Many people, when hiring an attorney, think only of the cost and often make the mistake of hiring the cheapest attorney they can find. This is not to say that hiring the most expensive attorney is the best thing to do, either. However, cost should be one of several factors you consider when hiring an attorney.
As mentioned previously, you want to hire an attorney who is knowledgeable and experienced. You should also determine the attorney’s availability and caseload and the experience of his support staff.
Additionally, when you meet with an attorney for an initial consultation, you want to gage how well he listens to you, whether he is willing and able to discuss the issues of your case with you, and whether you feel a rapport with him.
Following are several questions you should ask an attorney during the initial consultation:
- How long have you been practicing law? – Many lawyers graduate from law school, take and pass the bar exam, and immediately hang out their shingle. There are many talented young attorneys out there, but the issues of your case are far too important to risk hiring a newly licensed attorney.
- How long have you been practicing in the area of family law? – I would advise you to hire an attorney that has a minimum of three years experience handling family law matters.
- Will you be the attorney handling my case or will an associate or other junior level attorney be handling it? – Depending on the size of the law firm you choose, the attorney who handles your consultation may not handle the meat and bones of your case. With solo practitioners and small firms, the attorney you consult with will be the attorney who handles your case 99.9% of the time. With larger firms, a junior associate may handle the day to day work on your case.
- How large is your support staff? – Again, with solo and small firms, the support staff may be very small. Larger firms, of course, have much larger support staffs. With solo and small firms, your chances of speaking with your attorney when you call or getting a return call from the attorney are fairly high. Whereas with larger firms, a paralegal, rather than your attorney, may take most of your phone calls.
- How experienced is your support staff? – The experience of the support staff is not as critical as the experience of the attorney. But it’s nice to know that you can call and ask about the status of your case or a procedural question and get a sensible answer from a member of the support staff. Keep in mind, though, that support staff cannot dispense legal advice. So, if you have a legal question, your attorney will be the one to answer it.
- How many family law cases do you have pending right now? – The answer to this question, in conjunction with the answer to the next question, will give you an indication of how much time the attorney dedicates to the practice of family law.
- How many other cases do you have pending right now? – If the largest portion of the attorney’s case load consists of non-family law matters, this may signal that family law is not at the core of the attorney’s practice. However, many attorney’s have several areas of specialty and there is an ebb and flow to the type of cases that come in. So, if the attorney tells you his current case load does not consist primarily of family law cases, don’t automatically rule him out as not being the right attorney for you.
- What percentage of your time do you spend in court? – The nature of family law is that it requires an attorney to spend a good portion of his time in court. Knowing up front that your attorney may be out of the office frequently when you call will eliminate frustration and misunderstandings. Most attorney try to return phone calls within 24-48 hours. However, if an attorney is in trial, it may take 72 hours or more before you receive a return phone call.
- How often can I expect to be updated on the status of my case? – Many clients expect to get weekly and sometimes even daily updates on their case. Unfortunately, those types of expectations are not realistic. Depending on the complexity of your case, it may take several months for the attorney to prepare it. During the early stages of your case, you shouldn’t expect to hear from the attorney more than once every one to two weeks. As your case gets closer to a hearing date, you can expect to hear from your attorney more often. Keep in mind that just because you don’t hear from your attorney doesn’t mean that your attorney isn’t working on your case. It simply means that he doesn’t have anything of significance to report to you.
- How much input will I be allowed to have in planning the strategy of my case? – Your attorney’s job is to assess your case and to recommend a strategy to help you achieve the best possible outcome under the circumstances. Once you have agreed on your attorney’s recommendation, it’s his job to implement the strategy. It is your job to assist him in any way he asks, whether it’s providing documentation, answering questions, or coming to his office for a meeting. Your cooperation with your attorney is critical to the success of your case. Keep in mind that a responsible attorney will never guarantee the outcome of your case because there are so many intangible and other factors which can come into play and which are completely outside of the attorney’s control.
- How much do you charge? – Some attorney’s charge by the hour and others may charge a flat fee to handle a family law matter. More experienced attorneys will charge more than less experienced attorneys. Nevertheless, attorney’s fees should be viewed as an investment in the outcome of your case rather than an aggravating expense. You are investing in the attorney’s competence, skill, knowledge, and experience which will undoubtedly effect the outcome of your case.