Despite the number of blog posts that I’ve already written, I am surprised to see that I haven’t written about perhaps the most important subject of all: choosing a lawyer for your family law matter. (Frankly, you almost always should hire a lawyer).
It is essential to know how to find the best lawyer for your case . . . and for your personality. As poet George Herbert once said, “Deceive not thy physician, confessor, nor lawyer.” A good lawyer can be invaluable in helping you resolve the case with the best outcome—a bad lawyer can cost you thousands of dollars and leave your case in worse shape than when you started. (Plus, you do not want to end up in a fight with your attorney while in court. It does happen.) You can always switch lawyers, but it will cost you more because the second lawyer is going to have to spend time learning your case. It is far better to pick the right lawyer the first time. So how do you find and pick a family law attorney?
Word of mouth: First, ask friends, family members, and lawyers you know (even if they don’t do family law) for recommendations or for lawyers to avoid. Be cautious here though because most people hate the lawyer on the other side of the case. A stern caution to avoid a certain lawyer should be met with questions, such as why do they feel that way? If it is because they lost big to that lawyer, then add that lawyer’s name to your list of candidates.
Go online: Check websites, such as the California State Bar website, and look up any lawyers you might be interested in talking to about your case. One caution here: the rules of confidentiality prevent lawyers from responding to negative review with facts about a client’s case. So, if there is a lawyer or firm you are interested in talking too but are hesitant because it has on or two bad reviews, consider them anyway. Do not allow negative reviews automatically disqualify a candidate. As is pointed out in this Forbes article, ratings systems can be very flawed. Look at both the positive and negative reviews; then decide if it is worth speaking to that lawyer or firm.
Rank the lawyers on your consideration list: When you have narrowed your list to the top candidates, rank the lawyers from most-preferred to least-preferred, and begin making consultation appointments. Do this ASAP! While a good lawyer can handle a case nearing a deadline or a court appearance with only a few days’ notice, the more preparation time he/she has the better. Don’t be shocked if you are asked to pay for a consultation. This is a very common practice, especially in family law. Why? Not because lawyers are greedy, but because once you talk to a lawyer (regardless of whether you hire them) they are eliminated as counsel for the other side of the case. Hence, the best lawyers are often on a list of “call and eliminate them” from representing the other side. Those lawyers often charge for consultations just to ensure that you are truly interested in considering them for hire and not just eliminating them as opponents.
Prepare for your consultation: If you have received court papers (pleadings), arrange to have them sent over to the lawyer before the consultation so they can review those papers. Make a list of your questions and concerns so they can be answered during your consultation. And don’t forget to ask how long your lawyer has been doing family law in the geographic area where your case is or will be.
Choosing a lawyer for your family law matter is an important decision considering the types of issues that are normally at issue, such as child custody, financial support, and the division of assets. Flippantly selecting a lawyer the way you would choose a taxi service can result in years of misery because of losses in court. Do your investigative work. Ask around. And then make your choice.