.
Choose a divorce attorney who is willing to tell you the truth and not just what you want to hear. You want to hear that you will get thousands of dollars a month in alimony or that you will get exactly the visitation schedule you desire or you won’t have to move out of your house or (insert whatever you preconception is here). I can imagine it is comforting to hear from a professional that you’ll get everything you want, that this traumatic experience will not be so bad and you’ll get to walk out of the marriage virtually unscathed.
That’s just not the truth. Extremely rare is the case where one party leaves the marriage without having to compromise or experience the loss of something that is really important to him/her. When you have an attorney who is preparing you for reality, it may very well feel like the two of you are not on the same page. It may feel like the attorney doesn’t understand you or your desires. You may find it hard to pay someone to work for you and have that person tell you things that you don’t like. However, this is the ideal attorney. You are emotional and struggling to think rationally (and understandably so). You do not want your attorney to be on this same page.
Often it doesn’t matter how gently the attorney attempts to steer the client away from emotions and toward a logical resolution to the case, the client feels discomfort. The natural instinct is to resist and cling to emotions. At this point, it is not unusual for the client to want to switch attorneys. Clients go in search of someone to tell them differently – to tell them what they want to hear. While there is nothing wrong with getting a second opinion, make sure you are getting a second opinion from a good attorney.
I have counseled many people who come to me seeking “second opinions” to stay with their attorney. Their attorney was giving good advice. The client just wasn’t emotionally ready to hear it. But, there are many attorneys who would rather make money than tell you that your attorney is on point. In family law cases, we often see clients who have been through multiple attorneys. They switch attorneys every time they feel as though they are not “on the same page” as their attorney. This is a red flag, not only for other attorneys, but for Judges. This behavior could be seriously detrimental to your case. Resist the impulse to act simply because your attorney is saying or suggesting things that are uncomfortable.
(Note from Karen: It’s also possible that your attorney truly isn’t the correct attorney for you. So, if when you get a second opinion from a good attorney they give you different advice, you might want to get a third opinion from another good attorney so you can be comfortable that you’re getting the best representation for you.)
The reality is that divorce hurts, the process is painful and the legal system is not designed to solve all of your problems. An attorney who will guide you to this reality is a good practitioner, especially when the two of you are “not on the same page”.
About Divorce Attorney Joy Ragan:
Joy Ragan is a Family Law and Criminal Law Attorney on a mission to see families healed and the legal system improved when it comes to divorce. An author, speaker, and web TV host, Joy is reaching people all over the world with her message of healthy conflict resolution and living every day with joy.
In addition to being an author and speaker, Joy practices law full time in Central Florida.
If you’re looking for more help on how to deal with the challenges you’re facing now, read more articles about Life After Divorce.
Whether you’re a man or woman, the dumper or dumpee, one of the very first things you probably realized you needed to do to get divorced is that you need to hire an attorney. If you’re like most people, you probably asked a friend or family member who’s been divorced who they used and then promptly hired that attorney. It wasn’t until after you’d already plunked down your retainer that you had any idea of what working with this attorney would be like.
If this sounds like you, you might be in for some surprised. This article will help you to better educate yourself about what you can and should expect from your attorney – AND how to select a new one if you decide to adjust course on your representation.
If, however, you’ve not yet selected an attorney, then READ THIS BEFORE you retain one.
STEP 1: Develop your short-list of attorneys. You need to interview (yes, interview) at least 3 attorneys before deciding whom you want to represent you. Go ahead and ask your friends and family for referrals, if and only if, your friends and family felt comfortable with their attorney.
STEP 2: Decide on the questions you want to ask your short-list of attorneys. One of my attorney friends wrote a great article for my website – “How to Choose an Attorney”. You can check out her article on my website at http://www.drkarenfinn.com/images/pdfs/howtochooseanattorney.pdf. In addition to the questions she suggests you use to interview your short list of attorneys, I also suggest you ask about the minimum billing increment. Attorneys typically bill by the hour for their services and have a minimum billing increment. What this means is that if an attorney has a minimum billing increment of 15 minutes and they receive a call from a client that lasts for 10 minutes, the attorney will bill their client for 15 minutes of time.
STEP 3: Schedule the interviews. Attorneys are busy people and you might not be able to get in to see them as quickly as you’d like. You probably knew this already on some level, but sometimes having the reminder helps.
STEP 4: Prepare for the interviews by getting yourself a notebook that you use to track the answers each of the attorneys provide to the interview questions you decided on in STEP 2.
STEP 5: Interview each of the attorneys on your short list. The key here is to remember that the attorney will work for you. You have the responsibility to make sure you’re choosing differently if your first choice doesn’t work. If you decide you need to choose differently, just start at STEP 1 again.
STEP 6: Select and retain the attorney you believe you will be best able to work with during your divorce. Once you’ve completed all of the interviews, allow yourself some time to review all the notes you took during each interview and then choose your attorney.
Choosing the correct attorney to represent you when you divorce is vitally important. Divorce changes your life in ways most people can’t predict. Because of the changes, you’re going to want someone in your corner who has YOUR best interests in mind. By following the 6 steps above you’ll be able to find the best attorney for you.
Your Functional Divorce Assignment:
If you’ve not yet hired an attorney, follow the steps above. I rarely believe it’s a good idea to divorce without the help of an attorney or mediator. There are just too many things that can get misinterpreted in filing paperwork on your own. So, please, do yourself a favor and save future headaches by working with a professional now.
If you’ve already hired an attorney, remember your attorney works for you. It’s not unusual for me to hear stories from clients that their relationship with their attorney isn’t working. (These are the ones who hired me AFTER hiring their attorney.) What I remind them of is the fact that their attorney works for them. If your attorney isn’t representing you the way you expect, then schedule some time to discuss your expectations. Most attorneys are more than willing to understand how best to serve their clients. Oftentimes, it only takes a simple conversation to clear the air and get things back on the correct path again.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce coach and advisor helping people just like you who are dealing with the stress and pain of divorce. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. If you’re interested in taking the first step toward working with me, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.