Divorce is often a difficult journey to navigate, and you already know it’s not one you want to take alone. You’ve done your research to find an expert guide – a family lawyer – so you’re on your way, right?

While hiring the right family attorney is a crucial step in the process, being prepared for your first meeting – including knowing the warning signs to watch out for – will ensure you are setting out on what can often be a long and difficult path with someone you trust.

Expect the truth

A good domestic lawyer is going to be honest… like it or not. While it can be hard to hear the hard truth, any lawyer who is telling you everything you want to hear is just trying to get your business and doesn’t have your best interests in mind.

I’ve had clients walk into my office wanting to protect their pension after a 20-year marriage for example. But in most cases, that is not possible; it must be divided with your spouse.

Not only will a knowledgeable divorce attorney give you a candid assessment of your case, he or she will also give you a thorough explanation of the law. Remember, it is your right as a client to have at least a fundamental understanding of the process you are about to go through.

Get a good look

Look around the office. The desk should be a little messy – the hallmark of a successful lawyer. But the rest of the office should be presentable, decorative and, in a word, impressive.

Believe it or not, this matters. You want to go to court with a lawyer that looks busy, put together, professional and ready to try your case.

It’s important, of course, for you and your attorney to click in some way, since you need both a competent person and one who will help you through an emotional situation.

This extends to a lawyer’s staff, as well, since these are the people you will come into contact with most throughout your case. Considering the personal nature of divorce, a good family lawyer will have a friendly and engaging staff that you can embrace in times of crisis.

Be courteous but stay alert

A lawyer cannot be available 24 hours a day. They are often on the phone, in court or solving other people’s problems. If you are rude and condescending to them, you will only hurt your case.

That said, make sure to carefully monitor the time it takes your lawyer to return phone calls and get your case ready. The legal process can be time-consuming and many of the reasons – the court calendar or even the stubbornness of your spouse and his or her legal team – is beyond your lawyer’s control.

But if you keep your eyes and ears open, you should be able to determine whether delays are out of your lawyer’s hands or due to poor time-management, which can only aggravate the case.

Beware the ‘bulldog’

Lots of lawyers get the reputation of being a “bulldog.” There is nothing wrong with being aggressive but it must be exhibited in a professional way.

“Bulldogs” are often disliked by other lawyers and even judges. If this is obvious to you, then you may have made a bad choice.

That said, your lawyer should listen and be direct. Do not expect someone who will agree with everything you say or do everything you request.

Remember, your guide has led others down this journey before. Finding an assertive and honest but empathetic attorney will ensure your path to divorce is as free from obstacles and potential dangers as possible.

Jim Lea has been practicing law for 36 years. In 1996, after only 16 years of practicing law, he received an “A preeminent” rating from Martindale Hubbell, an honor earned by only 10 percent of the country’s lawyers. He has also been named a “Super Lawyer,” honored as one of “The Best Lawyers in America” and “preeminent lawyer,” all for over 10 years. He was recently inducted into “Lawyers of Distinction,” limited to the nation’s top 10 percent of lawyers. His firm has been named by US News and World Report as one of the nation’s top law rms for over five years.