Have you ever thought about how you choose a doctor, lawyer, therapist or even a dentist? Of course we all care that our doctors and lawyers are competent. What else is important to you? Do you care about the personal commitment of the professionals with whom you work or their level of interest in their work? I think most people do and yet we don’t always know how to go about asking and interviewing professionals who might work with us even on an intimate level.
I recently met with person looking to work with a divorce lawyer — that makes sense since out-of-court problem solving is the overwhelming majority of what I do. This person had thought long and hard about the traits that felt important to him in the lawyer he wanted to work with. He devised a list of questions some of which were direct — for example, “How long have you been working in the Collaborative model?” and “How many of your Collaborative cases end up in a full settlement?” Some of which were designed to help him judge the level of personal commitment and passion the lawyer has for his or her work. Others were designed to help him determine if the lawyer’s style was a good fit for him.
It makes sense to clarify with a lawyer the level of experience he or she has with the process being chosen. (For further discussion of process choice, please see my earlier posts). You might want to know if, for example, how many mediations a mediator has had as part of your selection approach although it might also not be the deciding factor. You might wonder if they teach or have personal experience in the area in which they work.
There may be other factors about the lawyer you are interviewing that you care about more. For example, you might wonder how much this lawyer cares about their clients, whether or not they enjoy their work or how well they work with their colleagues. These factors might impact their work with you at least as much if not more than their level of experience or other more measurable considerations. How will you discern this information given that the direct yes or no question will probably not give you enough information. (I would certainly not consider working with a lawyer, doctor or any other professional who answered that question with a “no.”)
Certainly, making a list of questions to ask and bringing it with you to the interview makes sense. Those questions can and should clarify the easily discernible information, such as experience, fees, communication styles,etc. as well as answer any substantive question you make have about your situation or law as it may impact you and your family.
Can you think of questions you could ask that would give you the other information you want? How about asking the lawyer about a client they worked with particularly well and why. Or a situation they found challenging or intriguing? Can you think about what worries you most about the upcoming negotiation with your spouse and ask the lawyer how she might address that concern? Questions of this nature will help you better understand the lawyer’s approach and style and might help guide you to someone who can best help you through a difficult period in your life.