Risa Ennis Family Mediation and Counselling Services
Taming Your Ego

Finding a Good Divorce Lawyer

Divorce is one of the most, if not the most, stressful event in a person's life.


There are many complex layers in the process of divorce, moreover there are aspects of divorce which are never fully finished, especially for those who continue to share time and decisions regarding joint children.

There are the initial stages of divorce, finalizing legal agreements, emotional closures and the long-term co-parenting commitments which when any one of these is taken individually, create many challenges, but can be overwhelming when dealing with the totality of all the pieces.

Whose decision it is to divorce also determines the differing stress reactions each person will experience. Research tells us that for every five years of marriage, it takes one year to grieve. Divorce is a long-term process but substantial gains can be made at every step along the way.

How does this information affect one's ability to choose a good lawyer? You as the client must be of relatively sound mind to be able to make this assessment of what constitutes a "good" lawyer. The onset of divorce understandably takes those with sound minds and rattles them. Therefore, finding a good lawyer must be a secondary process after you find a compatible counsellor to assist you in managing the emotional divorce, that is healing the complex grief issues and start you on the road to what divorce is really about reclaiming your lost self.

Once you have secured this trusting professional relationship, with a good divorce professional to help you with the emotional divorce process, you are much better equipped to proceed diligently in finding a compatible divorce lawyer to suite your needs and wants.

If you don't find your self-respect, you are prey to other's opinions and perceptions, which may or may not be what is right for you. This will only further debilitate what has been so eroded in you already.


With high emotions left unchecked and self-respect lacking, it is easy to become seduced into hearing from a lawyer that your case is a "slam-dunk" or "we'll crucify the @#@#, or "I can get you everything - we'll make he/she pay for what they did to you," etc.


We can be in so much internal pain at the outset of divorce that turning to revenge, punishment and/or aggression is both an unconscious and a conscious decision many clients make. They wrongly think they can avoid or completely bypass the much-feared requirement to fully grieve. The sad truth here is that only through experiencing our profound sadness, through divorce grief, can we have a chance for post-marriage happiness. It cannot work any other way. The past must be understood and resolved so it is not repeated.

Once you begin to feel grounded emotionally, with the assistance of a professional skilled in the successful work of emotional divorce, consult with this professional as to your readiness to transfer some energy now to the legal divorce. If this is agreed to, then you are in a much better position to use the legal process wisely.

When you have found at least three lawyers to interview, make sure you attend these meetings as an equal participant, not as a passive or intimidated inferior. This can only be accomplished once you have worked through the many phases of the emotional divorce.

It is important to remember that you are not looking for a friend or a counsellor in your lawyer. You are looking for a professional who exemplifies ethics, skill, knowledge, has compatibility with your personality and empathy combined with the ability to communicate effectively with you. Ask yourself if you feel comfortable in the presence of this professional. Self-respect and the ability to feel emotionally grounded will bring out your best assessment tools.

If possible, go to court when a prospective lawyer is scheduled to appear to see for yourself how well they advocate for clients in court. Most family proceedings are open to the public.

You can definitely ask friends and family and they will be only too happy to share their battle stories with you, including their assessments of the lawyers they used and the ones their ex-spouses used. Be cautious though. Successes gained in other situations do not guarantee success for you.

You can also do your due diligence by researching divorce lawyers on-line. Check their websites and their histories as provided by the Law Society of Upper Canada.

If you trust other professionals in your world (religious, financial, educational or medical professionals), by all means ask because these professionals are more than willing to help you network with other professionals.


Do not settle on the first lawyer who sounds good. This is because you may have lingering doubts about who else may have been able to serve you better. Interview several lawyers. This is both a wise use of funds and shows self-respect. Your divorce lawyer is going to find out some intimate details about you, see you at your worst and therefore, it is crucial that you not make a rash decision and that you feel comfortable with whomever you do choose.


When meeting with a prospective lawyer do not be afraid to ask these questions:

  • Fees
  • Hours of operation
  • Associates
  • How they will use juniors and other associates in your case
  • Percentage of cases settled out of court versus court/trial cases
  • Their opinions on mediation, arbitration, collaborative law, counselling
  • Their experience and credentials
  • If children are involved, feel free to ask them if they have children or have been divorced

If a prospective lawyer begins to sound more like a counsellor, this is not what you are paying a lawyer to do. A lawyer should be sympathetic to you, admiring of you for the courage to proceed through this process, but should not be giving advice regarding your emotional divorce. A good lawyer should suggest that you seek this type of professional intervention and the client should not take offense in the slightest. The wisest clients always seek this out because they know no one goes through a crisis successfully without outside assistance.

Run in the opposite direction if a lawyer tells you he or she is fine with stretching the legal limits or crossing them.

If you have a trusted friend or family member whose input you value, bring them to these consultations. Most lawyers are more than willing to have your trusted personal advisor sit in with you both for a consultation. This can be a very wise move especially if this is your first experience in dealing with a lawyer, which for some, is a daunting experience. (It should not be – they are just people doing their job!)

Take your time. Do not feel pressured to rush through making this decision. You have a right to be represented and the other side will have to wait until this is achieved. Although it is common to change lawyers once a client feels dissatisfied, this should be avoided. Changing lawyers sometimes can be a result of not spending energy on the emotional divorce first leading to faulty assessment of a lawyer. It is unsettling to have to start the whole process again.

While working with a lawyer, keep counselling alive to offset the inevitable roller-coaster experience that is indicative of this process at times. This will keep your legal costs down as well as give you consistent mental clarity to make informed and dignified decisions.

In summary, finding a good lawyer first begins with the intent to reclaim and find your self-respect through counselling. You as the person going through this highly complex and stressful life change need to offset the grief issues with professional help to be ready and able to handle the legal divorce. Finalizing a separation agreement is not about luck it is about learning how to appropriately adapt through this crisis and respond with self-respect.

The rewards (which will come later) will be your enhanced self-esteem and wisdom, which will not only make your feel better, it will also greatly aid others.

Risa Ennis Family Mediation and Counselling Services

Telephone: (416) 636-2946

Email:  risasmediation@rogers.com

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