I have been practicing law for over 10 years now. Before becoming an attorney I was a paralegal for seven years. I have worked in several law offices (as a paralegal) and seen the way many attorneys practice law. The variety you will find will astound you.
Choosing the right lawyer for you is what is really important. It is not a matter of who has been practicing the most years, who charges the most, or picking a male or female attorney. Here are some things that I think are good to consider when hiring an attorney for your case.
1. Do they take the time to call you back and speak with you for a few minutes on the phone?
This is really important, however, please keep in mind that there are days that we really can’t return a call because we are either in court, or working on a project that must be finished that day. I try very hard to return calls quickly but some days I just can’t do it. Hopefully the person that takes your phone message will let you know when they might be available but they don’t always know. When the attorney does call back, they should seem genuinely interested in your case. If you don’t feel comfortable with them, that is probably not the right attorney for you. I would also consider whether the attorney first wants to talk about money or address your situation. If money comes up first you may want to look elsewhere. Money does need to be discussed in the first conversation so that you have some idea of what the attorney charges, but it should not be the first thing they want to discuss.
For most people, the cost to hire an attorney is a big financial strain. Some attorneys will do payments plans, however, most experienced attorneys that I know need a retainer up front and probably don’t take payment plans. Experienced attorneys that do a good job keep busy and they can’t afford to take on clients who may or may not make a monthly payment. I know attorneys who charge $175.00/hour and I know of an attorney that charges over $700/hour. I do not suggest ever hiring the most expensive attorney that you can afford just because you can. If you have an extremely complicated case (which usually means assets of several million dollars), then you will probably need to hire someone who is going to be more expensive. For the typical divorce, custody or child support case, you probably don’t need to spend that kind of money.
Having an attorney near your home or work is nice but I would not put it high on the list when it comes to selecting an attorney. You will have to go to the attorney’s office a few times but it is not likely to be so often that location should be a big consideration.
It is important to choose an attorney that specializes in family law. Many family law attorneys may have one or two practice areas. That is fine. I would just avoid someone who practices in many different areas of law. It is time consuming to keep up with the law in one area, let alone several. One way to tell is to look at the attorney’s website. You should be able to tell if family law is a specialty and if that lawyer is practicing in several other areas as well.
I have a great deal of respect for other lawyers I know that are men and women. I really have not seen a difference and I have not noticed any difference in the way a certain gender attorney is treated in the courthouses in the Denver metro area. I don’t know about the rural areas, but if your case is going to be in the Denver metro area, I would not put too much emphasis on whether you hire a man or a woman unless you are really more comfortable talking with one or the other. I have a distaste for the concept of specializing in “men’s rights” or “women’s rights.” Both parties have rights in a case and I don’t consider myself as an advocate for one sex or the other.
Over the years I have found that clients often want a really aggressive attorney. Beware of the really aggressive attorney. There are attorneys that I have had on cases that start out so aggressive that their attitude turns everyone off (including the judges sometimes) and their attitude really only hurts their client. What I think is important is an attorney that is respectful of the other side while never forgetting who their client is. It is sometimes good to be aggressive in the courtroom, especially while cross-examining the other party. I have discovered over time that judges don’t appreciate too much aggression as the attorneys are just putting on a show. I had one judge tell me that they had a “list” of “those attorneys” who drove them crazy with their courtroom antics. When you look for an attorney I suggest that you find one that will not start out too aggressive at this will only cost you more money in the long run, however, ask the attorney what they are like in the courtroom or what they are like if things get difficult. When I am asked that question, I tell prospective clients that I always start off respectful but firm. No one would ever mistake me for a “push-over.” In the courtroom I can be very aggressive, however, I have learned to watch that I don’t go overboard because it can backfire. It is also important that the attorney you choose seem confident in their ability to represent you. A good lawyer is a confident lawyer, but beware the boastful lawyer.
7. Where to Find a Lawyer
Finding the right lawyer can be difficult. Getting referrals from friends is always a good place to start. You can also look at the on-line referral services like Tom Martino’s Referral List, Yellow Pages or do an on-line search. Hopefully you can get some information from the attorney from their website that will help you know whether you would want to interview that attorney or not.
8. Free Consultations
Most lawyers will give you at least some free time for a consultation. There are a few that do not offer free consultations. Keep in mind that lawyers who have been practicing for awhile may get several calls a day from prospective clients. If you really are interested in the lawyer who charges a fee for the consultation then I would not rule out that attorney. Personally, I don’t charge for consultations but I limit them to 15 minutes or so; sometimes a little longer.
9. Memberships/Continuing Education
You may want to ask the lawyer you interview if they are members of any organizations involving family law. This will give you another idea of how strong their family law practice is. In Colorado, attorneys practicing in this area may belong to the Colorado Bar Family Law Section. Hopefully they are also involved in the bar association for the county in which they practice. Attorneys that take the time to be involved in these groups show a sincere interest to be involved in this area of the law. Ask the attorney when the last time was that they attended a class. The annual convention for the Family Law Section is in August. It is a good sign if the attorney attends this convention at least some years.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to find an attorney that you think you can talk openly with and work with. Family law matters are incredibly stressful. This attorney is likely to see you at some really bad times. At times they may feel like your friend or your counselor. There are really good attorneys out there that are not good matches for all clients. If you interview an attorney and it doesn’t seem right; move on. You will eventually find someone that you think you can work with. Even the best attorney (if there is such a person) cannot help you if the two of you don’t work as a team. So take the time and find the right attorney for you.