Choosing an Attorney

by: Glenn
August, 2001

I remember sitting in the lunchroom at work, listening attentively as Lisa talked about another recent court hearing. Lisa, a brassy and fiery young mother of two children, was quite open about the conflicts between her and her ex-husband, and she would narrate the details to anyone who would listen. Raising her voice in righteous anger she would say, "If he thinks he's going to avoid paying child support while he's living it up with his girlfriend, he's wrong!" Most people at work got tired of hearing about it - except for me that is. When Lisa talked, I listened. Sometimes I would gather up enough courage to ask her a question or two about her attorney or family law.

One day, Lisa came to my office to deliver some files. She sat down and asked me why I was so interested in all the "court stuff". I figured she deserved an honest answer. So, I told her about my situation. "I am a single father," I explained, "and I've been thinking lately of pursuing sole physical custody of my daughter."

"Well, you should do it, and you're going to need a good attorney," she said without hesitation. "I'll give you my attorney's card." "She's helped me out a lot; she gets the job done. Plus, she won't rip you off like my last attorney did." Lisa had provided me with my first lesson in selecting an attorney, and she gave me the push that I needed.

Although I now had a referral for a good attorney, I agonized for weeks about making that first appointment. I was barely earning enough money to pay my bills, and I knew that the legal fees would mount up fast. But, I understood that getting proper legal representation would pay off in the long run. If I didn't hire an attorney now, there was a strong possibility that I would pay a higher price further down the road. Besides, my child was worth it, and I knew that I had to do whatever I could to provide her with more stability and security even if it meant going into debt.

There are times when it is important to make it clear from the start that there will not be any passivity when it comes to your child's best interest and your rights. I'm certainly not suggesting that you should not negotiate or compromise because being flexible can save you a lot of grief and money. There are some matters, however, that cannot be negotiated or compromised and hiring an attorney is necessary.

If you decide that you need to hire an attorney, here are a few things to consider as you shop around:

Try to avoid choosing an attorney blindly
-such as choosing one randomly from the yellow pages. The best way to find a good attorney is by asking people that you know and trust such as friends, family, co-workers, ministers, doctors, social workers, teachers, or business associates.

Be open to hiring a female attorney if one is recommended.
Regrettably, some single fathers are reluctant to hire female attorneys, many of whom are more skilled at making a case for custody, visitation, or child support.

Look for attorneys whose practice is exclusively devoted to family law.
Family law has changed considerably over the past few years; it is more complex. An attorney who specializes in family law is usually more skilled in the practice of family law.

Choose an attorney who is "aggressive" in the right way.
You want an attorney who will aggressively work your case while aggressively keeping costs down. Avoid attorneys who are mean, hostile, disrespectful, rude, and otherwise unprofessional. (It's best to avoid venting your anger by way of your attorney or the legal system.)

Hire an attorney who is familiar with the district court judges that could be assigned to your case.

Select an attorney who is honest and direct.
Be cautious of attorneys who guarantee results.

Consider hiring an attorney who communicates well and who can relate well with you.

Ask the attorney about how much experience they have handling similar cases.
Keep in mind, though, that some talented, young attorneys are very effective despite their lack of experience.

Do some comparison-shopping.
Are the fees reasonable? Are the fees are negotiable?