When you’re facing a divorce, it’s important to feel that you have the right attorney on your side. But, if you’ve never had any experience with the law, how do you know you’re choosing the right person?
You want to make sure you have a good attorney on your side, but you can’t afford to run all over town having consultations with every attorney who practices family law. So your first step is probably to do some research on the Internet, and you limit your search down to a couple of promising candidates.
When you meet with an attorney, you should feel that the attorney is listening attentively to you, and that your case is important. Whether or not your case presents a particularly novel issue of law or fact, you should feel like the attorney is listening and wants to help meet your goals. Listen to the options the attorney gives you, carefully consider his or her recommendations for you, and form your own opinion. Ask questions.
It’s important that you select an attorney with whom you feel comfortable. Especially in family law, clients often have to admit uncomfortable or unpleasant things to their attorneys, and you should pick someone with whom you know you can be honest.
You should also be comfortable with the fees the attorney is charging. There are a lot of factors that affect what an attorney charges, and it definitely varies a lot from attorney to attorney. Your attorney should explain to you what his or her hourly rate is, what kinds of things they bill for, how they utilize staff to cut down on costs, and what other administrative fees there are.
You should ask whether your attorney is billing a flat fee or on a retainer. In a flat fee system (which is pretty rare), the attorney charges one, up front fee, and there are no additional charges. You pay that amount, and that amount takes care of the specific process for which you retain the attorney. For example, if you retain an attorney to negotiate your separation agreement on a flat fee basis, you pay that one number and you won’t pay more. At our firm, Kristen Hofheimer bills on a flat fee basis.
A retainer is more popular than a flat fee. In a retainer system, you pay a certain amount that goes into a trust account with your name on it. As your attorney does work, he or she bills against the retainer. The money is yours until it is spent and, once it is spent, your attorney will ask you to replenish your account. The attorney will bill for work done on your case, including phone calls, emails, and letters, as well as court appearances and document drafting. All of the other attorneys in our firm bill on retainers.
A big part of choosing an attorney is listening to your gut. Do you feel that this attorney listens to you, cares about your case, and will do his or her best to zealously represent you? If so, you’re definitely on the right track.