When you pay for any professional service, including that of a divorce lawyer, you want to be sure you will be able to fully understand and act on their expert opinion. And you’ll want to make sure you use their time wisely and minimise the costs involved. But as most people don’t instruct a divorce solicitor on a regular basis you may not appreciate how you can get the best out of your divorce lawyer. In my view there are 5 critical things you can do as I explain below.
Select your lawyer carefully
Firstly, take time over researching and choosing a family law specialist who is a good fit for you. You are much more likely to have a good flow of information and ideas between you if you get on. Ask friends who they have used, look online, read testimonials. Do they offer fixed fees? Perhaps most importantly ensure they are a family law specialist and are fully qualified to carry out the role for you. That may sound obvious but it’s not. With the advent of cheap, online divorce offerings, some people are surprised to discover that these are not always delivered by solicitors. What the layperson may also not realise is that family and matrimonial law is not the same as the law relating to buying or selling houses, or wills and estate planning. There are new cases going through the courts every day that influence future divorce settlements and decisions on how the courts see cases that concern the care of children. So having someone on your side who really does know their stuff is really important.
Prepare your information
In order to give you the best possible advice, your family lawyer will need the right information from you. Make sure you supply them with all relevant information when it is asked for. If you are trying to reach a financial agreement with your partner, for example, there will be a process called financial disclosure, in which you’ll need to supply bank statements and other financial records. If you have all the relevant documents ordered and to hand it will make things easier for you.
Be clear in your instructions to your solicitor. Explain what you want, what is important and any areas that are of less of a concern or that you are really prepared to negotiate on. They will then be clear on where to fight more and what you are ultimately trying to achieve. As divorce lawyers, we understand that the breakdown of a marriage is an emotional time, but do try to avoid ambiguity and changing your mind in your instructions to your lawyer.
Use time wisely
Don’t take up your lawyer’s time, time you are paying for, on issues they are not best placed to deal with. Your solicitor shouldn’t really be that shoulder to cry on or the person with whom you discuss what went wrong. It’s their job to help you move on and, at the simplest level, come to a legal agreement from which you can move forward.
On a similar note, ask them if there is anything you can do, like completing paperwork, to minimise your use of their time and/or keep down costs. For instance, you may be able to fill out the initial draft of the Form E – financial disclosure form, before they go through all the details.
Ask if you don’t understand
Your lawyer should explain the legal process clearly to you, along with your options and the important issues like how much things will cost, how long the process is likely to take, and so on. Do ask if you don’t understand something, whether it is a legal term or jargon used by the court, part of the process or a particular course of action that has been decided on. Stumbling along now may mean you have to back-track later.
We have mentioned costs a few times here but, as a final point, make sure you understand the fees and how they are calculated from the start. If a lawyer is charging by the hour, you want to be sure they are making efficient use of that time using their expertise to further your case, rather than chasing you for missing information. If the fee is fixed, make sure you are really clear on what is covered in the fee and any extras you may need to pay.
You need to keep in mind that a good, experienced family law specialist is here to help and wants you to have the best outcome possible. They can play many roles for you but their principal function is to lead you through the legalities of divorce and negotiate on your behalf. Playing to these strengths will mean you get the best out of them.
By Andrew Woolley
Woolley & Co, family law solicitors