How does one find a good family law lawyer? A good approach can be to ask for a referral from a trusted friend, family member, or co-worker. If you can’t get the names of any lawyers that way, you can always look in the phone book or search on the web. Yet, how will you know if a lawyer is any good, just from reading their advertisement? How can you tell if the lawyer is competent and ethical? Even if competent and ethical, how will you know if you get along with a prospective lawyer, or feel comfortable trusting them with the many intimate details of your personal life, such as those that can be involved in a divorce?
Finding a good family law lawyer who you get along with is often times as difficult as finding a good life partner in the first place. The good news, however, is that the attorney-client relationship, if all goes well in the divorce process, should be short-lived, compared to what one would expect in a personal relationship with a life partner.
When seeking out an attorney to represent you in a divorce, one should not be shy in asking qualifying questions. Think of it as an interview, where you are hiring someone to handle one of, if not the most important matter of your life. Thus, best to ask important and potentially sensitive questions up front, rather than run into problems down the road. So, what do you ask?
Some basic questions should always include:
Where did you go to law school?
Why did you go to law school?
How well did you do?
How long have you been practicing law?
Do you specialize in just family law, or practice other areas of law too? If you practice more than just family law, how much of your practice is devoted purely to family law?
What Legal (“Bar”) Associations do you belong to? Do you belong to any family law related associations or sections of the Bar?
What would the majority of your past clients say about you, in terms of what they liked and disliked?
Are you willing to provide me with a budget of your projected legal fees?
What is your relationship with the judge or judges that may be deciding my case?
Are you a certified family law specialist in the state in which you practice law?
These are just some basic questions to get you started when interviewing a family law lawyer. But, the questions should not stop there. Feel free to ask anything and everything in order for you to feel comfortable in deciding whether to hire any particular lawyer.
In formulating your questions to help determine whether to hire a lawyer, the below may be helpful. This is a document I provide to all my clients in order to let them know what they can expect from me, and what I expect from them. The better a person understands upfront the nature of the attorney-client relationship, the greater the chance that relationship will go smoothly. After all, the last thing one needs while going through a divorce is difficulty in their relationship with their lawyer.
Client’s Bill of Rights
1. You have the right to competent counsel with the skill, knowledge, emotional, mental, and physical ability to diligently and efficiently represent your interests to the highest standards.
2. The right to be treated with courtesy and consideration by the attorney and his/her staff. This right shall include prompt return calls and copies of documentation related to your case.
3. The right to representation that is free of any conflicts of interests.
4. The right to obtain advice from your attorney about the advantages and disadvantages of alternatives to litigation.
5. The right to know the attorney’s billing procedure, the amounts you will be charged for the various types of services to be provided, an estimate (or budget) of the attorneys total fees, and an itemized bill clearly showing your attorney’s services and charges.
6. The right to be continuously advised on the progress of your case.
7. The right to have your questions answered in a way that you can understand. This includes the right to engage in settlement negotiations that do not amount to coercion or forced settlements.
8. The right to privacy in all of your dealings with your attorney, including the contents of your file.
9. The right to terminate your attorney’s services at anytime for any reason.
10. The right to insist that your attorney attempt to engage in meaningful settlement negotiations or alternative dispute resolution, instead of continued protracted litigation.
Client’s Obligations to Attorney
1. The obligation to fully advise your attorney of all known facts related to your matter, even if very personal and potentiall embarrasing, and to keep him advised of any new facts as they arise. Keep in mind that what your lawyer doesn’t know, may hurt you.
2. The obligation to pay your attorney’s bills promptly or to advise him/her why they are not being paid. No one likes to work for free. But, most lawyers understand legal services are expensive. Thus, they will work with you to help you pay your fees.
3. The obligation to keep in touch with your attorney, including promtly letting him/her know your new physical and email addresses and phone numbers if they change.
4. The obligation to promptly follow your attorney’s advice and cooperate with his/her requests.
These items are merely a guide to give you an idea of what you should expect from your relationship with your attorney. The more functional the relationship is with your attorney, the more likely you are to get the results you want from your case, and to get through what can be a difficult process with the least amount of heartache.
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