Are you considering hiring a divorce lawyer or currently working with a lawyer to guide you through the divorce process?
Although most people remember to ask a divorce lawyer how much they charge per hour and how much experience they have with divorce cases, there is something even more critical that you should find out as early as possible:
Does this divorce lawyer really have enough time for me?
Just how soon will your divorce lawyer respond to your phone calls, emails and requests for an in person meeting?
Will your divorce lawyer return your calls the same day themselves or will office support staff be assigned to handle them instead? Will your attorney read and respond directly to your emails?
You deserve to know, especially since so many divorces drag on between one to two years as they slowly slog their way through the overcrowded court system. Where I live in Columbus, Ohio, court dates are scheduled 4-6 months apart each time and any missing paperwork or last minute cancellations by the clients, attorneys or judge can set your timeline back further.
The ability to communicate in a timely and responsive way back and forth with your divorce lawyer is critical. When communication breaks down or is dealt with too late, both clients and their attorneys experience a great deal of frustration and anger that leads to further problems and often more time and expense as well.
As Cool Hand Luke discovered himself the hard way: “What we got here… is failure to communicate.”
When I was going through my own tidal wave of divorce, having my divorce attorney’s cell phone number often provided a much needed lifeline when my emotional sanity was hanging by a fraying thread. Dealing with ongoing abuse, threats and parenting time violations did not just happen on week days between 9 and 5. Usually holidays and weekends were prime times for these nerve-wracking situations to crop up.
Since I needed a new career plan, I became a paralegal through a law school program and learned many of the ins and outs of the legal world. While working as a paralegal for several divorce lawyers in Columbus, Ohio, I saw firsthand how often each of them zigzagged in and out each week day, leaving a bare bones office staff to deal with urgent phone messages, flurries of emails and enormous piles of paperwork that made China look small.
Where were the lawyers when all this was going on? Since divorces are usually filed in the county courts based on where each client lives or works, the lawyers I worked for handled divorces within a six county range in and around Columbus so they were usually either in a court room or in their car driving to another county court house to represent a client. And if their case didn’t settle and ended up in trial, it could go on for several days, pushing their schedules back further.
When the recession fully took hold in 2008, many lawyers cut back even more on their number of employees, anticipating a decrease in the number of new clients who were able to pay their fees for divorce.
An article in Market Watch describes why this shortage in legal staffing will soon cause even more headaches for both current and future clients. “Not only did the ranks of the legal profession diminish by 4 percent from 2007 to 2011, but hiring is still sluggish, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And lawyers may soon have even less time for each client, because some experts expect the divorce rate to spike in the near future. If the economy continues to rebound, those who put their divorces on hold during the recession — an estimated 38 percent of currently married Americans — may now go through with them, says W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project.”
What can you do to prevent this failure to communicate from happening to you?
- Get communication procedures in writing from the lawyer before paying their retainer
- When contacting your lawyer, be specific and stick to the facts of what is going on so that they can help you more quickly
- Ask to find out who will respond to your calls, emails and office visits and how much staff support is available for the number of clients they have
- Choose a divorce lawyer who you align with well on a gut level so that you’ll have a better chance of communicating effectively
- Ask around your community to find some former clients so you can ask them directly about how quickly the attorney responded to their needs
- Find out if the divorce lawyer will give you their cell phone number in case of emergencies and how they define an emergency
Going through separation and divorce is hard enough. Be sure that the money you are paying in goes to a divorce lawyer who won’t take 3 days to answer your urgent phone call.