Once you have decided to engage an attorney in a Family Law matter, be it Divorce, Custody, Support, Division of Property, Protection from Abuse, drafting a Pre- or Post-Marital Agreement, or some area of Family Law, the next issue becomes how one goes about finding the right attorney for you. It is not an easy proposition.
Rather than discuss the mechanics of searching for a lawyer, whether it be by referral by a friend or another professional, research over the internet, or some other method, below you will find the factors I believe are important in discussing with an attorney to gauge whether the attorney is the right fit for you. These factors are in no particular order:
- Experience in Family Law: This is an important consideration. There are those lawyers who practice Family Law along with many other areas of law. There are also lawyers who practice Family Law exclusively. You need to decide if you are going to work with a lawyer who concentrates in Family Law. That should be a primary concern.
- Experience in the particular county or jurisdiction where the legal matter will take place: While there is a state-wide system of laws in Pennsylvania, it is also true that each county in Pennsylvania has their own set of local Court Rules to be followed as well as court customs as to how the law and the rules are applied. Familiarity with those local Rules and Customs is critical. You should inquire of the lawyer you are considering hiring as to the lawyer’s breath of experience in the county where the case will be heard.
- The manner in which your matter will be handled: Once you decide on a lawyer or firm to represent you, who will be handling your case? The particular lawyer you hired or another associate or lawyer in the firm, whom you might not have met at the time you hired this lawyer? Remember, part of the decision-making process in deciding whom you will hire are the intangibles in paragraph number 5 below. Those intangibles are based on your relationship with the particular lawyer you just hired. Other questions you might ask is does the lawyer have an assistant or paralegal with whom you might have contact? What is the lawyer’s custom in returning telephone calls and emails? How is it best to contact that lawyer or firm?
- Cost: While cost is important and should be carefully considered, hiring the least expensive lawyer might not be the best course of action. You need to balance the cost factor with the experience factors and other factors here. Some lawyers charge by the hour; some charge flat fees; some do both depending on your needs. You should carefully inquire of the lawyer before you hire the lawyer as to how their fee structures work. If you hire the lawyer by the hour and the lawyer does not use all of the fee, do you get the balance back? How frequently will you receive a bill? How detailed is the bill? Does the lawyer provide a written fee agreement. Does the lawyer carry legal malpractice insurance?
- The “intangibles”: This is the “gut feeling” you get when you meet with the lawyer. Is the lawyer someone you can work with? Do you trust this person? Does the person take the time to answer all of your questions? Do you feel like this person respects you? You need to feel comfortable that your case will be important to this lawyer and you will receive the representation you deserve.