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Lawyers To Avoid

© 2023 Mara Bernstein, Esq

For years, prospective clients and friends have offered me firsthand reports of being intimidated, bullied, and ignored by their divorce lawyers. This may sound bizarre, but infact it’s a frequent occurrence. No matter how smart, successful, famous, or admired your attorney is, s/he has no right to treat you with anything but respect and decency. If you find yourself being treated in any other manner, you need to nip it in the bud. If you can’t, give your rude attorney the boot; it’s as simple as that. It’s really O.K. (and not uncommon) to change your lawyer during your divorce.

Bad lawyers fall into six categories. Here’s a brief description of each:

  • The Bully is a Lawyer who cannot turn it off. Often, a divorcing person thinks that a shark lawyer is their best bet. Keep in mind that this species of lawyer is likely to bully you as well as the other side. A great attorney is more of a chameleon than a piranha. She will be able to flex her muscles with the other side as well as know how and when to use honey, instead of vinegar, to catch more flies. Divorce makes us vulnerable. And, when we are vulnerable, we are often magnets for bullies who prey on easy victims. You absolutely don't need this additional stress, especially from someone you’re paying to protect you.

  • The Celebrity Lawyer is not for you unless you are a celebrity. These lawyers are more invested in building their own brands than in knowing the law or how it can be used to your advantage.

  • The Freebie or Cheap Lawyer whose hourly rate is way below the market average will inevitably need more time to complete each necessary task. When it comes to lawyering, cheap is often expensive. Divorce lawyers are almost always paid by the hour. If it takes your guy extra hours to complete a simple task, because he doesn’t know what he is doing, you are supplementing his education. There are better ways to spend your divorce dollars.

  • The Novice Lawyer, who doesn't know your state’s divorce law, is going to be getting an education and making mistakes while your meter is running. Remember, if your lawyer has 30 years’ experience, but it’s in another area of the law or from another state, he is still a novice.

  • The Friend/Relative Lawyer is not who you want. As a rule, don’t hire someone you can’t fire.

  • The Yes Man Lawyer is not telling you the truth. If her answer is always “yes”--run.

There are so many smart, professional, and courteous divorce attorneys out there; there’s no reason to stick with an idiot who is inappropriate or unresponsive.


Hiring the right attorney from the start can help you avoid a lot of the common complaints people often have about their lawyers. Keep in mind, however, just because someone was the right attorney for your cousin doesn’t mean he will be right for you. You will have the most control over how responsive and patient your attorney is when you key into three factors: chemistry, timing, and communication. The time to assess these factors is during the initial consultation/interview.


Chemistry. Generally, when we think about the concept of chemistry, it’s within the context of dating and romantic love. When the chemistry is right, two people mix well and their interactions yield gratifying results. To a certain extent, the same idea applies to choosing the right divorce attorney. However, hiring a lawyer involves a lot more than chemistry and you must never, I repeat never, under any circumstances, choose your lawyer solely based on the chemistry between the two of you.


A potential lawyer may be warm, funny, and understanding. But does she have the stuff” to get you what you want in your divorce? What’s her level of expertise? What’s her reputation in the legal community? What kind of experience does she have? How established are her relationships with other attorneys and local judges? If your case is acrimonious and looks like it’s headed for court, does she have enough trial experience to hold her own against the other side? Does she know her way around the courtroom?


Clearly, chemistry is not enough. But it is still an element in hiring your divorce lawyer. And many of the factors that apply to dating chemistry and looking for the right match or “love connection” apply here too. So, before you hire your divorce lawyer ask yourself the following questions:


  • Is he approachable?

  • Do I feel at ease in her presence?

  • Does he listen and hear what I have to say?

  • Is she responsive?

  • Does he ask me questions?

  • Do we see the world in a similar way?

  • Does she get me in that she understands where I'm coming from?

  • Is he patient when I ask him questions or need clarification on issues?

Timing. When I talk about timing, I’m talking about where your attorney is in her practice and in her personal life. So, you will want to know:

  • Is she bombarded with other cases?

  • Is he under pressure from an upcoming trial?

  • Is she just coming off a long trial?

  • Is he working on a celebrity or BIG money case?

  • Is she short on support staff?

  • Is he planning her wedding or her daughter’s wedding?

  • Is she in the process of her own divorce?

  • Is she pregnant and ready to have a baby?

  • Has he been practicing for many years and is somewhat burnt out?

  • Who will handle your case if he is ill or on vacation?


It’s OK to ask your attorney questions about her schedule and the factors that might keep her from you and your case. The answers to these questions will indicate how available, patient, and responsive to your needs your attorney will be.


Communication. Before choosing a lawyer, you will want to know what methods of communication he is comfortable with and what his communication (with clients) policy is. You may want to ask him the following questions.

  • Will I always get a response from you within 24 hours?

  • Will you set aside time to meet with me on a regular basis?


If his answer is yes, that’s a sign that you’re in good hands. If not, start getting referrals for other divorce lawyers. Remember, you only get one shot at your divorce. You must be sure that your lawyer is “on your team” and working with you in partnership towards the common goal of getting you the best results possible.

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