What to Look For in a Family Law Attorney

When you are considering a legal action that creates a major shift in lifestyle or quality of life, such as divorce, child custody or marriage, you want to make sure you have chosen the right lawyer. Every family situation is unique, and a lawyer who satisfies the objectives of one client, will not necessarily be effective for another. Why? Because the complexity of marital relationships varies greatly; the intensity of conflict over family issues differs from client to client, and the legal skills required to resolve domestic problems range from seasoned trial lawyer to experienced mediator. Your goal should not just be limited to finding a good lawyer with excellent qualifications as much as it should be oriented toward finding an attorney with the right skills and experience to deal with your particular situation.

Why Researching to Find the Right Lawyer is Time and Money Well Spent

Checking out a few lawyers’ websites or thumbing through the yellow pages to read ads for law firms does not provide enough information to select the right family law attorney. You should invest some time and care in finding the lawyer appropriate for your needs, not only based on the desired outcome, but also because switching lawyers in the middle of a case may cost you dearly. Retainer fees are not always refundable, and even if refundable, charges will be incurred for legal time spent on your case. A new attorney will start from scratch, learning about the case and covering groundwork you already paid another lawyer to do. Also, once legal proceedings have begun, the court may not allow you to change lawyers. You should review information about a number of family law attorneys. After narrowing your choices down to three or four lawyers, arrange a consultation with each, so you can describe your domestic situation, explain your objectives, learn about your options, and discover how each attorney would handle your issues.

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What Qualities to Look For

  • A lawyer who specializes in family law

    Some lawyers handle cases in a wide variety of legal areas, of which family law is just one. In Texas, Board Certified Specialists in Family Law have concentrated their practice on family issues, and you can count on specialization, when an attorney holds such certification.
  • Extensive experience

    When a lawyer has extensive family law experience acquired from years of legal practice in Texas, you can trust that the attorney will not only handle your case skillfully, but that he or she is also well-versed in Texas laws.
  • Ongoing legal education in family law

    Many attorneys stay up-to-date with changing laws by continuing their education. (Also a requirement for Board Certification in Texas.)
  • Versatility to succeed through alternative dispute resolution as well as trial

    By choosing a family law attorney who has experience in mediation, arbitration, collaborative law, and negotiated settlements as well as proven trial skills, you can select the approach best suited for your family issues and budget. For example, fees for litigation are far more costly than mediation, or collaborative law. If your case can be favorably settled without resorting to trial, you will save considerable time and expense, allowing you to maximize family financial resources. In addition, a versatile lawyer will have enough broad experience to tailor representation toward serving your best interests.
  • Rates that suit your budget

    You will need to discuss rates with any lawyer you are considering: retainer fee, hourly rates, when fees are due, and who is responsible for payment. Ask what the fees are for the various legal services offered, including charges for time spent with lawyers, paralegals, secretaries and other professionals who may be involved, such as private investigators, accountants, appraisers, business evaluators and marriage counselors. Find out if you will be charged for long-distance telephone calls, faxes and copies of legal documents and what the price will be. Also get an overall estimate of what the divorce or other family legal action will cost.
  • Attorney experience that matches your primary concern

    For example, if you are undergoing divorce and have substantial assets, obtaining a family law attorney who also has business, accounting or tax law experience may be to your advantage. A lawyer with financial expertise can simplify matters when a divorce or pre-marital agreement involves significant investments, complex retirement funds or other sophisticated financial issues.
  • A lawyer that you like and can get along with

    While choosing a lawyer you like and can get along with may seem like simple common sense, you would be surprised how many couples planning for divorce set out to do just the opposite. A widespread misconception among divorcing couples is that by obtaining the most aggressive, combative lawyer they can find, their husband or wife will receive the humiliation and blame they deserve.

    However, the more contentious the divorce is, the greater the need for trial and the more expensive the legal costs. Contested divorces with prolonged trials could result in $75,000 in legal fees as compared to $25,000 for a negotiated settlement, or $6,000 for settling through a mediator. (Median estimates based on a study conducted by the Boston Collaborative Law Group.)

    Also, courtroom battles usually worsen relationships and emotionally damage children. “Divorce wars” also create barriers for future relationships, which make child rearing more difficult. Not to mention, “What goes around, comes around.” You too may find your lawyer difficult to deal with on a personal level — adding complexity during a vulnerable time, when you are struggling and feeling hurt or unstable about a broken marriage.

    You need to select a lawyer that you can easily communicate with and who also has strong inter-personal skills to get along with everyone involved in your family issues. An attorney that you like, feel comfortable with, have confidence in, and who is not at odds with your objectives is more likely to protect your interests and obtain favorable results.

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