Insider Tips for Choosing Your Divorce Attorney or Mediator

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 with the link below. 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. OK, I’ve not yet seen a case where it’s a good idea to divorce pro se. 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.

How to Find an Attorney in My County Via the Internet

Simply typing in the phrase “find an attorney in my county” in your favorite search engine won’t give you your desired results for the most part. “Find an attorney in my county” is a very broad term because there are millions of counties world wide. The search engine won’t know where it is exactly that you need a lawyer. You would be better off typing in a phrase such as “orange county attorney”, or “Sacramento county attorney”, or whatever county you need a lawyer in. And always include the quotation marks in your search phrase. That will give you results for the exact phrase that you are searching and nothing else. If you don’t include the quotation marks, the search engine will give you results for each word in the phrase, which is usually in the thousands or even millions of results and may not be what you really need.

Let’s get back to “how to find an attorney in my county” subject. You will get much better results when you search for the exact attorney of your need. For an example, if you need a divorce attorney and you live in Macomb county, you simply search for “Macomb county divorce attorney”. Also, don’t forget to check for the other expression “Macomb county divorce lawyer”. Attorney and lawyer is a same thing, but when the search engines are concerned, attorney and lawyer are two different words. You don’t know if the webmaster of the lawyer’s website has optimized the site for both words. For that reason you need to search for both. This search will produce only a few results that contain this specific phrase. This way you may get a website of an actual divorce attorney in Macomb county or you may get garbage results, or even no results at all. It depends on what the search engines have in their database for that search phrase. Whether they have websites from actual attorneys, or from advertisers targeting that search phrase, or from some scammers who are also targeting that search phrase by tricking the search engines.

To narrow down your search even further, if you type in “orange county attorney”, you may get results from orange county in Florida and orange county in California, or elsewhere in the world. So, it would be better to try “orange county ca attorney” or “orange county fl attorney”. Or better yet “orange county ca divorce attorney”. These are very narrow search methods that will produce very few results and straight to the point. But, since you cannot depend on the optimization of the websites, whether they have been done correctly or mischievously (that’s how search engines know which website is for what), you would get a lot more relevant results by splitting your search phrase. By all means, try your search first with the above search phrases because you would have only a few results to evaluate. The next search method will give you hundreds or even thousands of results that would still be relevant, but you need to spend some time weeding out the bad ones or the ones that you don’t need.

What splitting the search phrase means is to include the lesser populated search in quotation marks and the more populated phrase without quotation marks. For an example, if you live in Ramsey county and you need a DUI attorney, you can search for: “DUI attorney” Ramsey county. Also don’t forget: “dui lawyer” Ramsey county. So, you only put the type of attorney that you need in quotation marks and the county without quotations. The reason you get thousands of results with this type of search is that every DUI attorney website will contain the term DUI lawyer or whatever lawyer you are searching for. But it may not contain the county term because either the webmaster forgot about it or didn’t know that he or she needs to include it. So, when you do this type of split phrase search, you will first get all of the results that contain the term DUI lawyer (of whatever type of lawyer you’re seeking) from the websites that also contain the term that describes your county, and then the rest of the other websites within that county. You get more choices to choose from.

If the above methods don’t produce the attorney of your need (based on the optimization of the websites and the available sites in the search engine database), instead of wasting hours of endless search with no results, there are still easy ways to “find an attorney in my county” online.

Besides the above methods of typing in the county and the type of attorney in quotations, you can also use some free services to actually find the attorney for you. By the way, have you forgotten your yellow pages or whatever phone book you have in your county? That’s your best bet. But that’s the offline world. However, these types of services are also available online.

Any type of website that deals with locating businesses, such as anywho.com, truelocal.com, yellowpages.com, can find you an attorney in not only your county, but in your city. Just key in the type of attorney that you need under business category (i.e. immigration attorney) and choose your city and state. Also, you can try the lawyer directories such as martindale.com, findlaw.com, lawyers.com, that contain attorneys and law firms from the whole world. Lawyer referral services such as legalmatch.com, globallawyerreferral.com, your local and state bar association, can also find you a lawyer in your county.

Regardless of how you find your lawyer, remember that same principals apply while choosing your attorney. You need to make a list of qualifications you want in your lawyer and interview your prospect lawyers before you decide on who will represent you.

Disclaimer: The author and publisher of this article have done their best to give you useful, informative and accurate information. This article does not represent nor replace the legal advice you need to get from a lawyer, or other professional if the content of the article involves an issue you are facing. Laws vary from state-to-state and change from time-to-time. Always consult with a qualified professional before making any decisions about the issues described in this article. Thank you.

Ask These 5 Questions When Choosing a RESPA Real Estate Attorney

“What the heck is RESPA?”

Many attorneys try to handle real estate matters in addition to their regular practice. Very few lawyers are aware of the complexities of the Real Estate Settlement and Procedures Act (RESPA) enforced by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD.)

RESPA statutes are consumer protection laws that impact virtually all single family to four family homes. RESPA compliance issues and the remedies available to borrowers who have been victimized by unscrupulous mortgage lenders, title companies and other real estate settlement providers are a real challenge. Even for full-time real estate attorneys, RESPA is a very complex statute. You must be careful and ask questions of the attorney you choose in order to make sure you get the proper legal protection that the RESPA statute i is designed to accomplish. Consumers and Businesses alike are protected when RESPA is in compliance.

Question #1

“What RESPA experience do you have?”

No doubt about it. Start with the big one. Real estate laws and regulations are complicated enough without adding RESPA to the equation. Have they prepared marketing agreements that comply? Have they attended RESPA specific training courses and seminars? Have they kept abreast of the most recent HUD guidelines and court cases nationally regarding RESPA? How many RESPA cases and clients have they handled? What types of RESPA cases did they handle? Were the issues similar to yours? What were their results? Don’t be shy!

Question # 2

“What type of reputation does the attorney have?”

This is a tough one to figure out – so do your homework! Is the attorney primarily a transaction attorney or a litigator skilled in courtroom procedures if necessary? Your attorney must have the communication skills necessary to work with the other attorney as well as you. The other attorney, if more knowledgeable on RESPA can run over you and your lawyer. Remember that many cases are won or lost on the attorney’s knowledge and high ethical standards. Check the local Bar association for background. Get references and check them out thoroughly.

Question # 3

“What type of resources does the attorney have?”

No attorney can do everything well. Make sure that your attorney has the resources available to work your case efficiently. Does the attorney have a well established network of experts and fellow attorneys who can network with to add value and expertise to your problem? Some attorneys try to do it all and act as a one man band. Your attorney’s ego should not be larger than your case. A good attorney quickly involves others with higher degrees of expertise in areas where it is needed to represent you properly. The experts they use are a reflection of your new attorney.

Question # 4

“What about communications and follow up?”

The hallmark of a good attorney is the degree of communication he has with his clients. If you have to ask “What’s going on with my case?” then you have a problem. You don’t want to have these types of issues after choosing an attorney. Be blunt and ask how often you will be contacted and updated. How will you be contacted? Will the attorney just send you a form letter or use personal communication and contact? How do you prefer to be contacted? E-mail, phone calls, letters? Ask for it. “Are you too busy to handle me? Are you going to push me to a lower level staffer or junior attorney?” Clear communication and updates can ensure success and results.

Question # 5

“How do they charge?”

Some attorneys charge a flat fee, some charge a contingency based upon results and some charge hourly rates. The type of problem or case generally dictates the type of charge. There is an old saying, “Speed, Efficiency and Price – pick TWO!” The cheapest attorney may not be the best and the most expensive attorney may not be the best either! Make sure that you are not penny wise and dollar foolish. You are choosing an attorney for results. Make sure that your attorney has the financial incentive to work your case efficiently and successfully.

Finding the Best Estate Planning Attorney for Your Family

Few things are more important to the success of your estate plan than the attorney you choose to design and draft it. Almost as important is the relationship that is formed between that attorney and other professional advisors who serve you in the areas of financial advice and accounting.

All successful estate planning is the result of several professions working together for the good of the client. However, professionals of one group sometimes have misconceptions of professionals belonging to other groups. For example, the financial advisor may see the estate planning attorney as little more than a document scrivener. But this is far from the truth.

Many attorneys who limit their practice to estate planning are values-based, relationship-driven, client-centered and counseling-oriented. And the good ones are willing to work together with other professionals on your behalf. They understand that thorough estate planning involves more than just legal advice. The key is to find those attorneys who meet this description.

So where do you find these rare creatures? How do you know if you’re dealing with the right kind of attorney? The right kind of attorney will have an orientation toward relationship-building and counseling rather than mere document preparation. The first thing he or she will offer is the ability to listen carefully to not only your goals – but also your hopes, dreams, and aspirations for yourself and your loved ones. The attorney will carry on a sensitive dialogue that will enable you to make clear your wishes to maintain control over your affairs, to be cared for properly in the event of a disability and to provide meaningfully for your loved ones after you are gone.

It’s About More Than Just Taxes

Any competent estate planning attorney can help you navigate the legal intricacies and tax laws that pertain to the passing of wealth. But the right kind of estate planning attorney will also be interested in your desire to pass along more than just money. He or she will ask about and explain how to accomplish such things as:

ofunding the education of offspring for several generations

omeeting philanthropic goals that will leave a legacy for your community

opreserving family history and stories that support the values you believe in

ocontinuing or divesting a family business

ocaring for a surviving spouse regardless of circumstances

oand much more.

On a less positive, but equally important note, the right kind of attorney will ask about such things as:

othe complexities of the family relationships that may exist due to second marriage situations

othe special health needs of a grandchild

othe son or daughter-in-law who is not to be trusted

othe child or grandchild who is a spendthrift or suffers from substance abuse

Such in-depth counseling forms a strong foundation on which a long-term relationship is built. That relationship is important because an estate plan is not a transaction. Rather, it’s an ongoing process that should be reviewed from time to time throughout your life – and potentially survives through several generations. You may choose to involve your adult children in the planning process, and the right attorney will build a relationship with them as well.

An Interdisciplinary Approach

Another trait of the right kind of attorney is true commitment to the team approach in estate planning. A good estate planning attorney recognizes that every member of the planning team (including the investment advisor, the insurance professional and the CPA) is vital to the success of the plan. The right attorney will involve the other advisors in the long-term relationship you have to the degree that you are comfortable with that arrangement.

Legal documents are not enough. Even documents that have been drafted from in-depth counseling and are custom-designed to meet the unique needs of the client are not enough. Documents standing alone are like the proverbial automobile without fuel.

The documents’ instructions only apply to assets that are properly owned.

For example, a will only controls those things owned in the individual’s name–not jointly. The trust only controls those things owned by the trustee of the trust. An irrevocable life insurance trust works only if it is properly funded with a suitable insurance policy. Advanced entities require careful balancing of assets for maximum effectiveness. Accurate valuation of your business interests is imperative. New planning tools often require additional accounting and tax advice.

Financial and insurance advisors, as well as accountants, provide the fuel that is needed to help ensure that appropriate financial assets are allocated and funded correctly, offer necessary valuations and tax returns, and provide the means for proper balance within the plan. The estate planning attorney you work with should not only recognize these truths, but be cooperative and collegial with the other professionals that are providing these things.

Each member of the interdisciplinary team provides a cross-check for the other members. If there is disagreement among the professionals on a strategy or its implementation, it can be discussed and worked out between them as a team. After all, estate planning is both an art and a science. In this way, you are served with unanimous agreement among the professionals instead of getting contradicting advice from multiple sources. Mutual respect and clear protocols will characterize the interdisciplinary team that is working well together. Each team member will know exactly what is expected of him or her, and communication with each other and with you will be constant and clear.

As mentioned, the right kind of attorney will be focused on a long-term (even multi-generational) relationship you and your family. Therefore, the attorney will not have a transactional approach to the estate plan, but rather a process approach. An estate plan is never really done until the person doing the planning has passed away and every instruction for every beneficiary of every subsequent generation has been carried out. Those who speak of the plan in the past tense (“They did their estate plan…”) may have a shortsighted perspective.

A Strategic Process to Support the Relationships

The client-centered attorney will ensure that everything possible is done so that the plan is carried to fruition and your expectations are met.

There is nothing as constant as change. Your personal, family and financial situations change all the time. Kids get married and have children; there are divorces and remarriages; real estate and financial assets change value as the market goes up or down; a child marries someone you don’t approve of; a grandchild gets involved with drugs; you win the lottery; and so on.

In addition, laws (both tax and non-tax) change constantly. First we have an estate tax. Then we’re told the estate tax isn’t so bad. The estate tax is abolished. Oops, the estate tax is back! Assets in retirement accounts and trusts are protected from creditors and predators. But then a court in one state says that some protected assets may not be protected in certain circumstances. There’s no way that a will or a trust drafted 20 years ago (or even 5 years ago) is current with all those changes. So updating and maintenance of the plan are required in order for it to work.

The other thing that is constantly changing (or should be) is the growth and education of the attorney and every advisor working with you on your plan. Over time, new planning strategies are developed, new tools are discovered, and there are better ways to accomplish a goal. Of course, you will continue growing as well, and your goals for the plan could change.

The right estate planning attorney has systems in place to ensure he or she stays in touch with you, that the rest of the planning team knows of changes, and that there are methods to adjust the plan in light of those changes. As every member of the planning team focuses on the needs of the client, the process will run smoothly, and you will be more comfortable with the advice that is given and the decisions you make.
The attorney will also be aware that for a plan to work well, the people who will help in the future need to know what’s going on.

If the children will someday serve as trustees and personal representatives, the attorney might be involved in teaching those children what to do. If ongoing trusts have been established to protect those children and grandchildren, the other advisors should be available to continue serving as advisors to the subsequent generations instead of losing that expertise and familiarity. The client-centered interdisciplinary approach can make that happen.

Your Role in the Estate Planning Process

Your role in the process is an active role, not a passive one. You should avoid the attorney who is content with simply telling you what to do, and then throwing together some documents to accomplish it. That is the attorney’s plan – not yours.

In summary, if you’re working with the right estate planning attorney, you should plan on being involved in three distinct steps:

1. Develop a plan with counseling-oriented (rather than document-oriented) professionals.

2. Commit you and your family to an ongoing maintenance and education program.

3. Assure that your wisdom is passed along with your wealth.

As you consider those you love, and those material things that you’ll someday leave behind, only a properly designed and implemented estate plan can ensure that your goals for those loved ones are accomplished.

Many estate plans in America don’t work. They often consist of fill-in-the-blank documents, delivered in a one-time transaction, and never updated. If that’s all an attorney can offer, that’s not the right attorney for you. Choose an attorney that is counseling-oriented, values-based, and as strong on relationships as he or she is on the law.

Stand-In Attorneys Don’t Hold Water in Some Courts

Today with the increased bankruptcy filings throughout the Nation, attorneys are changing the way the run their practices. The model that is being developed does not sit well with many including the courts.

When a client comes in and meets with an attorney and then signs a representation agreement, that may be the last time, the file or that attorney even touches the file. Clients need to be sure to question the attorney to be sure that the attorney is doing more than meeting and turning over the file to an associate or paralegal. It is also key to ask whether that attorney will appear with you in Court matters, e.g. Meeting of Creditors.

The Courts have noted that they do not approve of this “model” of attorneys office practices.

In a recent opinion by Judge Jeff Bohn (Consumer Bankruptcy News – Volume 23, Issue 19) he stated:

“The use of appearance attorneys deprives clients… Such a practice is insulting to the client, the Court, and the principles upon which the judicial system is built. Attorneys are not fungible. Attorneys are not all equal to each other, either in their courtroom abilities, their understanding of the law, or in their communicative skills.”

Clients choose a firm and an attorney for a reason, and clients have a right to be represented by the attorney of their choice during all portions of their case.

The justification for certain consumer bankruptcy attorneys that their business model will not work unless they are allowed to use appearance attorneys HOLDS NO WATER with this Court. If a firm’s business model conflicts with the professional standards of the legal profession, the former must give way to the latter.”

Be sure to ask when you interview or have your first meeting with an attorney, who will be handling my case?

  • An assistant,
  • Another attorney,
  • Appearance attorney???

When an attorney takes a case, they should initially meet with the client to understand and become familiar with the client’s needs. After that time, a Representation Agreement is agreed upon and signed.

As for Bankruptcies, there are many important deadlines and criteria to meet to finalize what type of bankruptcy is right for the client. During this time, a learning period begins for the attorney where he/she becomes very familiar with the case and interacts closely with the clients.

As the information and data are collected from the client, the attorney is able to fully understand not only the client but also the details of the case. Most of the time, there is a great deal of interaction between the client and the attorney. Much is learned about the client’s financial situation, spending habits, debts, how the debts occurred and the household income, etc.

At the 341(a) Meeting of Creditor’s is scheduled, the attorney presents his client to the Trustee and is there to assist and explain the petition that was put together for the client.

If an attorney who worked on the case does not come to Meeting of Creditors but sends an alternate attorney, how can that alternate attorney/stand-in attorney provide the proper representation and support to that client?

I don’t recommend having someone stand-in for an attorney when dealing with bankruptcy cases. Do you?