How do I choose a family law attorney?

Posted on Dec 11, 2019 by Katie Carter

It’s a million dollar question (or, at least, a $2,500-10,000 question). If you’re headed towards a divorce or custody case, how do you know whom to hire to represent you? You probably already know that you’re way better served having an attorney than not (or else you wouldn’t be here, reading this article), but how do you pick just one?

Besides that, of course, lawyers don’t have the best reputations as a demographic. So, probably, it feels like an even bigger deal, especially if you’re not accustomed to hiring attorneys in your regular course of business.

There are a lot of things to consider when it comes to divorce, and still more when it comes to actually hiring an attorney to represent you. You want to make sure that you have someone who is experienced and competent, but who’ll also listen to you like a real human being so that you feel like your concerns are being really heard. You want someone who is kind and compassionate, but who can also strike the right balance in the courtroom. It’s not that you want a “pit bull”, as so many people say, (and, actually, I would venture to say that’s the opposite of what you want!) but you want someone who can handle herself in front of a judge and advocate effectively for your position.

How do you choose a family law attorney?

Family law attorneys aren’t all created equal, any more than anybody in any other profession is. But how do you tell?

So much of any decision is down to personal preference, so it’d be foolish to leave that out of the equation. To some extent, you’ll want to meet a few just to gauge what you’re working with before you rush into a decision. That comes with its costs, of course, since most family law attorneys (unlike, say, personal injury attorneys) don’t offer free consultations.  Suffice it to say, it’s an entirely different type of case and warrants entirely different representation.

But I’m in the business, and I’ve worked with a lot of clients, so I like to think I’m pretty ideally situated to tell you what you should be looking for and what questions you should be asking. After all, I do this every day! (And, no, I’m not saying you should hire me, necessarily – there are lots of great attorneys in our area, and you might find someone who is a better match for you.)

1. How much does the attorney cost?

It’d be silly to look into hiring an attorney without considering the cost unless, of course, you’re Elon Musk. But assuming you’re not (because only one of us is, and he’s a man, so we wouldn’t represent him anyway), I’m guessing that costs are a pretty important concern. And you can’t make any decisions without having some idea whether you can afford it. Right?

The best way to compare costs from attorney to attorney is to look at their hourly rates. Retainer fees are often a barrier to someone hiring a particular firm or attorney (because if they charge a $10,000 retainer and you just don’t have it, well, like Scarlett O’Hara says, “It might as well be three million!”) but they’re not an estimate of overall costs, or a means of comparison from one attorney to another.

Look at the hourly rate an attorney charges. Also, talk to people about that attorney to get an idea about how they bill. Do they work with a paralegal to keep costs down? Do they file a bunch of frivolous motions? Some attorneys do all sorts of crazy things in an effort to keep their fees very high. Other attorneys bill much more conservatively. Though it can be hard to tell at first blush, it’s a good idea to talk to people about the attorney, read Google reviews, and ask questions to the attorney directly when you interview her.

2. Educate yourself about the divorce process, and find someone who does what you want!

Whether yours is a divorce or custody case, you’ll want to get as much information as possible. After all, people who are informed make much better decisions than people who are not!

A good place to start? We have divorce, military divorce, and custody  books that can help give you a good idea of the process you’ll be facing. We also have divorce and custody seminars. Both are taught live by licensed, experienced Virginia divorce and custody attorneys, so you’ll have a chance to ask your questions before you pay for an appointment.

If you want a mediator, you’ll want to find out how the mediated divorce process works. (A great place to learn? The book or the seminar!) If you want collaborative divorce, you want a collaboratively trained attorney – and, no, you can’t just hire anyone! (Though, if collaborative is what you’re after, you’d be silly not to look at Sheera Herrell!)

You don’t need a ferocious litigator if you’re looking for collaborative divorce, and someone who will avoid litigation isn’t ideal if your husband just won’t cooperate. (I’ve seen that happen! Women come to our firm and tell us that their previous attorney ONLY does uncontested divorces, so, when their husbands wouldn’t sign an agreement, they wouldn’t go any further!)

Learn. Find out what you want. And then find someone who practices the way you want or need your case resolved.

3. Work with someone you like.

It may sound silly, but it’s not. Divorce and custody cases are super duper emotionally charged, and it’s important to work with someone you feel you can be honest with. You’re not doing yourself any favors if you hire an attorney that you’re scared or uncomfortable around, and end up not telling them what they need to know.

You’ll have to talk about money, sex, your children, and more – and these are difficult conversations for anyone to have. Find someone you can open up to and be honest with. It’s a trait that will carry you far because it helps ensure that your attorney has the information she needs to represent you well, and that all the relevant details are getting included.

4. Work with a therapist, too.

Attorneys are counselors are law, not counselors. If you’re really struggling, the best thing you can do is to also choose a therapist! Don’t treat your attorney like one. Though we’re accustomed to it, I always wonder whether I give the best advice – at least, from a psychological perspective. I wasn’t trained that way, and, really, my knowledge is of the law and the legal process. Also, it has to be said: I don’t take insurance.

I know, I know – this is about finding an attorney. But you want to make sure that you’re looking for an ATTORNEY, and not a therapist. We’re not the same. I know you know, but it’s not unusual for a client to want us to wear both hats. I don’t mind – I WANT to help – but, again, that’s not where my training or expertise really is.

Choosing an attorney is hard, especially when you’re already kind of stressed out. Still trying to figure out how to get the information you need? Remember, our books are free! We’ve also got a number of free reports, and we even have divorce and custody seminars. Not only that, but we offer Girl’s Night Out events, no divorce or custody case required. They’re social events, not a chance to ask questions about your case, but if you just want to meet an attorney, it’s a good way to do it for free. (And have some drinks and appetizers on the firm, too.) Again – not the place to discuss your case or ask legal questions, but it may make you feel better to chat with an attorney just person-to-person before you come in for an appointment.

For more information or to schedule an appointment with one of our licensed and experienced Virginia divorce and custody attorneys, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.