Family lawyers handle legal problems that come up between members of the same family. They’re best known for representing clients during divorce proceedings, but family lawyers also work on cases involving adoption, guardianship, and emancipation of minors. Some family lawyers also monitor mediation sessions, oversee family estates, and offer other types of legal advice.
The process of hiring an attorney that practices family law is similar to that of finding any type of lawyer, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Follow the step-by-step instructions below to find and hire a family lawyer.
Step One: Ask for Recommendations
The first step to finding a family lawyer is to ask relatives, friends, colleagues, or even other attorneys to recommend a local family lawyer. Be clear about needs. Some family lawyers are more experienced with mediation than they are with providing courtroom representation, for example, which can make a big difference when it comes to getting through a messy divorce.
Step Two: Research Appropriate Options
Some people don’t feel comfortable asking around for recommendations, and that’s just fine. It’s still relatively easy to find appropriate options by contacting local bar associations. Either way, getting referrals is just the first step in the research process.
After making a short list of possible options, it’s time to hit the web. It’s fine to start by checking each lawyer’s website, but don’t stop there. Look each law office up on third-party review sites and local forums, and don’t forget to check LinkedIn. People who are serious about performing their due diligence can also check a lawyer’s track record by using a subscription service or checking the local law library.
Step Three: Schedule an Initial Consultation
After narrowing down the list of potential candidates through diligent research, it’s time to schedule one or more initial consultations. It’s wise to prepare for these consultations in advance by writing down questions regarding both the lawyer’s practice and the particular case. Some lawyers charge for initial consultations, while others don’t. It’s best not to make any assumptions about the practice based on whether initial consultations are free.
Step Four: Be Sure the Fee Schedule Is Reasonable
Just about all family lawyers use one of three different methods for determining fees:
- By the hour
- By contingency
- By one-time flat fees
Understanding how the lawyer’s fee structure will help to avoid potential headaches later down the line. If the person charges an hourly rate, ask about minimum billing increments and whether clients will be charged for emails, letters, and phone calls, and request an estimate of how many hours the case will take to resolve. For contingency arrangements, ask about the likelihood of recovery and the percentage being charged.
Step Five: Understand the Contract
Few people enjoy slogging through the legalese in contracts, but clients need to know what they are signing. Ask questions about unknown terms and anything else that seems questionable, and get a copy of everything related to the case, including the initial contract. Finally, keep in mind that, if a lawyer isn’t a good fit, it’s perfectly acceptable to find a replacement.
Get the Search Started
It can take a while to find a family law attorney, so don’t wait until the last minute. Start the search early and don’t get discouraged if it takes a while to find a law office that feels like a good fit.