Family Law

Family Law: Selecting a Good Lawyer

By Kristina Otterstrom, Attorney
Things to consider when hiring a lawyer.

Your divorce or custody battle is as unique as your family’s circumstances. It’s important to find the right lawyer for your particular case. A good lawyer can help you navigate the murky waters of divorce and can help you feel confident about your decisions. By contrast, an ill-equipped or inexperienced lawyer may end up complicating your case. But what kind of lawyer should you hire and where do you start?

What Type of Legal Assistance Do I Need?

If you’re filing for divorce, it’s obvious that you’ll want to hire an attorney who’s experienced in family law rather than personal injury or probate matters. In other words, you'll want someone who knows how to handle your divorce case and can speak from experience. Yet it’s still important to decide why you want to hire an attorney in the first place. Your reasons for hiring a lawyers will factor into the type of attorney hat's best equipped to handle your case.

For example, is your spouse a bully, who yells and frightens you into agreements? If so, you may feel like you need an attorney who will stand up for your rights and handle all communications. Are you completely overwhelmed by the divorce process? Then you may want a lawyer who will handle the entire case, from filing the petition through the trial. Do you want to handle the divorce yourself, but would like to have a consulting attorney available to give you legal advice and review documents? These are all very different reasons for wanting an attorney on your side and a different type of attorney will fit each of these circumstances. Once you’ve decided what you’re looking for in an attorney, you’re ready to begin the search.

How Do I Narrow My Search?

While an online search engine or your local bar association are both great places to begin looking, you may need to do more research to find the right attorney for your case. Many online search tools will group attorneys by practice areas and location. Once you’ve found a family law attorney in your area, check out the prospective attorneys’ websites. Do you think the website is tasteful? Does the attorney look professional? It can also be helpful to ask around and see if anyone in your network knows a prospective divorce attorney.

Also, you should review any biographical information on your attorney. For example, find out if this person practices family law exclusively. Does the lawyer’s website mention mediation? An attorney with mediation experience might be more focused on a collaborative approach, which can be good if you want to avoid trial. Alternatively, does this lawyer go by the nickname “Bulldog,” “Strong arm” or some other tough title? This probably indicates this attorney takes a no-nonsense approach and will be an aggressive litigator in your case, which may mean more legal fees for you.

Interviewing Potential Attorneys

Once you’ve narrowed down your list to a handful of attorneys, you’ll want to meet with each lawyer in person. Be aware that some attorneys charge an initial consultation fee. You should bring relevant divorce paperwork and information to your first meeting with a lawyer. An attorney needs to understand your circumstances to make an accurate assessment of your case.

Any attorney you hire should practice in your local community. Family law cases often require courtroom appearances, and almost all attorneys bill for their travel time. You should also consider how much your attorney charges and whether you can afford it. Ultimately, the attorney you hire should be someone you're comfortable with. You should like your attorney’s style and general demeanor. A good attorney will explain the process for your case and create a plan that's tailored for you.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • What do you think of my case? What are my chances of succeeding?
  • What is your retainer fee and hourly billing rate? What does that include? Do you charge for travel, photocopies, emails, and phone calls.
  • What kind of experience do you have in handling cases like mine?
  • How would you describe your approach in divorce cases?
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