Hiring an attorney to represent you in your family law matter is often an intimidating process. Most potential clients have no experience talking to an attorney, much less hiring one; and making the initial call to a lawyer to discuss your own divorce can present a very high emotional barrier that is only minimized with experience and information. To help, I’ve identified 6 tips to assist you in the purchase of your family law services.
Ask questions. Silence is not recommended, even if you think it could offend the consulting
attorney. As the client, you are entrusting the attorney with helping
you get through an incredibly emotional period of your life. For some,
it is more painful than the death of a loved one. When children are involved,
you are entrusting the lawyer to help you maintain the closest possible
relationship with your kids. The least you can do is ask the questions
on your mind about who this person is, their approach to cases, and why
you should entrust your case to them. Some questions you may want to ask:
- “How many family law cases have you had in the past 5 years that involved trials?”
- “How do you approach your cases? Do you have a philosophy?”
- “Who will I interact with at your firm, and how should I communicate with you?”
- “How will you help me get through this difficult time?"
- “Could you quote me a flat rate for the services I’m asking you to provide?"
- “What do you need from me to help make my case more efficient?”
- Be prepared. Staying with the tip to ask questions, don’t be afraid to call and ask the attorney’s office what they need from you to help make your time more productive. This demonstrates to the attorney that you are serious about your case, and gives you an opportunity to see if the attorney’s office is organized enough to explain to you what they need you to provide. The more information you can provide at the initial consultation, the more productive that time will be.
- Meet with your attorney before proceeding. Your initial consultation is the most important time you will have with your attorney. Few meetings with your lawyer are as important as the first, so make sure you’re meeting with the person who will be the primary attorney on your case, not a “consultation attorney.” A popular business model for some law offices is to have one lawyer conduct all consultations and then pass clients off to another lawyer to handle the day-to-day. If you discover you’re in a law office like this, treat it as a red flag. The first meeting sets the tone and provides you and the attorney an opportunity to get to know each other. Most importantly, it is the best opportunity for the lawyer to understand your goals and objectives for your case. They won’t be able to do that if they aren’t in the consultation, and if they don’t understand your goals for the case, whose objectives are they working to achieve?
- Don’t be intimidated. This is what family law attorneys do every day. Good ones love nothing more than to help fearful individuals who are intimidated by the legal process prevail through optimism and compassion. I often tell clients there is nothing they can tell me that will impact my opinion of them. My job is to help people through the most difficult periods of their lives, and if I am successful at that I’ll get a thank you on the other side. Those "thank you’s" mean more than you know, and we only get them by helping folks - who started the process fearful and intimidated - find success entering the next chapter of their lives.
- Relationships matter. Many cases do not require extensive litigation and therefore interaction with your attorney may be more limited. However, the more litigious the family law case, the more your relationship with your attorney matters because you’re going to be spending more time with them than you want. Make sure the person you hire is someone you feel comfortable with. Hiring a lawyer who comes recommended, but does not put you at ease, often results in conflict between you and the attorney as your case proceeds.
- You get what you pay for. You often get what you pay for in family law matters. Good attorneys find themselves in higher demand and, like any finite resource in high demand, typically demand higher prices. Many attorneys simply raise their hourly rate based on years of practice, while some raise it when the level of service they provide is reflected in the demand on their time. This is why a very good young lawyer may charge as much or more than an attorney with many more years of experience. Keep this in mind when shopping for an attorney. The price of the service is often a reflection of the demand on the attorney’s time. And lawyers in demand have typically proven themselves in the marketplace.