There’s one other possibility to consider: Maybe your own lawyer is the problem.
Here are five signs that that could be the case:
Every time you talk to your lawyer, you feel like you’re starting from scratch. From how many kids you have, to whether you want to keep the house, to whether you’ve gone back to work already, you have to refresh his memory on the basics of your case. As a result, you spend a portion of each meeting repeating things you’ve already told him. You understand you have to pay for his time, but is it really fair for you to have to pay him for the time it takes you to bring him up to speed again and again? The answer is no. The fact that he can’t remember the particulars of your case may mean he’s not getting much done on it or he’s spread way too thin. Either way, it’s a problem.
If your lawyer previously represented someone whose facts were similar to yours, his war stories about that case might actually be relevant to your situation. But if he simply wants to regale you with his personal highlight reel either to impress you or just to hear himself talk, that’s not really advancing the ball for you. It’s bad enough to be a captive audience in a situation like this, but if he's billing for the show? That’s a ticket you’ll want to get a refund on.
When you get your monthly bill, you notice charges on there that just don’t add up. So, you call your lawyer to ask about them. Turns out, you were right and he promises to remove them. Then, when you get the next month’s bill, you notice that he’s charged you for the time he spent talking to you about the mistakes that were on your bill. That changes the situation from mistake to mistrust. And the last thing you need is a divorce lawyer you can’t trust.
Sometimes your lawyer might need to remind you of specific misdeeds your ex has committed in the past. For example, if your ex has asked you to agree to something on the promise that he will return the favor, but he has a track record of not keeping his word, your lawyer might need to point that out to you. In situations like that, the reminder is designed to save you future heartburn and legal fees. But if the only time your lawyer reminds you of your ex’s past sins is when he senses that you’re making peace with the past and coming to terms with your divorce, your lawyer’s goal might be to rile you up again. Riled-up clients tend to have more complicated and contentious divorces. And complicated and contentious divorces generate more attorneys’ fees. But there’s a lot more at stake here than money. Lawyers who employ this tactic jeopardize the parties’ chances of getting along after the divorce. People who can’t get along post-divorce have a much harder time co-parenting their children, and no one pays a bigger price for that than your kids.
First, a point of clarification: Failure to get a desired outcome on an issue in your case does not constitute a mistake or failure on the part of your lawyer. A difference of opinion as to strategy does not constitute a mistake or failure on the part of your lawyer. A judge ruling in a way that was unexpected does not constitute a mistake or failure on the part of your lawyer. Missing a discovery deadline? That’s a mistake. Promising to get back with you by a certain date, then not doing so? That’s a failure.
Colossal mistakes aside, the mere fact that a mistake is made once in a while isn’t in and of itself all that damning, nor does it necessarily reflect poorly on the lawyer’s skill or character. After all, lawyers are human and humans make mistakes. But if your lawyer handles the mistake poorly, that’s a different story. Upon discovering he’s made a mistake, your lawyer should take the following steps: (1) Own up. (2) Fix it. If your lawyer tries to pretend a mistake isn’t a mistake or doesn’t fix it, that tells you a lot about his honesty, trustworthiness, skill, and/or character. And a lawyer who is lacking in one of those areas can be a big liability in your divorce case.
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