Going through a divorce or other family law matter can be a very difficult experience, both emotionally and financially. Having an experienced, qualified attorney in your corner can make the process considerably easier or make it even harder. Choosing the right family law attorney is one of the most important decisions you will make for your family law matter. As many people can tell you, choosing an attorney unsuited for your particular situation can make an already challenging process even more trying. Just as no two family law cases are the same, no two family law attorneys are the same. Here are some things to consider in choosing the family law attorney that is right for you.
1.Where to Look for an Attorney
- Referrals from friends and family – Sometimes your best resource can be those closest to you – your friends, family members, co-workers. Ask them about their experiences with their family law attorneys. Did they have a good working relationship with him or her? Does the attorney only practice family law? Was the attorney honest and reasonable? Are credit cards accepted? Did the attorney communicate regularly? While no two cases are alike, these qualities are important to consider when choosing an attorney and a close friend or family member is likely to share their honest opinion with you about the experience.
- Online directories with reviews – Online directories, such as Avvo, are easily accessible. These directories provide a variety of information including the attorney’s contact information, level of experience, disciplinary record and reviews from current or former clients.
2.What to Look for in a Family Law Attorney
- Knowledge and Experience – It is important to understand that not every attorney practices family law. Even among family law attorneys, some are stronger in areas such as child custody or domestic violence, where some focus on a particular area, such as the preparation of Domestic Relations Orders. As in every profession, there are some practitioners that are more qualified than others. If your case involves complex jurisdictional or property issues, it is important to select a family law attorney with sufficient knowledge and experience to best represent your interests in these matters.
- Style of Practice – When interviewing potential attorneys, be sure to ask how they generally handle their family law cases. Do they believe everything should be fought out in open court? Are they willing to actively negotiate and resolve issues out of Court? Are they effective in the courtroom? If you and your spouse or former partner have amicably reached agreements on issues in your case, does the attorney agree to accept those agreements while at the same time making sure that you understand your rights and obligations, or insist that those issues must be litigated leaving you with no sense of control? Clear expectations from the beginning will conserve both your sanity and your financial resources.
- Communication – One of the most common frustrations among family law clients is the fact that it is often difficult to communicate with their attorneys. Even with the ease of e-mail and modern technology, there are often lengthy delays between the initial contact and attorney response. In times of crisis, this can be frightening. Because family law is a particularly delicate area of the law, some clients require more frequent contact than others. Ask if the attorney handles most communication herself or if that contact is delegated to a paralegal or associate. In compounding our mobile society with the emotional nature of family law cases, it is important to find an attorney who understands your individual needs and is willing to work with them.
- Support Staff – What role do associates, paralegals or secretaries play in the management of your family law matter? Will you communicate primarily with someone other than the attorney? If the attorney relies heavily on a paralegal or associate, ask to be introduced. Ask about the person’s qualifications and experience. Get to know them. Odds are, they’ll be one of the most valuable members of the team.
- Affordability – What are the billing practices? Will you be charged hourly? What are the billing rates for different staff members? Will you be charged for things such as postage or faxes? For what services will the attorney incur fees before requesting your consent? “Sticker shock” is all too common among family law clients who do not familiarize themselves with the attorney’s billing practices.
- Pay attention to the office environment – is the staff disorganized? Disgruntled? Is the office cluttered or well-organized? Does the staff seem knowledgeable? Ask to meet them, if paralegals or other assistants will be working with the attorney on your case. These are the people who will be entrusted to handle documents such as tax returns and credit card statements. You should feel comfortable in working with them as well. The right family law attorney for you will have you leaving her office feeling a sense of security and contentment.