Choosing a lawyer to represent you in your family law case can very difficult, especially when you don’t know where to start. While some people simply “google” different lawyers in their area that practice the area of law they need help with, this is not a very practical approach to choosing a family law attorney. Specifically, this is not a good idea because even the worst of lawyers can find their way to the top or front page of Google or other popular search engines. Below are a few things to keep in mind when on the hunt for a lawyer to protect your family’s interests.
- Recommendations/Social proof are best
If possible, the best way to find an attorney is to ask around. If someone you know hired a family law attorney in the past, and were happy with their services, they may be a good fit for you too. Most of our firm’s clients come from referrals from prior clients.
But what do you do when you’re trying to find an attorney, but don’t know anyone who has used one before? The next best thing to a personal referral is social proof. With the advancements in technology this day in age, you can often find the good and the bad about any business. Look them up! Find their websites and check for testimonials, read reviews on yelp and other reputable sites, check out their facebook and twitter pages, read their blog posts and articles. Someone who is prominent in their industry and good at what they do will show it to the world. Once you have a good idea of who they are based on your research, meeting with them or speaking with them will either seal or break the deal.
- You get what you pay for
As with every other thing in life we are looking to purchase, for most, one of the number one concerns when hiring a lawyer is the cost. This is rightfully the case, BUT it’s important to keep in mind that most times, you get what you pay for. If you pay for a $199 divorce, that’s exactly what you will get, the basics. On the other hand, if you decide to go with the most expensive attorney around, that’s exactly what you’ll get – the most expensive (and understand that “most expensive” and “the best” are not synonymous terms.) When choosing a lawyer, it’s critical that you consider the value of their services and what they have to offer rather than solely focusing on a dollar figure. It’s important to figure out what exactly it is that you need, and find the right lawyer who can accomplish this. You should be focusing on the right lawyer for the job, not the right priced lawyer for the job, because if you hire the right priced lawyer, you may end up later having to hire the right lawyer to fix the right priced lawyer’s mess anyway.
- “Many Years of Experience” does not equal “Top Notch Legal Representation”
I’ve seen this mistake happen time and time again. Someone hires a lawyer specifically because their advertisements indicate that they have “30+ years of experience.” Notwithstanding the number of years one has been practicing law, what’s more important is Are they good at what they do? Do they love what they do? Are they of good integrity? Are they reputable? There are plenty of lawyers who have many years of experience, but leave their clients in a worse position than they would have been had they represented themselves; don’t let the “experience” claims fool you.
- A Jack of all trades= A master of none
We’ve all heard this saying before, and it’s true. There are numerous areas of law in California, each of which has its own legal codes that must be followed. If you are looking for a lawyer to represent your best interests when it comes to your family law divorce or child custody case, they need to know the ends and outs of this very complex area of law. Expecting someone who practices every area of law under the sun to help you get custody of your children in your unique interstate family law case or high net worth divorce case will cost you way more time and money than if you hire someone whose focus is on family law. Make sure that the lawyer you trust to protect your family, knows family law. They don’t necessarily have to be a family law “specialist,” but if they are trying to juggle too many areas of law, they likely aren’t the one for you.
Some may disagree with me on this one (it won’t be the first or the last time lol). However, I’m of the opinion that if one is not passionate about what they do, they will never be great at doing it. Regardless of where the passion stems from, if one is passionate about what they do, that increases the chance that they will do their absolute best and beyond – That’s the type of lawyer you want on your team; one that is passionate about winning, passionate about changing lives, passionate about the journey required to get to that point. Otherwise, they will just go through the motions to get them through it for the sake of making their salary. Passion=Power. Power wins cases.
- Time is $$$
For both you AND any lawyer you are thinking about hiring. To determine whether a lawyer is the right fit for you, you will need to spend some time researching them and speaking with them. Because lawyers get paid to talk to people, this means that you could very well spend several hundreds of dollars on consultations if you have more than one lawyer on your radar that you’re considering. Although some lawyers offer free consultations, these consultations are usually very general, quick, and provide little insight into what that particular lawyer can do for you, how their firm works, and it likely doesn’t give you enough time to get to know them, even a little. It’s better to spend your initial money finding the right lawyer for you if necessary. Pay for the consultation, spend that time with them, and ask them your most pressing questions. Do this now or likely have to do it later to find another lawyer to replace the one you would’ve known wasn’t a good fit had you done this from the outset.
- Billing & Fees
Every Law Firm has its own method for determining the fees they will charge for their services. The two most common fee structures are the hourly fee, and the flat fee system. Most family law attorneys use the hourly fee system.
Under an hourly fee system, the client agrees to pay a set rate for every hour of work that is performed. Usually the client will pay a set amount at the beginning of the representation as a pre-payment (commonly called a retainer or deposit) and as the Lawyer works on the case, the hourly fee is deducted from that original amount according to how much time was spent on the case. As the funds are deducted from the original amount, the client must replenish funds so that the original amount is available.
Under the Flat Fee System, the client will be charged a flat fee for a certain amount of services, specified by the attorney-client agreement. For example, our firm charges a flat fee for each stage of your case that we handle. Clients are advised of the fee for each stage before hiring our firm, and although each stage isn’t necessary in every case, clients know what to expect should certain services become necessary. Although this is a more uncommon arrangement for family law cases, it’s often ideal because there are no surprises when a client gets their bill.
Regardless of which system is used, it’s important to understand how your agreed to billing structure works and to ask any questions you may have before signing your agreement.
- Family is important
This is another one some may not agree with. And, again, this is based on my personal observation. First, let me say, there are some very good family law attorneys out there that do not have a family of their own; they have no children, have never been married, never been through a divorce, etc. HOWEVER, I believe that when choosing a lawyer to represent you and protect your interests as it relates to your marriage, family, your children, etc., whether they have or have ever had a marriage or family of their own is important.
Family law is a very emotional, often drawn-out area of law that requires a certain understanding. In my opinion, if you don’t have any children (or don’t want to have any children ever in life), it’s impossible to completely understand what someone who is going through a divorce that involves children is going through. A lot of the times, this leads to the “At the end of the day, it’s them that has to deal with their family drama-not me,” type of attitude that often leaves those who are going through the divorce or child custody process in an uncomfortable position because there is little sense of urgency.
If my client calls me and says “my child’s other parent just took our child out of the state without my permission and refuses to return him,” instantly my personal experience kicks in, and because I have both been in a similar position myself, and/or can vividly imagine what my client is going thru by putting myself and my children in their shoes, there is an absolute urgency to take action, because if it were me, I’d want the same. Meanwhile, my unmarried, no children having colleague may respond with “we’ll deal with it in the next week or so.”