Everyone has heard stories about the expense and emotional trauma of litigation. Whether you are involved in a divorce, a custody battle, a paternity action or a contested adoption, there is always a chance that things will not go smoothly. It is a natural question to wonder to what extent having a lawyer helps or hurts the process. There is no question that the cost of attorney’s fees is a significant factor that must be taken into consideration. That cost has to be balanced against the potential outcome of your divorce without the assistance of counsel. Ask yourself these questions:
1. Can you settle TODAY in writing? If so, great, get the agreement in writing and notarize both signatures. You just saved yourself attorney’s fees, but are you sure you fully understand the ramifications of your agreement? Before you sign, consider having a consultation with a lawyer. You are not obligated to retain that lawyer for ongoing services and a little advice can go a long way.
2. Does the other party have counsel? While it seems that this should not matter, for practical reasons and strategic reasons it is best to level the playing field. The other party’s attorney has an ethical obligation to represent her client and that attorney is prohibited from providing you with legal advice. Without counsel, you are truly on your own and the other attorney may be able to navigate the system to your disadvantage.
3. What is it that you most want?
4. And how much are you willing to spend to have the opportunity to get it?
Notice that I did NOT say, “How much are you willing to spend to get what you want?” When you proceed in litigation, you are fighting for an opportunity to get what you want; there are no guarantees that the money you spend will lead to your success in court. You should be suspect of any lawyer who tells you that they can guarantee a result. A simple cost/benefit analysis may be the best way for you to approach your case.
5. How are things going so far? If you are already in trouble, it is unlikely that things will get better without some legal assistance.
Of course, there are other possible considerations, but these five questions should help you think about what is best for you and your case. I would love to hear from lawyers and litigants about the need for counsel and whether the cost is worthwhile.