Every lawyer goes through the same education process – university, law school, articling. So what sets one lawyer apart from another? How do you know if the lawyer you choose is the right lawyer for you, especially if you have never dealt with a lawyer before?

We’ve compiled the following checklist to aid our prospective clients when choosing an effective divorce lawyer:

Empathy, Attention, Respect

Your lawyer empathizes with what you are going through.

  • Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and sincerely ask – how would this make me feel? How would I like this to be handled if it was me?
  • Empathy is not sympathy.
  • Sympathy is what you get from your best friend or a family member over a glass of wine or cup of tea.
  • Your lawyer listens to you – really listens. During the first meeting an effective lawyer lets you tell your story without interrupting, while taking short notes and making frequent eye contact.
  • Every marriage or relationship break-up is different. Your lawyer respects how you feel about what you are going through and offers advice without discounting your reality.
  • Your lawyer shares information with you regarding the progress of your divorce, such as: correspondence from other lawyers, filed court documents, Court dates.
  • Your lawyer attends meetings with you on time and is attentive during your meetings or telephone appointments.
  • Your lawyer responds to your telephone calls or emails in a timely fashion or, if they are unable to do that, they ensure their assistant is in contact with you to let you know when your lawyer will be available.
  • Your lawyer attends all Court applications unless they have an unavoidable conflict. Your lawyer lets you know if another lawyer at the firm needs to attend in those circumstances.


  • An effective lawyer won’t simply take your side and tell you what you want to hear.
  • Lawyers assess information based on their knowledge of the law. Their advice is based on that assessment.
  • Lawyers are advocates; not cheerleaders.


  • Your lawyer tells you the truth about the strength of your case and potential outcomes.


  • Information is shared in a timely fashion by your lawyer or their assistant through telephone, email, letters or in-person meetings.
  • Your lawyer gives you an opportunity to share ongoing concerns and to ask questions about the status of your case.
  • Your lawyer reports to you after Court or after meetings with other counsel.

Ethical Billing

  • Your lawyer provides you with a written Retainer Agreement that sets out how you will be billed and the lawyer’s expectations for how they will get paid for their work and/or the work of other professionals in their office.
  • A Retainer Agreement also sets out the size of the retainer (money retained in trust to fund your divorce) and when you will need to replenish or top it up.
  • The Retainer Agreement will itemize how and when you should end your relationship with your lawyer and how or when they should end their relationship with you.
  • Your lawyer will bill you regularly, such as twice per month, and their bills will set out what they have done to process your divorce. All disbursements and GST will be detailed.
  • In accordance with the Retainer Agreement, your lawyer will pay every bill from your trust account and will detail those payments on your bill.
  • Your lawyer will, in accordance with the Retainer Agreement, request that you replenish your retainer at a certain point.
  • In accordance with the Retainer Agreement, your lawyer may share work with associates at the firm with the ability and skill to progress your divorce at a lower hourly rate.

Knowledge and Skill

  • Your lawyer is competent. They possess the skill and knowledge to handle your divorce and achieve the appropriate case in all the circumstances.
  • Your lawyer is knowledgeable in those areas of the law that are effected by divorce. Those include: child custody, access and parenting, child support, spousal support and property division.
  • Your lawyer advises you as to the different potential outcomes of your divorce and supports their advice with the law.
  • Your lawyer is an active learner, keeps abreast of changes to the law and case development and is able to share that knowledge with you in layman’s terms.
  • Your lawyer should have mentorship available to assist them, if necessary.

Steps you may wish to take before hiring a divorce lawyer:

  • Take a look at their professional profile on their firm website or LinkedIn.
  • Does the lawyer you are considering have any special skills or knowledge that you feel will meet your particular needs? For instance, if you have children and are looking for an amicable divorce where both parents consider the needs and interests of the children, you should consider a lawyer trained as both a child representative and a mediator.
  • Do not assume reviews you read on Google or other social media are accurate – good or bad.
  • Talk to people you trust who have retained a lawyer to assist in their divorce.
  • Remember, every family is different; and your circumstances are unique. While you may choose a lawyer based on a referral, you may not achieve the same results even with the same lawyer.
  • You may wish to “interview” more than one lawyer for fit.