Ending a marriage often becomes a long, trickly process. If you can afford it, hiring a divorce lawyer serves your best interests. But what makes a “good divorce lawyer?”
Think about all the lawyers you’ve seen on TV or in movies.
- Of course, there’s Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird.
- Maybe your parents or grandparents liked to watch Matlock.
- Perry Mason is always a classic.
- There’s Paul Newman in The Verdict.
- Jimmy Stewart in Anatomy of a Murder.
- Did you grow up watching Law and Order?
- What about Boston Legal? Jack McCoy and Denny Crane were always interesting and/or entertaining.
- Do you like to watch Suits? Harvey Specter is fierce.
- Tom Cruise was enthralling in A Few Good Men.
We could rattle off the names of fictional attorneys from movies, television and John Grisham novels for hours. We’re lawyers and many of these characters inspired us to join this profession. When we think about it, though, hardly any of these iconic characters were divorce lawyers. Even the buffoons like Dan Fielding from Night Court and Franklin and Bash were prosecutors or criminal defense attorneys.
AThe only famous fictional divorce lawyer that came to mind was Arnie Becker from L.A. Law. We guess it could be argued that Lionel Hutz from The Simpsons practiced family law. But he also practiced every other kind of law as well and wasn’t good at any of it.
So how well did Arnie Becker, played by Corbin Bernsen, represent divorce lawyers?
From a dramatic television kind of standpoint, he was awesome. He was the first character introduced in the premiere episode and you got a sense of the kind of moral ambiguity he brought to the role when he called “dibs” on one of the other partner’s offices as they rolled his body out of it following a fatal heart attack. He was successful as an attorney but lived almost entirely in the gray areas when it came to following the law and rules in general. There wasn’t much he wouldn’t do in pursuing romantic conquests and career success. The show ran for eight seasons and Arnie never improved much as a human being.
He teetered on the brink of self-destruction from his behavior and choices right until the very end. In short, while he didn’t really do much for the public image of divorce attorneys, he was definitely fun to watch.
We don’t know how many of you reading this ever actually watched the show. It certainly made an impression on us, and if you were alive and had even a passing awareness of pop culture between 1986 and 1994, you were most certainly aware of its cultural footprint.
The show was applauded for showing a realistic view of lawyers and Harry Hamlin, who played Michael Kuzak, once stated on the Tonight Show that he regularly received fan mail from real lawyers stating that they used his character as inspiration when preparing their closing arguments. Johnny Carson seemed impressed with that, and impressing Johnny was no easy feat.
Unfortunately, most of the accuracy wasn’t always on point. Arnie Becker was a total, unrepentant dirtbag who couldn’t possibly be further in character from most divorce attorneys we know. When you think about it, even non-series regulars who pop up from time to time on different shows playing divorce attorneys aren’t cast in a favorable light.
So why does Hollywood seem to either ignore or throw shade at our profession in almost every situation?
We’ll indulge in a little speculation for a moment. Could it be because, as we all know, life is different in Tinseltown and marriage has a short shelf life for many of its occupants? If you’re a Hollywood writer, producer or show-runner, you may well have encountered a fierce divorce attorney during the dissolution of your own marriage and you may have an ax to grind.
If you look at the history of Hollywood, the majority of the interactions between power players and their spouses’ divorce attorneys haven’t gone very well for them. As we said, this is just speculation but in lawyer-speak, the facts and evidence make a strong case.
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So what does a good divorce lawyer look like in the real world?
In reality, what makes a good divorce lawyer varies from one case to the next and depends on the specific circumstances. What’s best in one situation may not suit another.
Still, there are common things to look for. There are many factors to consider when looking for a good divorce lawyer for you and your case.
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Let’s look at the top five:
- Are they available? If you hire a successful, in-demand attorney, does he/she have the time to attend to and oversee your case personally? If you’re just paying for a name but getting a second-string player, are you getting what you pay for? Of course, some firms have no “B team,” but the point is, if you needed a criminal defense, personal injury attorney or tort lawyer and hired Melvin Belli, William Kunstler, or F. Lee Bailey, you’d be unhappy if they never gave you any face time and had their paralegals do all the work.
- Do they have skill and experience? This one is fairly self -xplanatory. Still, it’s always a good idea to check the track record of your attorney with cases similar to yours before retaining them. If you have custody issues, custody experience is a plus. Do you and your spouse own a business together? Has your divorce lawyer ever handled that? Part of being a good divorce lawyer is fitting your case’s unique needs.
- How well do they communicate? This applies to their communication with you, your spouse and their attorney, as well as the court. If they fall short in any of those areas, you should be concerned. They should be able to understand and state back what you communicate in a way that demonstrates they understand what you need and want. If they misinterpret something that your spouse’s lawyer or the court communicates to them, it could be catastrophic for your case. If you notice they’re not picking up what you’re putting down, that’s your first clue.
- How is their composure? Having a hot head for an attorney won’t do your case any favors. You need someone who has the composure of who can keep calm in tense situations. In other words, someone who isn’t easily rattled or provoked. Staying cool and rational is an essential skill for a lawyer.
- Do they have the resources and support they will need to successfully handle your specific case? It’s important that your attorney has not just time, knowledge, and skill, but also the ability to give your case the attention it needs. If your lawyer is a one-man show with multiple clients, can they serve everyone’s needs? Do they have the connections and infrastructure to get the job done?
So there you go. If you’ve never had to hire a lawyer before and you’ve realized there aren’t even very many fictional divorce lawyers available to look to for ideas, this should give you an idea of what to look for. The right lawyer is your metaphorical life preserver in the stormy sea that is divorce.
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