By Dorothy Wolbert, Co-Chair, Burns White Family Law
Choosing a family law attorney is a decision that should be given great weight. When you are choosing an individual to represent you in your divorce, custody, support, and/or Protection from Abuse matters, you are entrusting that person with your deepest emotions, with your finances, and with your family’s ultimate dynamic. At Burns White Family Law, we often receive questions from colleagues and friends about how to choose a family law attorney, and what people should do to prepare for their initial consultation with one. Following is a general list of tips to assist with this important process:
- Do your homework and search online. Many family law attorneys have impressive websites that not only advertise their services, but also provide general information regarding the divorce, custody, and support processes. Search these websites to gather information not only on an individual attorney, but regarding your potential case. (By the way, www.burnswhitefamilylaw.com is a great place to start!) This will be a learning process for you, too, and while it is your attorney’s job to teach you the law and how it applies to your case, you can use the information you’ve found to determine what questions you should ask your attorney.
- Call the office and ask general questions. A website may outline whether the initial consultation is free or if there is a cost associated with it. However, if the website doesn’t outline that information, call and ask. Most attorney-client relationships start with an initial consultation where the attorney meets with the potential client to discuss their case, their goals, and explain the procedures. Call the office and ask how much the initial consultation is, and if there are any time restraints on the length of an appointment. If you already have an open case and need an attorney right away, call and ask how quickly the attorney can meet with you. Ask what the law firm’s hours are and whether they are willing to meet you offsite.
- Meet with your potential attorney face-to-face. Going through a divorce, custody, or support matter can be extremely emotional. You need to choose an attorney with whom you feel a connection. This attorney will be entrusted with your emotions, with your finances, and sometimes with your deepest secrets. You will speak to this attorney quite regularly throughout the process, so you should choose someone who you feel you can rely upon. Meet with your attorney face-to-face, don’t be afraid to confide in him/her and see his/her reaction to your story.
- When to make your initial consultation. There are usually two categories of people when it comes to making the initial consultation appointment: the planners and the reactors. The planners seek out an attorney when they are beginning to question whether they should take legal action. They contact an attorney to find out their options, develop a timeframe, obtain information, etc. This is usually the best time to make your initial consultation, as an attorney can assist with formulating a plan for a separation or strategizing the best time to take legal action. The reactors tend to wait until a legal action is pending (with perhaps a pending court date) before they seek legal representation. While this is also common, the limited time available may leave this group in defense mode, which could potentially have been avoided if legal representation was sought earlier. It is always better to seek out legal representation sooner rather than later, particularly if there is potential for an emergency to occur with a separation. For example, sometimes when spouses separate households, emotions run high which may lead to one party filing a Protection from Abuse action against the other party. This may be avoided if there is a clear exit strategy for the parties to separate households.
- What to bring to the initial consultation: At the initial consultation, most attorneys want to hear of the history of your relationship with the other party, and particularly, what led you to make the appointment in the first place. You usually do not need to bring anything to the initial consultation, unless you have a pending legal action, in which case you should bring all court-related documents.
- Relax. When meeting with your potential attorney, your attorney isn’t judging you. Your attorney is assessing your situation and the best legal strategy for your case. Relax, tell the truth (even the ugly truth), and trust that your attorney is looking out for your best legal interest.
As an experienced family law attorney, I know how stressful these situations can be, so hopefully the tips I provided in this article will help to make the process a little less intimidating. Feel free to contact me, any time, with questions or concerns.