How To Choose A Family Law Attorney Properly
Choosing the best attorney to handle your divorce, domestic violence, paternity or other family law matter can be one of the most important decisions in your life. It is important that you take the time to research your options and interview numerous attorneys to choose the proper fit for you. There are hundreds of divorce attorneys in New Mexico of varying backgrounds, skills and experience.
The very first consideration when searching for a divorce law firm and attorney is to find an attorney that you get along with, that you respect, and that listens to you. Attorneys by nature like to talk, but when you first meet an attorney their job should be to listen to your explanation of the facts involved in your case and to understand your goals and desires in the case. Divorce attorneys will only understand the likely or possible outcomes in your case if they listen to you. Over the years, we have had a significant number of potential clients call our firm that already have attorneys and they are looking to make a change.
The most common reasons clients want to hire a different attorney is because their attorney
- doesn’t call them back;
- doesn’t listen to them;
- doesn’t work with them on the case. In our experience, the best divorce attorneys we have worked with on cases are the lawyers that listen to their client, understand their goals, advise their client about the proper direction to move forward in the case, but they must also have the ability to be aggressive when necessary.
Family law attorneys must have significant experience in order to properly handle a divorce or other family law case. This is not to say that an inexperienced attorney cannot successful complete a case; however, there is an extremely small likelihood that an inexperienced attorney will resolve your case with a result favorable to you, at an expected cost, within a reasonable time-frame. There is a practical reason that experience matters in a divorce case, which is the overall cost will be reduced by having an experienced attorney. This concept seems counter-intuitive since the more experienced attorneys often charge a higher hourly rate. The reason is because experienced attorneys already have a significant knowledge base concerning divorce law and procedures, which they do not need to spend time, and charge you, to research law. Attorneys charge a wide array of hourly fees for their services. Some attorneys will charge as low as $250 per hour, while other attorneys charge upwards of $400 per hour. We believe that the attorney’s rate should be reasonable considering their experience and efficiency.
What Should You Look for When Choosing a Family Law Attorney?
While divorce is the most common thing that comes to mind when people think of family law issues, there are actually many different legal matters that family law attorneys deal with on a regular basis. There are many attorneys in Michigan that claim to work on family-related law issues, which means you have a lot of choices. However, what kinds of things should you be looking for when choosing a family law attorney?
- Experience – one of the first things you should look for is an attorney’s experience. As with most legal matters, experience is important. You want to be sure that the attorney you choose has already dealt with similar issues to what you’re going through and that he/she knows how to handle them properly.
- Expertise – many attorneys set up a general practice where they take on several kinds of legal matters. However, if you’re dealing with a family law issue, then you don’t need an attorney who mainly focuses on personal injury and does family law on the side. Choosing a lawyer who is focused solely on family law issues can make a big difference in the outcome of your case.
- Professionalism – you also want to make sure that your attorney appears to be professional and act in a professional manner. That means he/she speaks and behaves in an intelligent and courteous way.
- Knowledgeable – the family law attorney you choose should be knowledgeable about family law. If he/she has a hard time answering your questions, then you might want to look elsewhere.
Reality and Honesty
An attorney who understands your goals but also reality is something you should heavily consider. One of the biggest red flags you can come across in your search is a “yes man.” An attorney should not be a magician nor should he or she promise you the world so that you are inevitably disappointed with the end result. No end result is ever completely perfect, and your attorney should be forthright with you regarding your case. A divorce attorney should be able to understand your goals and needs, but, should be honest and realistic with you about attaining those goals. Our attorneys will maintain candor and sincerity throughout your divorce and will advocate as hard as they can to achieve your goals.
A Counselor in Law, but also in Life
It is especially important to hire a lawyer who will understand both your wishes and needs. At the Mandel Law Firm, we will recognize that there are certain things that you need to be happy, and those are the things that we will fight the hardest to get. Additionally, our attorneys will provide the necessary comfort and understanding to any tough situation that you may face in the process toward a resolution. Our attorneys will not only counsel and explain the applicable laws, but, will act as “counselors in life” and aid you in starting a new chapter in your life. We are here with an empathetic ear as we strive to create a productive and comfortable environment where you will feel safe and secure. Our attorneys, while they each have different work styles, are compassionate listeners and will do their best to get you the best results.
A Firm Dedicated to Family Law and Versed in Your Specific Issues
The family law firm that you hire should be one that is experienced in a wide range of family law matters, not one that simply dabbles in the occasional family law case. Hiring a firm that specializes in family law will guarantee that you are in the best hands. Attorneys who have handled cases or unique issues just like your own will provide you with the greatest chances of attaining your goals as well as feeling comfortable throughout the process.
Professionalism and Reputation
Lawyers, above all, should be consummate professionals, keeping in mind all ethical guidelines. It can be difficult for you to know if the lawyer is a true professional in one meeting; but remember to check some basic things. Is there someone there to greet you? Are they prepared for your meeting? Are they giving you realistic outcomes and a full explanation of all your options? Beware of the lawyer who promises you a quick case or guarantees an outcome. It is a lawyer’s duty to manage your expectations and tell you the truth – even if they know it is not what you want to hear.
When it comes to their reputation, do not be afraid to do some homework on the lawyer. Check out their state bar history – have there been any disciplinary actions? If so, what were they about? How recent were they? Do other lawyers speak highly of them? Are there any reviews online about how they treat their clients? All of these would go to the professionalism of the attorney and can give you a good idea of how they would treat you during their representation.
When meeting with your attorney, remember that you are the client that will be paying the attorney; they will be the person helping you. Therefore, do not hesitate to ask some probing questions about their practice. Hiring a Family Law attorney is not cheap, but it can be a very smart investment – if you make the right choice. Do your homework and follow your instincts, and chances are you won’t go wrong.
Choosing an Attorney
Make a decision.
After meeting with the attorneys on your shortlist, you might know immediately who you want to hire. Or you may have to mull it over more. Regardless of how you immediately feel, give it a couple of days to think over (unless you need immediate legal assistance). You ultimately want to hire someone you trust and feel comfortable around. To help you make an informed decision, ask yourself the following questions:
- How comfortable will you be working closely with this attorney?
- Does the lawyer have the experience to handle the case?
- Did the lawyer explain the case in a clear manner?
- Does the fee seem reasonable?
- What is your gut instinct telling you?
- Was the lawyer easy to contact or difficult to get ahold of?
Once you have settled on an attorney, you should contact him or her as soon as possible and state that you would like to hire them. Ask if the attorney needs any additional information and what the next steps are.
- If there was something you didn’t like about the attorney, then see if he or she is willing to negotiate. For example, the lawyer might have a policy of only communicating by mail. However, if you would like status updates given by a phone call, then you should ask if the lawyer can change the policy for you.
Read the engagement letter.
The lawyer should present you with a formal engagement letter. This letter spells out all facets of the attorney-client relationship. You should read it closely before signing it and sending it back to the lawyer.
- Be sure the fee agreement is included in the engagement letter and that it accurately reflects your agreement. If you agreed to a flat fee but you see a section discussing hourly billing, then you should bring this to the attorney’s attention and ask that it be corrected.
- In fact, if you don’t understand something in the engagement letter, then you should ask the attorney before signing.
- If something is inaccurate, do not scrawl over the page or cross something out. Instead, wait for a complete, accurate engagement letter to be sent to you. Then sign and return it.
Pay a retainer.
The lawyer may require that you advance a certain sum of money before he or she will begin working on the case. This is called the “retainer.” It is like a down-payment. There may be a separate retainer fee agreement or it could be part of the engagement letter.
- Your lawyer should not use the retainer until they begin working on your case. However, once they have billed you for work performed, they can apply the retainer to your bill. You must pay whatever amount is not covered by the retainer.
- If for some reason the lawyer stops working on your case before using all of the retainer, then you are entitled to a refund of the balance.