Sunday, February 10, 2013

How Do I Hire a Family Law Attorney to Represent Me?

Question: Where do you start to locate an attorney who is a good fit for your needs?
Answer: Ask people you know and trust, such as your friends and family that recently went through a divorce, your CPA, financial planner, or therapist, for recommendations of family law attorneys. If you know an attorney who is not a family law attorney, ask that attorney for names of some lawyers who specialize in or practice family law.  Ask why these attorneys have been recommended and what attributes they have. Then start “researching” each attorney on your list. "Google" them on the internet.  
Check them out on is a popular free website - be aware that their point system is not always accurate and that some excellent attorneys do not have a high point system because they have not "claimed" their listing. 
Also be aware of expensive advertising gimmicks such as being classified as a "super lawyer".  Don't believe all "reviews" on the internet - just because it's on the internet does not make it true. For example, one attorney in Houston has been unable to get the opposing party's negative review taken off one website that was posted after the divorce was finalized. It was done in retaliation after she "lost" her case in front of the Judge.  
Go to the local courthouse and visit the family law courts.  Observe the attorneys in action.  Ask the attorneys in the hallway who they would hire if they had to hire a family law attorney.  Ask the bailiff and/or court clerks.  If you keep getting the same name(s), call those attorneys.  
Call your local Lawyer Referral Service.  Most will give you 3 names.  Call them all.  Usually this is a free service for 15 minutes.  I did this when I needed an attorney in Ohio.  I did some research and hired one of the three they recommended.  He did a great job for me at a reasonable price.  

Question: How do you know if your attorney is competent to represent you?
Answer: There are methods for ascertaining an attorney’s competence. The next step is to do your homework. Review the prospective attorneys on the State Bar of Texas’ website ( This website will inform you as to whether the attorney is eligible to practice law, the area of law practiced, whether the attorney is board certified in a particular practice area (such as family law), and some information regarding whether the attorney has been disciplined by the Texas Bar. 
Many attorney ranking web sites are available on the internet; unfortunately, few of these sites have an objective, methodical basis for the ranking of attorneys. After establishing that the prospective attorney is eligible to practice law, details about the prospective attorney’s practice area, and, if applicable, the attorney’s ranking, go to the attorney’s website. Usually, this website will provide more details about the attorney.  
Be aware that if an attorney is board certified, you will pay a higher rate for this attorney, so if your budget is limited, you need to keep this in mind.  Most board certified attorneys charge substantially more per hour than non-board certified attorneys.  If an attorney is non-board certified, it does not mean that they are a bad family law attorney, it only means that they did not take a test.  Many excellent family law attorneys have purposely chosen not to go after this extra accreditation.  

Question: How do I make an appointment with an attorney?
Answer: Give the attorney a call. Many attorneys will speak with you by phone to discuss the basic aspects of your case before you come in for an appointment. Ask your attorney if there is a fee for a consultation. Before you schedule an appointment, ask the prospective attorney what type of law he/she practices, length of time licensed, his/her hourly rate and his/her experience in family law. (You probably already know most of this if you have done the research mentioned above.) 
If you are looking for a family law attorney, experience in handling family law cases should be a priority over experience in handling “general” matters. Look for someone that handles over 50% family law. 
Some attorneys will offer a free consultation instead of talking to you over the phone.  Many attorneys take a deposit to take your case then payment plans.  Most attorneys accept credit cards and debit cards.  
Some attorneys will flat-rate their cases, but many won't.  Why? Because family law cases are unique.  Many cases require more than one court appearance.  If children and/or property are involved, it is not a simple cases.  The other spouse might be hiding assets and research might need to be done to try to find out where these assets are located.  
Make sure you understand the financial arrangements that you are entering into at the beginning of your case.  If you cannot afford to hire a $500/hour attorney then don't hire the attorney. Don't waste your time and energy interviewing attorneys that you cannot afford.
If your budget  can only handle a $250/hour an hour attorney, then you need to locate a less expensive attorney.  As the expensive attorney for a referral to a less expensive attorney, most will be glad to refer you to someone they know and respect. 
Before your appointment, make a list of questions you would like the attorney to address during your meeting.  
Most attorneys charge for all of your phone calls, emails and text messages.  Be sure to discuss their policy regarding all forms of communications at the beginning of the case so that your first bill does not shock you.  Find out what they charge per hour for talking to their paralegals or associates - usually their hourly rate is cheaper. 
Ask them how often you will receive an invoice from their office.  Ask the attorney how quickly you must pay their invoice.  
Ask them under what conditions will the attorney withdraw from your case - understand this at the beginning of your case so that there are no misunderstandings later.
Most attorneys will have you sign a LEGAL SERVICES AGREEMENT and give you a copy of this agreement at the time you sign it.  Make sure you read it carefully BEFORE you sign it.  Make sure that you understand it. I would not give an attorney any money unless I signed an employment contract that clearly outlined the terms of our agreement.  What are you hiring them to do for you?  What are they agreeing to do for you?  How much do their charge per hour?  Do they bill for phone calls and emails? How much do they bill per contact - in 15 minute increments or 6 minute increments -- this incremental billing will make a huge difference in your bill! 
Be sure to keep a copy of everything the attorney gives you.  Keep copies of all of your invoicing.  Keep copies of everything you pay the attorney.  
Be sure to ask the attorney how long it normally takes to return phone calls or emails.  If you expect to receive a phone call back in one hour and the attorney says he/she returns calls within 48 hours, then find another attorney or revise your expectations.  
Recognize that you are not the only client.  If an attorney is in the middle of a trial, your attorney is not going to be available to call you back.  You need to hire an attorney that has a large enough staff to return your call or you need to be willing to be patient for the attorney to return your call.  
Of course, if you hire an attorney with a large staff, normally their deposit and their hourly rates are higher because of their office overhead.  You pay for the type of service you expect to be available to you.  If you expect your law firm to have wood paneling, you pay for more in your legal fees for that beautiful wood paneling.  If you want a a high-name attorney, you are going to pay for that high name. In summary, I've seen some attorneys in wrinkled ill-fitted Sears suits kick the Neiman Marcus sharp-dressed  board-certified attorneys butts - but most lay people don't know who the best lawyers are & the lawyers don't control the facts of a case.  Even the best lawyer cannot make fix bad facts in a family law case.  

1 comment:

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