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.

The Top 11 Reasons Most Attorneys Don’t Do Marketing

1. Attorneys are trained skeptics.

Marketing requires faith and patience. Attorneys like to prod and poke a marketing effort until they can prove to their great satisfaction that there is no way it can work.

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2. Attorneys love to argue.

Most lawyers are smart. When it comes to embarking on unfamiliar enterprises, like marketing, they find it difficult to “be stupid” and benefit from the wisdom and experience of other experts.

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3. Attorneys are risk-averse.

The most prudent (and safest!) advice attorneys give is, “Don’t do it!” They live in a universe where mistakes result in liability, malpractice and large judgments. In marketing, mistakes are a necessary part of growth. Taking and managing risk are essential elements of marketing and growth. Attorneys like contracts and guarantees.

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4. Attorneys often know little about business.

Law school offered no courses on being business-owners. Any high school business student knows that marketing is an important and mandatory part of any business. This comes as a shock to attorneys who often conceive of themselves as belonging to some sort of 19th century guild. Attorneys were educated in an anti-marketing culture. They learned that they were in a “profession” where refi ned ladies and gentlemen did not make unseemly efforts to secure business. Such people were “ambulance chasers.” (The practice of law is a profession, but that practice takes place within a business entity called “a law fi rm” – subject to the laws of economics as any other business).

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5. Attorneys fixate on costs.

Most attorneys hate it when a prospective client plops themselves down in the lawyer’s offi ce and starts with “What’s all this going to cost?” Yet, that is the first question the attorney asks about marketing. Focusing on costs causes paralysis. Owners of law firms must focus on revenue generation and driving the top line.

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6. Attorneys like to dither.

High “fact-finders” on the Kolbe Index, they like to analyze things. They want to do extensive due diligence. They want to consult with all their colleagues. They enjoy thinking about action more than taking action, with its attendant risks. But action conquers fear. Life rewards action and punishes inaction. Fortune favors the bold.

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8. Attorneys lack perseverance.

If attorneys do get around to trying some form of marketing,
any bump on the road will throw them off. And there are always bumps in the road. Attorneys get excited about a new marketing program, and throw themselves into it passionately. Then after 45 days or so, life happens. A big case blows up. One of the kids gets sick. A check doesn’t come in. The marketing didn’t produce instant riches. The attorney decides he or she made a big mistake and gives up.

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9. Attorneys are uncomfortable with the idea of making money.

Most attorneys are motivated by a desire to serve people. Most subscribe to some form of the Judeo Christian ethic which is full of mixed messages about the pursuit of wealth. Most are conflicted, if not filled with guilt, about the profi t motive. Many secretly think that what they do is not worth the fee they charge, since it does not involve hours of hard, physical labor. These attorneys might be more motivated if they were to think about marketing and growth as “being able to serve the greatest number of people” rather than “making more money” or “being more successful.”

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10. Attorneys define themselves as attorneys — not as owners of a law firm.

This is the single most important error, and it is a contributing factor in all the others listed here. Attorneys do not understand that these are two completely different roles that require two completely different mind-sets and two completely different sets of skills. What attorneys believe to be their greatest asset (their skill at practicing law) is actually their greatest liability. They are too busy working in their business to work on it. In order to grow a practice and succeed, it is necessary for attorneys to conceive of themselves first and foremost as the owner of a business called a law firm, and only secondarily (if at all) as a practicing attorney.

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11. Attorneys are obsessed with what other attorneys think of them.

In no other business does the owner worry about how competitors esteem him or her. Attorneys are often afraid to make the slightest marketing effort for fear of being thought to be “undignified” or “overly aggressive.” Let me assure you that the owner of a lamp store does not care what the owner of the competing lamp store thinks — about anything.

Assigning Power of Attorney (PoA) With Confidence

Incapacity planning, ensuring that there’s a strategy in place if you ever become incapable of managing your affairs, is important.

We all know that. Yet, it’s uncomfortable to think about and therefore easy to put off doing.

A key part of incapacity planning is assigning power of attorney (a legal document giving someone else the right to act on your behalf), but it’s also the biggest hurdle. Giving extra thought to who you choose, and what powers they’ll be granted, can give you the peace of mind to complete your plan with confidence.

Choosing your lawyer

Choosing someone you trust to assign power of attorney is essential. Acting as your attorney involves significant duties and obligations. Your attorney’s overarching duty is to act with honesty, integrity and in good faith for your benefit if you become incapable.

The law lays out specific obligations for the person chosen to hold your power of attorney. Among other things, they will:

  • explain their powers and duties to the incapable person
  • encourage the incapable person, to the best of their abilities, to participate in decisions concerning their property
  • foster regular personal contact between the incapable person and supportive family members and friends, and
  • keep account of all transactions involving the grantor’s property.

The attorney or attorneys you choose to act on your behalf should know these rules, and be aware of other rules set out in the act as well.

For instance, they’re expected to ensure you have a will and, if so, know its provisions. The main reason for this is that your attorney must not sell or transfer property that’s subject to a specific gift in the will, unless necessary.

The act also contains explicit instructions regarding both required and optional expenditures. Examples of the latter include charitable gifts where an incapable person made similar expenditures when capable and so long as sufficient assets are available. Your attorney should also be familiar with rules covering how or when he or she can resign, what compensation they may be entitled to and the standard of care expected of them.

Safeguarding your estate

You can also build a second opinion directly into your power of attorney documents by appointing more than one person. If you name two or more people, they’ll need to act unanimously unless the document states otherwise.

A joint appointment provides a level of protection in that any appointed attorneys must agree on all actions, while a “joint and several” appointment grants flexibility, allowing any one attorney to conduct business independently.

Many people choose to appoint the same people or trust companies to be both their power of attorneys and their executors. Although you don’t need to do so, the same list of key traits – expertise, availability, accountability and trustworthiness – apply to both roles.

It’s also possible to limit the powers granted to your attorney. If you’d like your attorney to act only for a specified time period (maybe a vacation or hospital stay) or in respect of a specific transaction (the closing of a real estate deal), a limited or specific power of attorney is worth considering.

In the case of a general continuing power of attorney, many people want the document to be used only if and when they become incapable of managing their affairs themselves.

Although the document is effective when signed, it is possible to include provisions in the document itself that defers it to a future date or the occurrence of a specified condition (for example, the grantor has a stroke). These are sometimes referred to as “springing” powers of attorney.

Whichever way you prepare your power of attorney documents, careful consideration of who you choose as well as availing yourself of available safeguards will help ensure your confidence in your incapacity plan.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

  1. Making a quick decision: Many people name their PoAs without thinking about their choice’s financial capability, much less their ability to get along with other family members.
  2. Assuming family is always the best choice: It’s far more important to choose someone who truly has your client’s best interests at heart.
  3. Waiting too long: If there’s already a question of diminishing capacity, it’s likely too late to make a power of attorney ironclad.
  4. Not reviewing it: Changing life circumstances and new provincial legislation can make an old PoA invalid.

Plan for Incapacity

Your estate plan doesn’t end with an up-to-date will. It should also anticipate possible future incapacity, which usually means preparing powers of attorney for both property and personal care.

Power of attorney, a legal document that gives someone else the right to act on your behalf, has two main types: one for management of property, another for personal care.

Will and estate planners generally advise preparing both types of powers of attorney. While they are often prepared at the same time as your will, they can be created at any time.

Personal care

With a power of attorney for personal care, you can authorize someone to make decisions concerning your personal care in the event that you become incapable of making them yourself.

You can give power of attorney for personal care if you’re at least 16 years old, have “the ability to understand whether the proposed attorney has a genuine concern” for your welfare, and can appreciate that the attorney may need to make decisions.

Personal care includes decisions concerning health care, nutrition, shelter, clothing, hygiene and safety.

Property

A continuing power of attorney for property authorizes someone to do anything regarding your property that you could do if capable, except make a will.

The law says you’re capable of giving a power of attorney for property if you’re at least 18 years of age, know what kind of property you have, along with its rough value, and are aware of any obligations owed to your dependants.

The term “continuing” (sometimes called “enduring”) refers to a power of attorney that may be exercised during the grantor’s subsequent incapacity to manage property. Ensure the document stipulates that you want the power of attorney to be used only if you become incapable.

What you need to know

A continuing power of attorney for property is a powerful document. Unless otherwise stated in the document, it’s effective when signed, granting considerable power.

In fact, the act explicitly requires you to acknowledge this authority can be misused. And, as part of the capacity test for granting a continuing power of attorney, you must also acknowledge the property you own may decline in value if not properly managed.

A financial institution, land titles office or other third party presented with a continuing power of attorney for property with the restriction “effective only in the event of the grantor’s incapacity” will want evidence of the incapacity.

That evidence could be hard to get. One solution is to set out terms of use in a separate document and have all original copies of the power of attorney held by a trusted third party. You could, for example, direct that document be released only if:

  • You tell the attorney you want him or her to start acting;
  • You are legally declared incapable of managing your property;
  • One or more doctors advise that you’d benefit from assistance in managing your affairs; or
  • Certain family members advise the attorney should begin acting.

No direction could be costly

If you fail to prepare power of attorney documents, it may take an application to court before someone can be appointed to make decisions for you. That can leave you scrambling when you’re in no physical shape do so. Having a will doesn’t help because an executor is only authorized to act after you die.

On top of that, court processes can be both costly and time-consuming. Depending on the circumstances, the Public Guardian and Trustee may have to get involved.

You also lose the opportunity to appoint people or companies of your choosing and aren’t able to establish parameters regarding the actions of your substitute decision makers.