Saturday, June 2, 2007

5 Factors to Consider When Hiring a Lawyer

When you are about to start any kind of litigation (or Collaboration) in a family law matter –divorce, modification, child support collection, visitation, paternity, grandparent access, etc.– you need to have an attorney to help you achieve the best possible outcome. There are some things that people can do without attorneys, including divorce, but there is a risk that important issues can be overlooked or mishandled. At the very least, it is advisable to have an attorney review the situation and look over any paperwork to help you avoid problems in the future. Once you make the decision to hire an attorney in a family law matter, there are several factors which should be considered in selecting the attorney to work with.

Recommendations. Just as in most other important matters, it is often helpful to seek recommendations from people or organizations you trust. There is no comprehensive attorney rating service, so you need to talk to family, friends and others you respect to find attorneys who have worked well with and for others in the past. A good source is attorneys you may know, even if they don’t work in family law; they can usually recommend someone who is a quality attorney. Once you have some leads, you can also look on the internet, especially if an attorney has a web site, to find out about the attorneys.

Qualifications and Experience. If your legal issue is important to you, it is usually best to find an attorney who is a Board Certified Specialist in the field, such as Family Law. Being Board Certified means that the attorney has practiced for at least 5 years, has had substantial experience in the field, has been recommended by judges and attorneys and has passed a rigorous exam. In addition, it is appropriate to ask if the attorney has handled similar cases in the past. More experienced attorneys will not only know the legal issues, but how the local judges generally handle such cases. In other words, they can give you an educated opinion about what to expect.

Cost. Generally speaking, the more experienced and qualified your attorney is, the more the representation will cost. There are many fine attorneys who charge lower fees, so there is not an absolute correlation between the fees and quality. This is just to say that a Board Certified Specialist with a lot of experience will be expensive. Be sure to have a discussion about cost at the initial meeting with the attorney you interview. Make sure that the amount of money you are about to invest is appropriate to the objectives you have in mind and your ability to pay. Because there are so many attorneys available and a wide range of fees, you should make sure you are comfortable with the fee agreement for now and into the foreseeable future as your case proceeds.

Communication Skills. No matter how qualified and skilled your attorney is, if he or she can’t communicate effectively with you, you will not be well represented. It is essential that the attorney actively listen to what you are saying. The attorney should be able to give you direct answers to simple questions. A good attorney can speak plain English and not fall back on legalese. If the attorney cannot translate legal concepts into everyday language, it can interfere with your representation and decision-making. Check the attorney’s written materials, including the fee agreement, hand-outs at the office and the material of his or her web site. If you cannot get a clear understanding of what you are reading, expect problems down the line.

Chemistry. When you meet someone, there is an intangible feeling or impression you receive. For whatever reason, some people just automatically make you feel comfortable and with others, you may have a lingering doubt or concern that is hard to express. I refer to that as my "gut feeling". Others use different terms, such as intuition or instinct. Whatever you call it, you should pay attention. Usually, when you hire an attorney, it is for an extended time and it is expensive. Make sure you feel very comfortable and secure in that relationship. If you have doubts or something doesn’t feel right, you should check with other attorneys. One size doesn’t fit all, and an attorney who is a great match for a friend of yours may not be a great attorney for you. The bottom line is that you want to hire someone who feels like a good match for you.

Hiring the right lawyer is an important step in your efforts to achieve certain objectives through the legal system. You shouldn’t rush or be pressured when choosing a lawyer. Your outcome will be better if you select an attorney who meets your needs and with whom you feel comfortable. You can probably find several attorneys who are technically competent and able to do what you need done, but you should look beyond the basic competence and consider the factors mentioned above in order to find the best lawyer for you and your case.