Will your divorce or custody attorneys travel to my area to represent me?
Women sometimes look for an out of area lawyer for a number of reasons. Distrust in the system generally is sometimes one. Another might be that you come from a smaller community, and your husband has already sought out and maybe interviewed with the most prominent attorneys there. (Because of attorney ethical rules, if an attorney has had a consult with the adverse party, they are conflicted out and can’t represent the other – even if the first never retains that attorney.)
In our case, maybe it’s just that you like what you’ve seen. Maybe you’re really impressed by our divorce and custody seminars, our library of free books, reports, and articles like this one, our Girl’s Night Out events, or just the way we do things. It’s true that we’re the only Virginia law firm dedicated to representing women only, so maybe you like that fact. (We’d never be conflicted out, after all, because we met with your husband – we wouldn’t ever, under any circumstances, because we don’t represent ANY men, ever.)
So you’re wondering – can I get an attorney to travel to me? Or do you have another office nearer to me? The answer? Well, it’s clear as mud: it depends.
We have offices in Newport News and Chesapeake, in addition to our main office location in Virginia Beach. We take cases that are pretty wide ranging geographically, normally from the Isle of Wight to the Eastern Shore, as far west as Williamsburg, as well as Hampton, Newport News, York County, Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake, Suffolk, Portsmouth, etc.
We get requests to take cases in lots of other places – usually, Northern Virginia. Occasionally Roanoke and Lynchburg, too.
Do you take cases out of your immediate area?
Sometimes. Technically, when you pass the bar and obtain a law license, you can practice in any of the courts in the Commonwealth. So we absolutely CAN take cases any old place we want to, so long as it’s in Virginia.
Will we? Well, that’s a different story. And, would you really want us to? Again, a different story. And the answers vary dramatically from one person (and one case) to the next.
A few things to know about out-of-area divorce and custody cases
A lot of times, women who are out of our area end up choosing to hire someone a little closer to home for two reasons:
1. Travel time is billable time.
This is true even for our local clients. If we don’t go into the office and meet you there, we bill for travel time. That means that, for judicial settlement conferences or depositions at an opposing attorney’s office, or for court appearances, we’re billing for the time it takes us to get to court. You’ll find that’s true across the board for attorneys, it’s just that this is not typically a question people ask.
If you’re REALLY out of the area, you might have to pay for hotel rooms, etc., as well. So, for us in Virginia Beach, Roanoke is 4.5 hours away. Imagine if there’s a court appearance required in your case that begins at 9am. In order to be there at 9, your attorney would have to get up at 4:30 in the morning – and that’s just to make it EXACTLY on time. Your attorney probably doesn’t want to take the chance of running into unforeseen traffic and being late to court, so she may need to leave at 3:30 just to make it.
That’s….really early. And doesn’t lend itself to sensational lawyering. It’s not unreasonable to think that, instead of doing that, the attorney might prefer to get a hotel room, to make SURE that they’ll be in town on time, and as fresh minded as possible for your hearing.
Needless to say, all that additional time can be expensive – but not always. Consider, for example, that Northern Virginia attorneys often charge much higher rates than we do here in Virginia Beach. It may be that, even with paying travel time, the cost is comparable, or even less, than a Northern Virginia attorney would charge. It’s probably a good idea to ask around before you assume that one course of action or another would be cost prohibitive.
2. No one wants to get “home cooked”.
What does that mean? Well, generally speaking, there’s a bit of a local bias. Judges like the attorneys they know – usually, they used to be one of them, so sometimes you’ll find that you’re practicing amid their old law partners, golf buddies, or childhood best friends.
It’s hard to go to a new place not understanding the dynamics. Of course, the law reigns supreme over all else, but, really, lawyers kind of a notoriously superstitious bunch. We will always at least bring up to a potential client who wants us to travel to a court where we’re unfamiliar that there are often local rules and local customs that (1) would take a little longer for us to research and be familiar with (and therefore cost you more money), and (2) might appear to be to your disadvantage without your own local counsel.
That’s not to say you can’t do it, or that the results would be bad. It always depends on your unique case and the facts involved.
Are there advantages to having an out of area attorney?
Of course! We just discussed some of the disadvantages, but there are also some advantages – most of which I touched a bit on in the opening paragraph.
If you don’t trust the local area, if your husband is super well known, or if he has made the effort to ensure that none of the good attorneys will be able to represent you, you have little choice but to look outside your area.
It can also be an advantage, in addition to a necessity. An out of area attorney isn’t so stuck in the normal ways of the local area, and may think of something really innovative to try.
There’s also not really any substitute for finding truly skilled, experienced counsel, regardless of where his or her office is located or how far he or she has to travel to represent you. Someone who practices family law exclusively is almost always going to be a better pick than someone who is a “jack of all trades” or tries to be knowledgeable across a number of areas of law. For someone who handles family law alongside a variety of other things, it might take years to have the depth and breadth of experience that someone who practices family law on a daily basis would have.
There may be lots of reasons that you’d be well suited to find an attorney out of your normal area.
What kind of cases are best suited for an attorney to take out of their normal practice area?
So, of course, now that I’ve raised some of the potential advantages and disadvantages, what kinds of cases are really best suited for an attorney to take out of their typical area?
If you’re negotiating an agreement – whether for divorce or custody – it doesn’t much matter where your attorney is located geographically. There’s often very little need to appear in court, if any at all, and most communication between client and attorney and attorney and opposing counsel can take place without meeting in person. In fact, oftentimes, unless a client specifically requests an in-person meeting, we only meet a handful of times face-to-face throughout the case.
In Virginia and in most courts in the Commonwealth, you can get a divorce by affidavit, so there’s often not even a reason to appear to get your final divorce decree entered. In that case, it’s more than fine to handle a case out of area, and it wouldn’t even cost you differently than it would cost to have local counsel.
In fact, it might cost you LESS. Attorneys in Northern Virginia, for example, as we’ve already established, charge much higher hourly rates. Compared with attorneys in Virginia Beach, it might cost less overall.
In contested cases – cases where an agreement hasn’t been or couldn’t be reached – court is often a necessity.
To determine whether hiring an out of area attorney would be a good idea for you in your contested case, it’s probably a good idea to consult one on one with an attorney. The types of issues involved can be pretty complicated, and it’s hard to speculate across the board without knowing more.
If you’re looking for an attorney but you aren’t located in the immediate Hampton Roads area, let us know when you call. Some attorneys are more willing than others to take out of area cases, and we want to be sure to match you up with an attorney who would be willing to travel. For more information, or to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.