Choosing a lawyer in a family law or divorce proceeding should be made carefully. In many instances it will be one of the most important decisions you will make during your lifetime. If there are children involved, your family law case will impact how they continue to be raised, parental decision-making and the allocation of their custody between two households. It will impact how they are supported, responsibility for health insurance and health care and whether the parents are to provide some assistance toward children’s activities or post-secondary education. If it is a divorce action, it will also require your attorney to accurately value the marital estate or determine non-marital assets, determine tax issues, assign responsibility for the payment of debts, divide retirement assets and determine ownership of real estate. In some cases, spousal support may be appropriate. In others, the valuation of a farming or ranching operation or a business and an accurate determination of income produced will be required. The outcome of these issues will depend on many factors, some of which you can’t control. One thing you can control is who represents you.
Before you interview or retain a lawyer or law firm, first make a personal assessment of what will be involved. If there are no children, minimal assets and roughly equivalent incomes, you may be able to use a lawyer/mediator to handle most of the process. If your situation involves significant disputes, custody issues, complicated finances and property or the suspected improper transfers of marital assets, you would do well to interview a couple of lawyers. Before you do so, there are some resources you can use to get some idea of the reputation and skill level of lawyers in your vicinity. First, ask friends or family members for recommendations or ask other lawyers in your vicinity for recommendations. Although most lawyers have a presence on the internet and may pay for advertising on sites such as Avvo or Find A Lawyer, you may consider a search with national certifying organizations such as The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, the National Board of Trial Advocacy or Martindale-Hubbell (which can be somewhat outdated).
The choice to commence a family law related matter, whether it deals with divorce / paternity / prenuptial or modification action, is rarely made lightly, and your choice in legal representation shouldn’t be either. To ensure your values are respected throughout the divorce process, we highly suggest you are cautious in selecting the right legal representation for your case. When you decide to interview one or more lawyers you are looking for a lawyer with whom you feel comfortable. Be wary of lawyers who appear overly anxious to take your case, overly adversarial or do not seem to be listening to you and your concerns and questions. In addition to a list of questions you should make before your appointment here are some other suggested questions:
- Do you have any nationally recognized expertise or qualifications?
- What percentage of your practice is devoted to family and divorce law?
- What are the biggest issues in my matter and have you handled cases that concern issues and legal aspects like mine?
- Is your office equipped with enough support staff, legal assistants, and other lawyers necessary to handle my matter?
- What is your current case load, and do you have time to take my case?
- Do you provide drafts of proposed letters and emails of significance to me before they are sent so I can review?
- If I have questions will you or someone on your staff call me back or email me a response and do so within a certain amount of time?
- What is your hourly rate, what retainer do you expect, what am I charged for and are there things I can do or not do to help keep costs down?
- Overview of the entire process and steps and estimated time frame for completion absent complications?
- If the other party already has a lawyer, have you worked with him or her before and what sort of working relationship do you have?
- What is the role of mediation in family matters?
- What are your expectations of me as a client in this case? Do’s and Don’ts?
- What is your familiarity with the judges in this district who will be assigned to my case and what has been your experience with them (or the judge that is already assigned to my case)?
- Can you provide a rough estimate of the percentage of your cases that settle and how many need to be submitted for a decision by the court?
- How do you keep me advised of what is going on?
If you have already done your research and you are ready to talk with a lawyer, give us a call – 402-436-3030 or complete our on-line contact form and after checking for conflicts we would be happy to schedule an office conference.