Hiring a family law attorney – what most people get wrong and how to get it right: Part Two

In part one of this article, we talked about a couple of the things to keep in mind when hiring a family law attorney. Here are a couple more:

To litigate or not to litigate

Many people think they need to hire an aggressive “pitbull” or “bulldog” lawyer. It seems the thing to do when you feel scared or the other party has launched a plan of attack against you. Here is why that thinking is flawed.

Aggressive lawyers generally talk a good game about how they will protect your interests or ensure victory. If you listen closely, you might find that there’s no real plan to get the promised outcome. There are a lot of promises, but no step by step plan to back it up. Ask for specifics and you will get a vague response. You are probably hearing more about the lawyer him/herself- their track record, how many cases they have “one”, how weak opposing counsel is, etc. The conversation is often more about the lawyer than the client. That’s the first red flag.

The other problem is that most cases settle. The goal of any experienced lawyer who is intent on protecting the client’s interests (rather than running up fees) is to figure out how to create the best possible outcome in the most efficient period of time. Granted, you do not want to hire someone who is afraid to stand up for themselves- or you. But you don’t want to pay out your life savings or take a second mortgage on your house to feed an aggressive campaign that could have been settled far more quickly, with far less expense and often having the same outcome.

The biggest problem with aggressive family lawyering I that the aggressive behavior and tactics drives conflict, which keeps things going, both your case and your fees. I’ve settled cases where parties paid their first round lawyers tens of thousands of dollars to send angry messages to each other. This is not money well spent. Negotiation is the most important skill a family law attorney can have. Finding someone who’s a skillful negotiator will go much farther than seeking a barking dog.

Who’s handling your case

Some law firms use associates or co-counsel to handle some or all of your case. So the lawyer you met with, whom you selected, may not be the one whom you interact with on the aspects of your case. And others may delegate most communication to a paralegal or legal assistant. That is fine for routine scheduling matters. And, while it might be a way to keep costs down, things can get lost in translation if you and your lawyer are not communicating about the main issues in your case or your concerns.

In family law cases, you and your lawyer need to have a one on one working relationship. It needs to work well for you, the client, to make sure your concerns are addressed and that your interests are served. If your case is delegated to someone else, or your calls are handled exclusively by someone other than the lawyer you hired, you may find yourself feeling less than comfortable with the situation. This is something you will want to address before you hire someone.

Divorce and custody matters are some of the most difficult challenges you will face in life. It’s hard enough to navigate the process without having to second guess your decisions about the professional you hire to assist you. The decisions made by you or for you by a judge will greatly affect the course of your life and should not be taken lightly. And the hiring decision you make at the outset will play a large role in the outcome and the time and cost expended in getting there.

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