How to choose a family law attorney
Updated: Nov 22, 2022
This guide will help you select an attorney to represent you in your family law matter. Below, you will find a list of questions you should ask yourself and your potential counsel. It is not an exhaustive list, but it is a good place to start. I hope you find it helpful.
Does the attorney have relevant experience?
Family law is a highly specialized area. It is imperative that you select an attorney who either practices family law exclusively or who devotes the majority of his or her time to practicing family law. While it is possible that a criminal defense attorney, a civil litigator or a personal injury attorney would do a fantastic job representing you in your family law matter, it simply isn't worth the risk.
Will the attorney personally handle your case?
This is a huge issue that inexperienced clients fail to consider. Often, a "seasoned" attorney will impress a client in an initial consultation, the client will retain the attorney, and finally, the attorney will "farm out" the case to another attorney whom the client has never met or heard of before. While it is possible that this other attorney will represent the client competently, the fact still stands that this is not the individual the client chose to represent them.
Does the attorney give you a realistic prediction of possible outcomes?
"When I am finished with your husband, he won't ever make another dollar that you first don't take 90 cents of!" "You will be able to move with your children to Somalia. I know your judge well." "Your husband definitely will ultimately pay for all of your attorney fees." If you hear anything resembling the above statements in an initial consultation, don't walk away--run. The reality is that family law issues are complex and unpredictable, and no attorney can tell you how a court would resolve them; rather, a competent attorney can only give you probabilities. It is unlikely that you will enjoy a crushing victory against your spouse, even though television and movies would have you believe otherwise. The outcome of your case will likely be something in between what you want and what the other side wants.
Do I feel a rapport with the attorney?
This is an intangible that only you will be able to answer. You should trust your instincts.
Does the attorney promptly communicate with you?
Unfortunately, you will not know the answer to this until you have retained the attorney. Attorneys have an ethical duty to communicate with their clients. If your attorney is dodging your calls or e-mails or appears to lack knowledge about the facts of your case, it is probably time for you to find a new attorney.
Is the attorney's billing reasonable and transparent?
Again, unfortunately, you will not know the answer to this until you have retained the attorney. Although most clients are not attorneys themselves--and thus are unaware of industry standards--there are two major telltale indicators of dishonest or unreasonable billing practices. The first indicator is that the billing entry is vague as to what work was actually performed. If a billing entry lacks specificity such that you don't understand what the attorney did during the billed time increment, this is a red flag. The second indicator is that the attorney patently spent too much time on a task. For example, if an attorney bills you 3 hours to write a one page document, this is a red flag.
Can I afford this attorney?
Southern California, where I practice, is home to some of the best family law attorneys in the United States. After all, the rich and famous flock here for obvious reasons. When your favorite celebrity gets divorced, you can bet that they chose a hard hitting "celebrity divorce attorney." While you would probably like to have this attorney handle your divorce, the reality is that you probably can't afford them (and they likely wouldn't take your case anyway). Another reality is that there are many lesser known attorneys who are every bit as good, but who charge far less for their services. In short, costs matter.