Recently a friend called me asking for a divorce attorney referral for his brother. Unfortunately the brother is in another state so I couldn’t help. We only handle family law cases in the Chicago area. I couldn’t help him, but gave the brother some guidance on questions to ask before hiring an attorney. These questions are helpful for anyone looking to speak with a Chicago divorce attorney.

  1. What is the retainer fee? If a lawyer wants $5,000 and you only have $1500, that attorney isn’t going to work with you. Retainers are payment plans and every lawyer wants that retainer amount paid in full, up front, before they do anything.
  2. How long will the retainer fee last? You might be excited that a lawyer has a low retainer fee, but some will do that to just get your money and get you in the door. If they are going to be asking for money in three weeks and you won’t have it, they’ll potentially drop you.
  3. Who is going to work on my case? There’s a law firm in Chicago that is potentially in big trouble for having multiple lawyers and staff members bill (over bill) on pretty basic cases. Most cases require just one lawyer and maybe one support person. Either way, you want to know who you will be hiring and primarily working with. You don’t want to think you are hiring a lawyer with 25 years of experience and end up with a young attorney just out of law school.
  4. What will I be billed for? They should bill for talking to you, attending court, writing motions, talking to the other attorney, etc. They shouldn’t bill you for un-needed research, talking to co-workers about your case, etc.
  5. What time increments do you bill in? Believe it or not some firms will bill you 15-30 minutes of time for reading an email from you that took them less than a minute to read. Others will charge an hour of time for a five minute court appearance. This is why we tell people not to worry about the retainer cost as much as hiring an honest law firm. Which leads to my next question to ask.
  6. What is the estimated cost for my case? They can’t tell you for sure because your spouse could make a case drag on. That said, if you know it will be amicable or there’s really only one issue to fight over, they should be able to give you an estimate. They should at least be able to give you a range.
  7. When will the case be filed and when is the first court date? This will help you understand the process.
  8. Will you be out of town or unavailable for an extended period in the next 12 months? I’ve seen cases where someone hired an attorney a couple of weeks before that lawyer got married and then was out of town for more than three weeks with wedding activities and a very long honeymoon. You should know that before you put your case in their hands.
  9. When you are unavailable, who do I talk to? Who will work on my case? Hopefully this is self explanatory. If the answer is nobody I would be worried.
  10. Who do I talk to when I call? Some firms essentially have paralegals or secretaries do all of the communication. That’s in my opinion not great. The lawyer will have other cases, but they should be able to speak to you when needed. That doesn’t mean every day or every call, but in general they should be available.
  11. What is the best way to communicate with you? In my opinion, the best way is email or text for basic stuff and phone calls for something more urgent or serious with meetings before big court events. Either way, find out.
  12. How often should I expect to hear from you? As stated, they have other cases and there is no reason for them to talk to you daily or weekly. But in most cases you should have at least monthly communication.
  13. How often will I be billed? My recommendation is to ask for monthly invoices so you can track what you are being charged for and don’t find yourself with a huge bill out of nowhere.
  14. What do you know about my spouse’s attorney? They might not have one yet, but if they do, your lawyer should give you some insight on them.
  15. What can you tell me about the Judge? This would be for cases already filed. If they have no idea about the Judge it’s a bad sign.
  16. What am I not thinking about that I should? You can’t be expected to know what a lawyer knows. They should educate you at that first meeting.
  17. What is a realistic outcome of my case? I like attorneys that are honest and direct. This gives them a chance to show that to you.
  18. What percentage of your practice is divorce and family law? It doesn’t have to be 100%, but in my opinion it should be close to that.
  19. What experience do you have with forensic accounting in your cases? This is if your divorce involves a business owned by either spouse. Properly valuing that business as well as searching for hidden money could be a big issue. If your lawyer usually deals with more basic divorces they are not the right attorney for you.
  20. What can I do to help my situation? This is a good one for when you have kids and custody is an issue. Documenting all the things you do for them is helpful. There are many other things you can do to increase your chances of success. What those are depends on the case issues.

I hope these tips help. Nothing guarantees a good result in your case, but having an attorney who does a good job really increases your chances of success. If you would like a recommendation of an attorney that we feel would do a good job for you, please call us at 312-346-5320 any time.