Winning a Divorce Case or A Family Law Case … Hiring an Attorney – How to pick?
If you are getting a divorce, or involved in any type of family law litigation … you need an attorney. Really, no exceptions. People I know, and sometimes people who come to see me as potential clients occasionally ask me … Do I really need an attorney for a divorce? My soon to be ex and I have agreed on everything. These are famous last words.
I remind these folks that their soon to be ex and they agreed on everything before … but they didn’t keep the agreement. I also remind them that if they and their soon to be ex where getting along all that well, they would not be called a “soon to be ex.” Seriously, divorcing yourself without a lawyer, ripping apart your assets and debts, along with you children’s lives without an attorney is like yanking your gallbladder out without a doctor. People who really understand what you are doing, will think you are crazy.
Once you are past the first question, the next question is how to pick an attorney. Start by talking to your friends, colleagues and associates. The best attorneys tend to be recommended by people who actually know them, current clients, former clients and people who have come into personal contact with them. After speaking to some folks you will probably have a list of two or three candidates.
Next … a little research. Check out the State Bar website for any attorney you are thinking about hiring. Generally, local and state bar associations maintain a record of attorney discipline and the years that an attorney has practiced. Expand your search to the internet world. Look these potential lawyers up by name and see what shows on the major search engines. Look for news articles, areas of practice and individual case stories that may have found their way to the internet. Look carefully at the website of any attorney you are considering.
Next … interview the lawyer. Big picture, hire an attorney you will be comfortable with – both personally and financially! Before you sign a contract with an attorney in a family law matter, ask about that attorney’s experience. Ask about the attorney’s references. Ask about the fees – not only how much he/she charges per hour but how much, generally, you should expect to spend with the attorney. Ask how after hour emergencies are handled.
The first attorney you contact should not be offended if you contact a second or third attorney in order to investigate that “comfort level.” Look around to the extent you deem it necessary. Family law litigation is very difficult. You and the lawyer you pick will have to interact on personal and serious matters. Like it or not you and your lawyer will learn many things about each other. Probably, some stuff neither of you wanted to know and would never know in another setting. You have to get along.
Here is a list of some things to think about and discuss with any attorney you talk to:
- Focus … many firms focus on family law. You can find out about that by asking the attorney you are speaking to about the percentage of cases in his/her office that are family law cases. Likely, you will want to avoid if possible someone that practices family law as a small side practice. I usually advise people that if an attorneys case load is less than 80% family law and their case has any unusual or highly contested issues, that attorney is not appropriate.
- Local Knowledge … Ask any potential attorney about their familiarity with the Court, the issues and the opposing counsel. The more they know the better.
- Courtroom and Trial Experience … Lawyers with significant trial and courtroom experience are generally more effective than lawyers who do not have that experience. If you case is or becomes contested, you will want a lawyer that can use the courtroom to your advantage and has a reputation as someone who will make your case effectively in court. If you case is relatively low conflict, the lawyer’s reputation as a courtroom advocate who will take cases to trial, will help you achieve the best possible settlement.
- Board Certification … Texas and some other states have attorney certification. That means an attorney has met certain standards of experience, competence and ethical behavior in a certain field. For example, I am Board Certified in Family Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Any licensed lawyer can practice family law but some are “certified.” Depending on the complexity and nature of the issues you should consider these certification credentials. If at least one attorney in the firm is Board Certified, you can count on the experience level of the firm.
Once you have hired an attorney, make sure that you work at getting along with that attorney. Ask questions and follow directions. In the long run, the relationship you establish with you family law attorney is the most likely indicator of success in your case. Good luck, if you need help, picking an attorney anywhere in Texas you can contact me. I will try to help.