Legal Experts Share Tips on How to Pick a Family Law Attorney for your Divorce
Finding a good lawyer is obviously vital in producing a favorable outcome to your divorce.
The problem is how do you find an attorney that is right for you, especially if you have never had a need for one in the past? According to New Jersey-based family law attorney Mark S. Guralnick, family law attorneys are fired more often than any other type of lawyer.
“Among lawyers it’s almost a private joke that this client or that client is up to his third lawyer,” Guralnick said. This revolving door syndrome, Guralnick said, has a lot to do with breakdowns in communication between attorney and client. However, by choosing a divorce lawyer wisely and asking the important questions upfront, Guralnick said finding a good lawyer doesn’t have to be that difficult.
WHERE TO START
“The best way to start looking for a lawyer is through referrals. It’s almost like when you’re asking for some kind of expert to help you like a doctor or an accountant,” attorney Fred Zundel of Idaho Legal Aid Services, said. “Talk with people who have maybe gone through a divorce, perhaps talk with some clerks in the court house, talk with other attorneys you know.”
Secondly, Guralnick recommends seeking referral advice from a local bar association. “They will give you the name of a matrimonial lawyer for free or for a small charge,” he said. “One assurance you have with referral service is the lawyer is insured. You’re not getting that someone who is dabbling in law.”
Guralnick said some, but not all, referral services require their lawyers to prove on an annual basis that they qualify to be referred. Certain divorces require more than just average legal services. For example, in the event of a high assets case, hiring a lawyer familiar with similar cases would be a good idea, Guralnick said. Organizations such as the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and The American Association of Justice (formerly the Association of Trial Lawyers of America) provide referrals for more intense legal cases. “They also have many, many, fine lawyers,” Guralnick said.
A relatively new idea in the legal industry, Guralnick said, is for attorney’s to become certified as a specialist in a particular area. For example, Guralnick, is licensed to practice law in several states and different countries, is board certified to practice family law in the state of New Jersey.
To achieve his certification, Gurlanick was subjected to an intense application process. He had to provide written recommendations by lawyers and judges and prove he had served numerous years in the family law field. He was also subjected to a complex exam. “If you pass the exam and jump through the hoops, you get to say you’re board certified,” Guralnick said.
Unfortunately not all states offer board certification. “If you are in a state that does it, you should find someone who has gone to the trouble to be board certified,” he said. Zundel adds the phone book can be a good place to track down potential lawyers. Always start with the directory. “Usually attorneys who hold out as having experience in a specific area qualify,” he said.
MEETING A PROSPECT
Finding a lawyer you may want to hire is the easy part. Once you have narrowed down a list of potentials, you should meet with the attorneys on your list. “When you go in and see a lawyer you should first of all judge the person by the sense of a character your get from them,” Guralnick said. “Many cases last a year or more and you need to be able to forge a relationship with the person.”
Guralnick said to beware of lawyers who appear evasive or who rush you during the assimilation process. “Lawyers should be open,” he said, “In order to achieve a good fit with a lawyer, you need to be able to talk to him.”
According to Guralnick, one of the biggest issues between lawyers and clients is communication. “Lawyers are in trouble all the time with their clients over lack of communication,” he said. So finding a lawyer you can be honest with is especially important. After you have met a potential lawyer, the discussion of legal fees and a retainer agreement will no doubt come into play.
Guralnick encourages clients to take part in these conversations. “There is no fixed price in any legal business, the hourly rate is negotiable,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be shy, you can talk about these things.”
According to the American Bar Association, it is also a good idea to review specific charges with the attorney. Details such as how fees are calculated, what extra expenses you may be responsible for and approximately how long the divorce may take should be asked during the first meeting. Additionally, if you don’t understand something after it has been explained to you, ask again until you fully comprehend the answer.
Next comes the retainer agreement. “If a lawyer presents a retainer agreement that is more than a page long, may want to take it home and look at it,” Guralnick said. While most of us have signed off on handfuls of various agreements in our lifetime without reading them, Guralnick cautions against it. “You assume it must be okay,” he said. “Don’t make those assumptions necessarily in the legal business.”
Along with legal fees, Guralnick recommends reviewing the main issues of your case with the attorney. For example, a client whose spouse has a lot of assets that have been moved around and hidden will need an experienced attorney. “You know if you are a husband or wife in this relationship, you need a lawyer with trial experience or this divorce is going to be over his head,” Guralnick said. “There are many specialized cases out there. You need to come in prepared with the technical questions.”
About the author: Casey Clark Ney is a freelance journalist based in Boise, Idaho. She holds a B.A. in Communication and has more than six years experience in newspaper and magazine writing. E-mail correspondences can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.