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The El Paso Test: The Secret to Choosing the Right Divorce Lawyer

Choosing a divorce lawyer is a decision with enormous implications. Pick the right one and your divorce will go be smoother and easier as a result. Pick the wrong one and your troubles will get supersized at your expense.
12/28/2015 09:45am ET | Updated December 28, 2016
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Choosing a divorce lawyer is a decision with enormous implications. Pick the right one and your divorce will go be smoother and easier as a result. Pick the wrong one and your troubles will get supersized at your expense.

It's not just a question of qualifications. After all, there are plenty of divorce lawyers with impressive credentials and tons of experience. Out of the pool of family lawyers with impressive resumes, how do you know which one is right for you?

That's where the El Paso test comes in.

Full disclosure here: I didn't invent the El Paso test--and I'll carry that regret with me for the rest of my life. But while I didn't invent it, I did recognize its brilliance the very first time I heard it.

My colleague and mentor Sam Colletti was the one who told me about it--although he didn't invent it, either. He learned it from the manager at Chuy's, a Tex-Mex institution in Austin, Texas, where Sam waited tables during college.

When the manager had a position to fill at the restaurant, he would eliminate all of the unqualified candidates--you know, the ones who weren't friendly, couldn't do basic math, were unable to carry oversized trays of food without incident, or didn't grasp the importance of keeping the chips, salsa and margaritas coming. Then, out of all the ones who were left, the manager would put all of those candidates through the El Paso test.

The El Paso test required the manager to imagine himself on a road trip from Austin to El Paso with the applicant. Was this a person who he could stand to be trapped in a car with for as long as that trip would take?

For those of you not from Texas, you need to know this: The drive from Austin to El Paso is no ordinary road trip. The route from the Texas Capitol to the U.S./Mexico border features 8-plus hours of boring and 576 miles of ugly. You can survive a trip from Austin to Houston with almost anyone. But Austin to El Paso is a different animal entirely. It's the Moby Dick of Texas road trips.

Every road trip can involve a mixture of dull parts and stressful parts, and everyone knows that disaster is at least a possibility. Long stretches of sheer tedium, an occasional missed exit or wrong turn, and the specter of a breakdown or a fiery collision can end up challenging even the most easy-going among us. But when the trip is from Austin to El Paso, your traveling companion can make or break not just the trip, but you.

Divorces are exactly the same.

So, in order to decide between a pool of otherwise qualified divorce lawyers, put them all through the El Paso test. Who would be the best fit for you when you're slogging through mile after tedious mile? Who can you trust to keep calm while navigating stressful and unexpected twists and turns? Who can you count on if there's a break down or if you run off the road? The answers to these questions will differ from person to person.

Putting all of your lawyer candidates through the El Paso test before retaining one can make the difference between hiring a lawyer who, while qualified, is not someone you at all want to be around, and having a qualified lawyer who is exactly the right fit for you.

Don't get me wrong, just like driving from Austin to El Paso, getting divorced is still going to be something you'll never want to do again--no matter who travels that road with you. But with the right lawyer, you'll get through it with as little pain and drama as possible and arrive in one piece.

God speed and vaya con good representation, my friend.