It is generally known that second opinions are a good idea before undertaking any major medical procedure. It is a little less well known that this is a reasonable strategy from time to time as major decisions are made in a divorce. This is so for the same reason as it is advisable in medicine. Many of the choices about the advisability of strategy, procedure, and settlement options are really matters of opinion, just as these choices in medicine are really opinions. There are many areas of family law where there are no clear cut answers and the opinions of the lawyer you are working with depend in great measure on that lawyer’s experience and personality as much as they depend on any black letter law.
Good lawyers are not afraid to encourage their clients to get second opinions. In our firm we often rely upon retired judges for so called, “case evaluation.” What happens in this situation is that we will meet, with our clients present, with a retired judge, present the entire case (from our point of view of course), and get some feedback from the judge about how we see the case. Even though I have been practicing law for 38 years, I get a lot of good advice in this setting because the judges have seen thousands of cases to my hundreds over the years. They are also a little bit detached since they do not have the relationship with the client (nor are they responsible for how the advice turns out!). It gives a client an opportunity to ask questions and get feedback from an experienced former judge. These case evaluation sessions are confidential and the other side of the case will never know that the consultation took place. The cost of these case evaluations, other than what is spent on your own lawyer, is generally just the cost of a few hours of the judge’s time, billed at hourly rates ranging from $350 per hour to $500 per hour. This is a small price to pay in comparison to the costs of litigation. This kind of second opinion will sometimes take place with lawyers who are not retired judges, but who have specialized expertise within the area of family law or a different approach to their cases.
We also make ourselves available for second opinions for clients who are working with other lawyers. What I have generally found is that most of the problems that clients have with their lawyers (especially when we know they are good lawyers) result from communication problems. When I hear what is going on, I explain what I think the problem is, and encourage the client to return to their current lawyer with a list of questions and concerns. The most important thing in the lawyer client relationship is that the client not be afraid to address their feelings about poor communication or questions that have not been answered completely.
Occasionally we will find that the client is being represented by a lawyer who is capable, but simply inexperienced with certain aspects of the case. Sometimes we can consult with the current lawyer and help the client and the lawyer move on and resolve the case satisfactorily. Sometimes we do recommend that the client changes lawyers, but we try not to be too pushy about that recommendation unless it is clear that the current lawyer is mishandling the case. Frankly, it diminishes the value of the second opinion service, if we are misperceived as trying to steal another lawyer’s client. If the client wishes, we will keep the second opinion consultation confidential.
Most good lawyers are open to second opinions and welcome it when clients are sincerely trying to simply make sure that they are fully informed of their options. There are very few right or wrong ways to proceed in divorce, just choices. You should get as many options on the table as you can before you make a decision.