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A Checklist for Interviewing Matrimonial Attorneys

You want your divorce to work out as well as possible. Part of the secret of success in a good outcome is choosing the right lawyer to represent you. Here's a list of questions that you can and should ask at the first interview: 

1.  Where did you go to college?  Where did you go to law school?  Have you authored any articles in family law?  Do you belong to any relevant associations or organizations, like the American Academy of Matrimonial Attorneys?

2.  Are you board certified in matrimonial law?

3.  What percentage of your practice is in family law?  What percentage of your clients are women and men?

4.  What percentage of your cases is negotiated and settled, as opposed to litigated to conclusion?

5.  How many contested cases are you presently handling? How many contested matrimonial cases have you taken to and through trial?  Appeal?  How many of these have been contested custody cases?

6.  How does the division of property work?  What percentage of the assets is my spouse likely to receive?  What assets are immune from division?

7.  How is child support determined?  What are Child Support Guidelines?  What are the ranges of child support that might be awarded in my case?

8.  How do the courts deal with alimony?  What are the differences between permanent, temporary, rehabilitative and reimbursement alimony?  What is the likelihood that alimony will be awarded in my case?

9.  What might be the effect of adultery (or another "fault" ground) on either the division of property or the award of alimony in my case? What is required for a New Jersey "no fault" divorce?

10. How automated is your practice?  To what extent do you use computers,  word processing and scanners?  Do you have a website?  Do you use email?

11. How familiar are you with the practice of matrimonial law in [x] county?  How familiar are you with Judge [x]?

12. Do you know my spouse’s lawyer?  What do you know about this lawyer?

13. What particular experts do you recommend using in my case?  Accountant?  Business appraiser?  Psychologist? Private Investigator?  Real estate appraiser?  Do you have any contacts with or do you recommend any particular expert?

14. How do you feel about alternate dispute resolution?  How do you feel about arbitration vs. mediation?  How many cases have you arbitrated or mediated, either as an advocate or as the neutral?

15. Do you have any ethics proceedings pending against you?  Do you have any fee arbitration cases pending against you?  Do you have any malpractice cases pending against you? Have you had any of these in the past and what were the circumstances and outcomes?

16. After you have reviewed the basic facts of my case, is it possible to give some rough approximations of what I can expect, knowing there are no guarantees?

17.  How long might it take to complete my case? What is the difference between a "contested" and "uncontested" New Jersey divorce?

18.  What are your charges for your services?  What is your hourly rate?  What is your retainer? 

19. May I see the form of retainer letter you expect me to sign? 

20. Knowing that many of the variables are out of your and my control, is it possible to give approximate alternate scenarios of  what my case might cost to complete, knowing that there are no guarantees?

You are entitled to frank answers to these legitimate inquiries.  Not only will you be in a better position to choose the right attorney, but the lawyer-client relationship will be off to a smoother start, based on full and open disclosure.

Charles C. Abut practices in Hackensack, New Jersey. He has been designated by the New Jersey Supreme Court as a Certified Matrimonial Attorney since 1998 and as a Certified Civil Trial Attorney from 1984-1998. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Attorneys.

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