How To Choose A Family Law Attorney

I think we take this for granted a little bit as clients. I want to make sure that you have the information you need to be able to make the right choice for your particular case.

What can hiring an attorney do for me?

Before we get started on particular questions that you can ask, I want you to get a sense of where you are and where you'd like to be, and what you need to do to get there.

If you're like most people in a legal fight, you're not having a very good day. Maybe you feel confusion at all the options, overwhelm at all the stuff you've read online or heard from family, or even fear that if you make the wrong decision you could lose time with your kids, or lose property and take a financial hit. That's not how you want to feel in your case.

Instead you'd like to have a sense of confidence, and understanding, and empowerment. But it feels like there's a wall between you and that option.

Well, you break through that wall by hiring a qualified attorney.

How do I know if I am hiring a good attorney?

When you've talked to your family or friends about hiring an attorney, you've probably heard all kinds of things that you could consider: maybe the communication policy that the office has, the reputation that the particular lawyer has in your case, the cost for services, their record in court, the personality, experience...

With all these things you supposed to consider, how do you know what that you're making the right choice of an attorney?

I think that's a great question and actually the best way to answer that question is, oddly, to ask some more questions. In fact, what I'd like to do is give you five crucial questions that you can ask any attorney that you are considering.

I think if you weigh these you'll be able to make a great, qualified, informed decision.

What is the firm's communications policy?

So, number one, the first question I think you should ask is, what the firm's communications policy is. What's their response time? Is it 24 hours, 48 hours? Would it be an attorney that's responding to you or staff? Does that particular office prefer email or telephone calls?

When choosing an attorney, always ask about the communications policy.

When choosing an attorney, always ask about the communications policy.

These questions can be crucial in moving your case forward. And I will tell you if that attorneys office does not tell you what they are communications policy is, chances are they don't have one. Which means things could really slow up for you.

How many cases do the lawyers manage at one time?

The second question I think you should ask is how many cases the lawyers inside the firm manage at any one time. This is an amazing issue. I've talked to attorneys who have told me that they'll run 120, 130 cases at one time, which just baffles me. I don't understand how those lawyers can offer quality services.

If you are dealing with a law firm that has a high caseload, you need to know how they are managing that. Do they have staff that helps out? If they're not returning emails or phone calls, who could you contact in an emergency? What can you do to maybe move the case forward? That level of service that you're receiving in the attorney's office really depends on the overwhelm of the attorneys.

I will tell you, our office, we try to hold per attorney about 30 cases at any one time. Sometimes if they have more complex cases we'll try to push that number down to more like 20. But generally speaking, we try to keep it at a manageable number so that the attorneys aren't overwhelmed and the clients aren't overlooked.

So make sure you ask about that docket that attorneys hold at one time.

What guarantees can the law office give you regarding price?

The third question I think you should ask is about price. What kind of guarantees can the firm offer about price?

This is a sticky question. I talk to a lot of attorney's groups actually about to pricing. Most attorneys they price on hourly rates. They'll get a retainer from you and they'll bill hourly.

We don't do that. We bill flat. And we bill flat fees according to the phases of a case. We do that because we feel like attorney hourly fees can be really confusing. They can be very unpredictable. And you don't really know what you're getting into. So we try to give that information.

When you're talking to a firm, ask them how they bill. If they bill hourly, can they give you a context of how much that particular case might cost. Or are there benchmarks that they can give you that kind of give you an outline of what the costs are?

I should say most law firms are going to be slow to give you answers to those questions because they don't want to lock themselves into a price that they know is unpredictable. Because their prices are unpredictable. That should tell you something.

If predictability is of value to you, I would recommend dealing with an attorney that bills flat rates, or at least get the attorney's office to give you some kind of outline.

So ask those questions about price.

What have past client reviews said about the law firm?

The fourth thing I think you should ask about is what past clients have had to say about the services. You can take a look at review sites like Yelp or Avvo to see reviews from past clients.

A word of warning: remember that the online review sites have opinions of the people who most loved the firm, and most hated it. So instead of looking to the particular anger or affection, try to find patterns about things that matter most to you.

If you care about responsiveness, if you care about price, if you care about experience - look to those reviews. They'll give you the pattern that should give you a pretty good idea of what you're dealing with.

If the firm doesn't have Yelp or Avvo reviews, ask the firm if they can provide testimonials. If they can't give you any of that, that tells me that they don't have a follow up process with their clients. And if that's true, they probably don't have much of a client satisfaction plan. And you should definitely consider that.

The other thing I would tell you, always value the opinion of a friend. Like, if you got a referral to a specific office, always value that above what you find on a review site. Those are the best ways to find out how past clients feel about the law office.

What experience does the law firm have with a case like yours?

Finally, number five, what I would suggest that you ask is what experience that law office has with a case particularly like yours.

This is an amazing thing with the lawyers: we think we can handle everything because we went to law school and we studied all kinds of weird stuff.

It is probably true that I could handle just about any kind of case, but I really shouldn't. It's difficult to achieve mastery when you spread yourself really thin.

And to be honest, for your particular case what you care about is what experience that lawyer has, what depth of knowledge he or she has, with your particular case. So ask them. Ask them how much experience they have with a case like yours. And find someone who understands you and your particular problem.

So those are the five questions I would encourage you to ask when looking for an attorney: what kind of response time you're dealing with, the attorney caseload, any guarantees as to price, past client reviews, and what experience they have with a case like yours.

Hopefully these five questions will give you a good baseline for finding the attorney that's right for you.