Lawyers get asked all sorts of questions. Quite often these can be unrelated to the legalities of the case they are working on.
In family law, what it often comes down to is additional emotional support.
While this is not what lawyers are there for, it goes with the territory – though a line does need to be drawn at some point.
However, there are some key questions that clients should ask when looking to engage a family lawyer at the start of a divorce process. Getting the right family law specialist is like choosing the right car. Get the wrong one and not only will you be uncomfortable, but you are unlikely to get very far without making a change.
The best lawyers want you to ask the right questions to ensure you are a good fit for each other. It’s better for them as well if everyone knows where we are at the start. Here are the top five questions good family lawyers want you to ask when speaking to them for the first time.
How long will my divorce take?
This may seem obvious but, so many people do not ask this. It means they can have unrealistic expectations about the timetable. This may cause tensions with a lawyer unnecessarily.
There are many things that can affect the time it takes for a divorce to go through, including how quickly you can agree with your ex over the division of assets and whether the court processing the petition is particularly busy or not. Certain elements have set time limits also. For guidance, 24 weeks would be about the fastest it could happen. Generally, expect five to seven months.
Will you be managing my case personally?
It is not uncommon for a law firm to have experienced lawyers or partners who meet potential clients, but the actual work is done by junior people. This means the quality of advice may suffer as well as the relationship you felt you had developed in the first conversation.
It is important you understand who is doing the work and what you are paying for. Are you paying for the work to be done and then additionally for a more senior solicitor to check the work?
You want to speak to the person who will be doing the work for you. You need to make sure they talk to you in plain English, explain legal issues in a way you can understand, and you have a rapport with them.
How will you pay for your divorce?
One of the biggest concerns for people instructing a solicitor is cost. In some instances, lawyers can be vague about fees. This might be justified where a case is contested or particularly complicated as it is impossible to know exactly how long things will take.
However, you should always be told in clarity about divorce costs. It’s always a good idea to ask about fixed fees. These are often available for the basic divorce and specific elements in other cases. A fixed fee gives clarity on the cost – though always check what you are getting for that price so there are no significant hidden costs.
Will I be able to get hold of you when I need to?
Solicitors are notoriously difficult to get hold of and criticism abounds of lawyers failing to return calls or reply to emails. Sadly, there is some truth to these claims. A good solicitor will give you clear guidance on what to expect, for instance they will return a phone call within 24 hours without needing chasing, or they will respond to an email within the day. Knowing this up front means you can hold them to account if these service levels are not met but also provides you with reassurance that you will receive a level of service that is acceptable.
What do past clients say?
Recommendations are a good way to find a family law solicitor, although it’s also important to choose a solicitor based on your own expectations. Testimonials from past clients are a great way of hearing about how they handle their cases. If you are interested in efficiency and professionalism you can look out for these traits. Likewise, if you want to feel listened to and empathised with you’ll find out by reading what others write.
The bottom line is you need a solicitor with the right skills and experience but also one who you can talk to. You also need to make sure that they are reliable and understand that going through a divorce is an emotional time for you. They should not be adding to the stress. Asking potential solicitors the questions above may just help you pick the right one, ensure you check from the start and save time and money.
This was a guest post by Susan Harwood of UK Family Law Solicitors, Woolley & Co.
About Susan Harwood
Susan Harwood is a family lawyer based in Cornwall and has clients all over the UK. Legal 500 describes Susan as ‘a highly competent and experienced practitioner’, ‘giving practical and client-focused advice.’
She deals with a wide variety of divorce and family law matters including cases with an international element, complex financial settlements, arrangements for children on separation as well as the drafting of prenuptial and other agreements.
Susan offers a free initial telephone chat for anyone with divorce or family law questions. Contact Susan via email – firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01326 330684.