Wednesday, May 28, 2008

7 Tips to Help You Find the Right Lawyer

The Internet has become so much a part of most people's lives that many people expect it to answer all questions and solve most problems. That is especially true when people start thinking about hiring an attorney to help them in a divorce or other family law matter. According to the biggest Internet search engine, some of the more popular searches by people around here who look for attorneys include "Tarrant County family law attorneys", "Top Divorce Attorneys in Tarrant County, Texas", "How to find a family law attorney in Tarrant County, Texas" or some variation involving "top attorneys" or "top lawyers". Unfortunately, it is not enough to just get a list of web sites with family law attorneys and there's no single acknowledged listing of the top attorneys. Clients need to take some additional steps and make a decision after they meet and talk with some prospective attorneys. Here are 7 tips to help you find the right lawyer for you and your case.

1. Start with the end in mind. What do you want to end up with and how do you want the process to be? Do you want a peaceful resolution? Do you expect (or want) a bloody war? Will it be a simple agreement? Do you want to hold down the expenses or spend "as much as it takes"? Are you fighting for the principle of the matter? Do you want an attorney who will wear down the other side or someone who will be very methodical and do everything in the best way possible? What are the issues to be determined? How long do you want it to take? What issues are most important to you? What issues are the most important to the other side? If you evaluate these and other questions, you can better search for an attorney with the appropriate experience and skills.

2. Perhaps the single best source of information is recommendations from your friends. Check around and find out who has used an attorney for a similar case and who liked the attorney. Find some who are recommended and you will be starting in the right direction. Do keep in mind that sometimes an attorney works magic for one client, but leaves another client completely dissatisfied. That's rare, but possible. Best advice, don't stop with just recommendations.

3. Look at the experience of the attorney. More experienced attorneys will usually charge more than newer attorneys. Although you might like to have the best, most expensive lawyer to help you with your case, that may not be necessary. Aim for the appropriate level of experience. There should be some consideration of what's at stake in your case: a few thousand dollars, a family business, custody of your children, complex property division issues, taxation issues, etc. Each requires some different experience and expertise and each probably has a little different value to you. If money is truly no object, by all means get the most expensive and most qualified attorney in the area. Otherwise, think of the appropriate experience.

With a little effort, you can find out a lot of information about an attorney on the Internet. It should be easy to find out how long the attorney has practiced and whether or not the attorney is a Board Certified Specialist. It is equally important to meet the attorney and ask about the attorney's experience in cases similar to yours and in cases in front of the same judge or judges you might see. Find out if the attorney actually enjoys working on your type of case. If not, talk to other attorneys to find someone who likes that kind of work. Each attorney will almost always have certain types of cases (and courts) they like and others that they don't like. It helps to find an attorney who would like to work on your case.

4. Find someone who specializes in family law if you have a family law issue. While you don't have to use a Board Certified Specialist in family law in every case, more complicated or more significant cases may warrant using a Specialist. Some very fine attorneys are not Board Certified Specialists and they can provide top notch service in the most important and difficult cases. You may decide to hire such an attorney once you interview them. What you may want to avoid is hiring an attorney who just dabbles in family law to supplement his or her main practice in another area of law. That attorney could be appropriate in less complex cases or where there's less at stake.

5. Pay attention to the approach the attorney recommends. Some attorneys use the same strategy for all cases. Others don't believe that "one size fits all" and they will customize their strategy based on the issues and facts of each case. Sometimes the single approach attorneys are cheaper and sometimes they're not. When you interview an attorney, find out the attorney's approach and decide if you're comfortable with it. Do you need a restraining order, temporary hearing, full discovery, depositions, a final trial, etc.? Listen to how the attorney explains the necessity or value of his/her approach. Decide if you agree that it is an appropriate strategy for you. If you're not sure, get a second or third opinion. Keep in mind that more fighting means more cost to you, both personally and financially.

6. Consider the chemistry. Are you comfortable with the attorney? Does the attorney really listen to you or does the attorney do all the talking? Do you want an attorney who makes all the decisions for you? Are you compatible with the attorney's personality? If your gut feeling is "No", just follow it, even if you can't articulate a reason. Chemistry is very important is establishing trust and a good working relationship.

7. Discuss attorney's fees. Don't get started without an idea of what the cost will be, or at least how the fee is determined. Will it be an hourly fee or a set fee? What is the retainer amount? How often will you be billed? Can you get the other party to pay? What types of costs will be included in the bills? If it's billed hourly, is it affordable for you? Do you have a source of funds that will be adequate for the case? Keep in mind that different attorneys charge different rates and retainers and some will have alternative billing arrangements. If you don't feel like you can afford the attorney you are visiting, keep checking with other attorneys until you find someone who is a financial fit. Many attorneys can give you referrals to other quality attorneys they know who might fit your financial circumstances better. Be realistic on the fees. If you can come up with a retainer, but probably can't afford to make any additional payments once the retainer is gone, then you shouldn't hire that attorney. That relationship isn't good for you or the attorney.

The bottom line is that you need to invest some time into finding a good attorney for your family law case. Get all the information you can, make sure you are compatible with the attorney and that the attorney is qualified for your case, and choose someone who is affordable for you. There are plenty of attorneys out there and you can certainly find a good one for your case if you put the effort into it.

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