When you’re searching for any type of legal representation, it’s important to evaluate an attorney’s skills and years of experience, familiarity with the court system and overall case results. Due to the sometimes volatile nature of family law, however, there are specific qualities and attributes you should look for in family and divorce lawyers. Here are six things to consider in your search.
Emotions tend to run high in divorce cases, custody battles and adoption proceedings. A good lawyer stays cool under fire, whether it’s in the courtroom or on the receiving end of an emotional outburst from a client. You can get a general sense of an attorney’s personality at your initial consultation. Does he seem edgy or aggressive? Does she have a calming presence that puts you at ease? To assess this further, you may want to ask how the attorney has handled volatile situations in the past; he will likely have a few anecdotes to share.
An attorney should have your best interests at heart, not only during the case but well after the matter is settled. Will the agreement hold up over the long term? Are there weak spots in the case that might come back to haunt you later? An attorney who looks at the bigger picture will analyze these types of issues and more, in order to provide you with the best possible representation.
You’re not going to get everything you want in a court case (e.g., alimony payments are temporary at best these days), and your lawyer shouldn’t try to sell you the moon. Instead, she should give you a realistic assessment of your case based on the facts involved. Problem-solving skills are essential, especially in divorce proceedings that can potentially drag on for years. A pragmatic attorney is willing to be honest and direct and is usually the one making the difficult suggestions in the midst of what is an emotional time for clients.
If you have children, a good attorney will put their needs first. Laws vary from state to state, but in general the courts strongly consider a child’s health and well-being when ruling on living arrangements, visitation with the noncustodial parent and financial support. Look for child support lawyers and child custody lawyers who are experts on your state laws and local court system, and who can evaluate your children’s needs based on your particular circumstances.
It’s not unreasonable to expect at least a basic understanding of technology from family and adoption lawyers. Ideally, a law firm will use up-to-date computer hardware and software along with state and municipal websites, legal databases and search engines. Email communication may also help keep costs down.
Divorce is expensive. Cases can sometimes take years and cost tens of thousands of dollars. There are several ways in which attorneys charge fees, and certain factors that affect legal costs:
One more word on fees: just as you might expect an attorney to look at the bigger picture, you should as well. Approach your case in a professional manner (i.e., don’t let your emotions get the better of you) to help move things along. The smoother the process, the lower the cost.
Beyond these six considerations, a good place to start looking for a family lawyer is through referrals by people you know and trust. Also check with your state bar association, which can offer information on an attorney’s years of experience, general reputation and track record, or can point you to additional resources.