Tips for How to Choose a Family Lawyer
Divorce, or any family issue that requires an attorney, is difficult enough. Oftentimes attorneys “specialize” in one area of law, but practice family law to “keep the lights on.” The last place you want to “begin” the process of choosing a lawyer to represent you in a crisis, whether it be a divorce, a modification, a contempt, an adoption, or whatever is with someone that you do not believe understands the nuance of family law or the complexities of how family law interweaves into other areas of the law. In order to find the best option for you, consider these tips to choose a divorce lawyer:
1. Make Sure Your Lawyer “Hears” You and Understands Your Goals—(or can help you set them)
All attorneys are bound by “attorney-client privilege” from the outset of their conversations with you—this applies to initial consultations as well. From the initial “interview” with your lawyer, talk with candor and painful honesty, but demand that back from him as well. In family law, talking niceties (or “sugar-coating”) information will only lead to frustration and surprise in the long run. An attorney cannot help a client by merely telling them what they “want to hear” and an attorney cannot provide accurate legal advice when a client is not completely forthright with them. A knowledgeable and candid attorney may not tell you what you want to hear after hearing all the facts of your particular case, and that is “ok” because you can make an informed decision on how to proceed.
It crucial that you have thought about what you are hoping to achieve or accomplish in a case. Oftentimes, this is far more difficult than you realize because family law involves emotions that are sometimes at their height. Assure that the attorney you hire understands your goals from the outset, even if those goals are modified slightly due to the facts of your case.
2. Hire an Attorney with Experience in Family Law
Family law encompasses a vast array of practice ranging from adoption to divorce, from custody of a child(ren) to child and spousal support, from a modification to contempt, and from pre-nuptial agreements to dissolution of closely held business not to mention everything “in-between.” It is critical that you hire an attorney that understands the nuance of the areas of family law, along with its’ complexities and how family law interweaves into other areas of practice. More importantly, that lawyer’s understanding should not be just from a book, but should have been experienced as an attorney who practices in the area. There is no more important tool in a lawyer’s arsenal than experience.
3. Ensure that Your Lawyer Understands Your Case
As early as the initial interview your lawyer should have an understanding of your case and how to guide you to achieve your goals—or get a close as possible in light of your particular circumstances. Your goals may change slightly or may be altered following a consultation and your further understanding of how the law applies to your case; moreover, your goals may change over time. Regardless, your lawyer provides you with direction from the outset of your case and is able to adapt as your case progresses and additional information is understood.
It is important that you keep in mind that while you understand your case intimately—after all, it is your life—your lawyer is only getting a “snapshot” of what you have experienced over time. So, while you understand everything perfectly, your lawyer is assimilating the facts in light of what you are telling him at that moment. Information will always come to light after the initial consultation and your lawyer needs to understand all the information in the context of the bigger picture of your life and what you are going through. Even though the law may not have a remedy for a particular issue you face specifically, the lawyer should be able to adapt your goals and explain the change to you. Please keep in mind, this does not mean that you will be updated daily or even weekly as that is cost prohibitive for you and unrealistic to expect from your lawyer. On the other hand, you should feel comfortable talking or emailing your lawyer with questions or concerns and he should respond accordingly. This type of rapport entails a clear understanding of the direction in your case and an open honesty between you and him; it ensures understanding of your case.
4. Make sure your lawyer has the ability to “think outside the box”
The truth of the matter is that all family law matters are unique and involve facts and circumstances that are far-reaching and often complex. However, there are often ways to resolve your case that do not involve trials and testifying against your spouse or litigating “to the death.” Mediation is one such solution; collaborative law is another. Either of these may work in any particular case, but they may not—it all depends on the knowledge and experience of your lawyer, combined with his ability to achieve your goals (coming as close as possible to doing so). In point of fact, a majority of circuits in Georgia require parties to a divorce to mediate prior to having a final hearing or trial; many circuits actually require mediation prior to any hearing (other than an emergency) between the parties.
Georgia is an “equitable division” state. In plain terms, that means that the courts in Georgia are charged with being “fair” in any division of property awarded. Equitable division does not mean “equal” even though many courts have defaulted to that position because it is “easy.” However, courts will hear evidence in a case and consider the facts before making any decision. As a result, another creative solution concerns equitable “offsets” of property such that one party receives more of the parties’ property than the other. As long as a court can reasonably articulate why it has divided property in the manner it orders and that division is based on the evidence in the case, there is no error—regardless of how “fair” you or your ex-spouse may think it is. Ensure that your lawyer is open to reaching a resolution with you constructively while still preparing your case for trial, if necessary.
5. Make sure your lawyer has the ability to provide references to experts that can aide in your case and in getting you through the process
Divorce or any family law issues is difficult emotionally no matter how prepared you feel going into the process. There are procedures and processes that you are bound to not know or misunderstand. This is often the case when emotions are at their height—as is the case frequently when children are involved. Any family law matter is bound to evoke some intense emotion from the parties and serve as a difficult part of life. Regardless of how difficult or emotional, you deserve to be treated with dignity and respect and that is incredibly important. A good family law attorney can handle the legal aspect of your case, but you want an attorney that can also make the best referrals to you for those other aspects in your life that may have been affected. In less specific terms, you want to choose an attorney that places as much emphasis on empathy as they do on justice and fighting for your rights as an individual and as a parent, but you also want an attorney that can recognize when you need “other” professionals involved in your case—whether it be a realtor, an accountant (forensic or otherwise), an employment coach or expert, a therapist, a psychological expert, or custody evaluator, your lawyer should have those resources available to him and in his arsenal, as needed. He should also willingly provide those referrals to you as part of his representation.
By finding an empathetic and skilled attorney, you can begin to reduce the worry and stress that accompanies such an emotionally taxing experience.
6. Create a Set of Questions to Ask in Every Consultation
If there are specific topics or questions that are important to you or your case, it is a good practice to write down any questions you have so that you can ask your lawyer in a succinct way. If you have met with several attorneys regarding your case, legal consultations can quickly become overwhelming and writing down your questions supports clarity for you. However, understand that any two lawyers may give different answers and both answers be “right”—the difference lies in the lawyer’s experience and understanding of the facts you are asking about. Also please remember that the answer may differ by the judge you are assigned in your case—no two judges are identical and their judicial focus may be different as well. This is simply a matter of differing personalities.
7. What Works for A Friend or Another Family May Not Work for You
As stated previously, every family law matter is unique and, while recommendations can provide an excellent referral to an attorney for your particular issue, it is important to remember that what works for another friend or family member may not work for your particular case. Each case has to be considered on it’s own, unique merits. It is important that you know that your attorney is experienced with your type of need, while also is able to create a customized strategy based on your specific needs. Remember, this is your life: when you focus on your unique needs, you can find an attorney that best fits your situation for the best result possible.
8. Visit Review Websites, But Be Wary
Testimonials on attorney websites are there for a reason: to show an attorney’s skill and expertise. Reviews on a website certainly have value and can point to specific skills the attorney has, but always look to third-party sources to confirm testimonials. Look for the reviews that logically and clearly explain the reviewer’s experience with the attorney.
Websites like Avvo and Google are two of the top review websites and people often leave reviews for divorce attorneys. Use this in conjunction with confirming their status through your state’s bar association.
However, it is equally important for you to remember that anyone can “post” a review on the internet, even an opposing party. Needless to say, in a contested family law matter opposing parties’ emotions are at their height and they are frequently unhappy with something the other party (or their lawyer) has done. They are not going to “say” anything “good” or “positive” about their experience. These are the reviews that typically are inflammatory and do not provide a worthwhile reason for their position or against the lawyer or firm. Unfortunately, attorney’s often cannot respond fully to such negative posts due to attorney-client privilege and the “facts” are not always as stated in the review.
9. “The Man Who Represents Himself In Court….”
The phrase “[t]he man who represents himself in court has a fool for a client” is often attributed to Abraham Lincoln, but its’ origins probably predate Lincoln’s time. The important point is that no statement be more true than this one in relations to a family law matter. Regardless of what family law issue you are experiencing, and given that divorce is more common today, please do not represent yourself. Family law requires an experienced attorney. With experience comes a cost and you want to hire an experienced attorney, especially if custody of children is at issue in your case. You must weigh the complexity of your case while having an upfront conversation with your attorney about cost(s) while remembering that all attorney’s get paid for their time working for you—that is their service to you. Likewise, contested family law matters can become an investment for you and, like it or not, you are investing in your future based on the outcome of your case. Make a wise investment by choosing the right family law attorney for you financially as well as physically and emotionally.
10. Caring and Human, Unparalleled Experience and a Unique Approach
Choosing a family law attorney requires first taking a look at your needs, then comparing those needs with those other resources available to you. By considering your type of issue, doing your “homework,” and scheduling a consultation, you can find a family lawyer that will represent your interests well throughout your matter so you can move forward and into the resulting “new chapter” of your life.
Now is the time to schedule your consultation with the Taylor Law Group, where protecting assets and preserving relationships that matter is our priority. Please call 678-738-0056.
(How Do I Get This “Over Easy?”)