Can you take my ongoing family law case?

We get calls all the time to request second opinions on ongoing cases, particularly in cases where there has been a breakdown in the relationship between the woman and her current attorney. It happens a lot; after all, there’s a lot at stake in a family law case (especially where we’re talking about spousal support and child custody), and it’s hard to entrust something so important to someone that you just don’t know all that well.

It’s hard, too, when you’re comparing the performance of your attorney versus your husband or child’s father’s attorney. They may seem more adept, more aggressive, more whatever – and it’s hard to tell, when you’re inexperienced, what method or case theory will pay off in the long run. If your attorney seems reticent or inexperienced or less prepared, your trust can break down quickly.

Just like with a doctor, when you get advice that you don’t like or don’t entirely trust, it’s good to get a second opinion. Like doctors, attorneys have a wide variety of opinions, and it’s always a good idea to find one whose opinion jives with yours. At least, in that case, win or lose, you can feel like you put it all out on the table in a way that you can live with.

If you’re questioning your attorney, it’s good for both of you that you take some time to ask questions and get them answered. I always advise that it’s easier to salvage a relationship with your current attorney than to switch, especially in the middle of a case, so, if you’re having doubts, ask questions. Schedule a time with your attorney to talk over those concerns, come up with a plan of action, and identify what action items would need to take place in order for you to feel more comfortable with your representation.

If things just can’t be salvaged, though, if you can’t trust what your attorney is telling you, or if you just need to talk to someone else, schedule a consult with a different attorney. Understand, though, that depending on what’s going on, the attorney may or may not be willing to take you on as a client.

As a rule, it often comes down to how quickly there’ll be another hearing. All too often, we hear from women who have hearings a month or so out, which is really difficult. At that point, there’s not really time to prepare a case. As much as my heart goes out to a woman in that position, if I don’t have enough time to prepare and won’t feel confident when I walk into the courtroom, I will not take the case.

Keep in mind that, in order to conduct discovery, we need thirty days. And just having the discovery physically in our possession doesn’t mean that we’ve had time to prepare our case based on whatever we find. And what happens if the other side doesn’t provide discovery? A continuance is never a guarantee, either – and, in some cases, a continuance isn’t appropriate.

Sure, there are sanctions for not providing discovery, but the judge may or may not levy them. And, either way, the court date may go on – and you may be in better hands with your current attorney than with a new attorney who doesn’t have the opportunity to prepare adequately.

Switching attorneys in the middle of a case is by no means a guarantee, and it may increase your costs. Consider that the things you may have paid the first attorney to do will need to be done again (because some things are attorney work product and won’t be turned over even if you request your file) or, at the very least, reviewed by the new attorney. As each attorney is a little bit different and works a little bit differently, and we all have to follow the method that we use to prepare for our hearings. It’s not particularly efficient to switch it up in the middle.

Still, you should feel confident in your attorney. You should be able to have your questions answered. You should know and understand the decisions your attorney is making and why. You should feel entitled to ask for those answers from someone else if you aren’t getting satisfactory answers from your current attorney, or if your current attorney’s answers don’t add up.

Your attorney should fight for you, but you should also understand that this doesn’t always mean pounding on the table. Lawyers have an old adage where we say, “If the law is in your favor, pound the law. If the facts are in your favor, pound the facts. If nothing is in your favor, pound the table.” Advocacy can be subtle, but you should feel confident. There’s a lot at stake.

Ultimately, though, if there’s no enough time, you may not be able to switch attorneys. Make sure to also ask what your options for appeal are if you end up not getting the result you wanted. Ask, too, about the time frame for noting an appeal (it usually comes up pretty quickly), and you’ll want to be sure that you’ve followed all the rules.

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

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