Questions To Ask Before Hiring An Attorney:
By Selena Besirevic
Choosing the right attorney for your family matter is not and should not be easy. You are in a situation that you most likely never expected to be, whether it’s a decision to get a divorce or you are in a custody battle. You are about to embark on a new journey that is not only emotional but life changing, and you need to know that the attorney who will be representing you is the right fit for you. It is not enough to simply know the attorney’s hourly rate and what kind of experience he/she has. If you want someone who will truly be by your side and someone who you can trust, here are some of the questions to consider asking before you make a decision to hire them:
Here is a simple list of questions before you dive in:
- Why do you practice family law? (You want someone who enjoys their job)
- What is your goal when you start a new case? (Is it to get an outcome you are comfortable with, or to get the most money no matter what?)
- Do you have training as a mediator or a collaborative attorney? (They’re better able to settle cases if they do).
- What is your success rate at mediation? (If they usually end up in court, that may be a bad sign).
- How well do you get along with other attorneys? (Attorneys can get more success for you if they’re well respected professionals).
- What are your cost expectations? (They’ll never know exactly, but if they say to expect several tens of thousands of dollars, you could have better options).
- Are there different options you offer for representation (full, unbundled, collaborative)
- How can we best communicate? (Some attorneys prefer email, others phone. If they say fax, run away!)
Why Do You Practice Family Law?
This will give you an insight of why this attorney chose to do family law. It will not only tell you the level of their experience because they will talk about when they started practicing, but it will tell you the level of their passion for this work. It is extremely important for a family law attorney to have a certain level of passion for this type of work because otherwise, you simply just become another case to them. If an attorney demonstrates deep passion for this work, that means that they are dedicated to helping people, they will do what they can to get to know you, to get to know your family and help you chose the best path going forward. If you are just another case to them, you will not have the support you need in this trying time and you are just another billable hour to them. You want someone who will have empathy and who will walk by your side throughout the process so you don’t feel alone and lost. We at Rutherford Law Center have deep rooted passion for helping people and it is the sole reason we practice family law. We have families of our own and we can relate to going through something so sensitive. We are not here to cause more conflict or get as many billable hours. We are here to come up with a plan that best helps your family and you.
What Are Your Thoughts on Court vs. Mediation?
Not every case has to end up in Court. In some cases, you just can’t avoid it, but every attorney, in our opinion, should be trained in mediation and have deep understanding benefits of settling a case versus going to Court. Unfortunately, some attorneys enjoy a conflict and have been trained to create more of it rather than solve it. That is not our belief here at Rutherford Law Center. We are certified mediators and we truly believe that if there is a potential to resolve issues outside of court, either through mediation or between ourselves, we will explore those options to the bone before we proceed to trial. Individuals who come to us for help are looking for ways to continue their life peacefully and with the least harm to their children, if there are children in the matter. They are not looking to continue fighting for the next two years. That’s exactly what you want your attorney to wish for you as well. Again, it’s not always possible and at time, going to trial is the only option. Don’t get me wrong, we are litigators and we enjoy going to Court for personal reasons because we are good at it. But we do not let our personal wishes and the litigators in us dictate how we approach a case at the detriment of our clients. No one benefits from causing more conflict or not having the right skills to defuse a conflict, least of all clients and the kids.
What Representation Options Do You Offer?
Of course, this is the important part and most likely what leads the decision for most people when choosing an attorney. Many attorneys these days offer several options of representation. It doesn’t always have to be full representation, meaning you hire an attorney and that attorney takes the lead. May firms have what is called an unbundled representation where you can pay for only certain services, such as drafting of the legal document, advice only, attendance at mediation, etc. Also, many firms have payment options if you are in a financial crisis, so make sure you ask about and expore all of the options offered by the firm. At Rutherford Law Center, we have 3 different option of representation, so if you cannot afford the full representation, then we have other options that might fit your budget better but you are still not left alone to handle your situation and you have us in your corner.
How will you be billed?
Make sure the attorney explains to you how do they bill and do they utilize paralegals when appropriate. Paralegals cost less money per hour and it’s important that you make sure the attorney uses the paralegal for things that do not require a law degree, such as simple drafting, calls to the Courts, etc. Also, make sure you are provided detailed invoice regarding what was done on your case. Do not settle for simple “email to client” and then you are billed 30 minutes for it. Ask the attorney to be detailed about the work that was done in their invoices so you know exactly why it took 30 minutes for a task and what was completed. This will also tell you if the task was something you believe a paralegal could have completed for at a lower hourly rate and you can speak to you attorney about it. Ask how often will you get billed and how do they provide the invoices – is there a software they use so you can sign in, do they email it, etc. This all should also be outlined in your Engagement Letter that you sign with the attorney stating exactly what the billing protocols are for the firm and how often are you expected to pay on your retainer.
How often will the attorney communicate with you?
This issue is one of the biggest complaint clients will have about their attorney. Have you even heard someone say “I can’t get ahold of my attorney” or “I haven’t heard from my attorney in weeks”? Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon and as much as I understand that attorneys are busy, I sure am, you are also paying this attorney to communicate with you. If weeks have gone by without any communication, this attorney is not doing her/his job. Naturally, there are times when the attorney is in a long trial and he/she can’t answer for a few days. That’s understandable and should be taken into a consideration. But on average, the attorney should always get back to you within a week, especially if it’s something pressing. So make sure you know attorney’s communication practice.
What does the attorney need from you as a client?
You need to know and should know what the attorney’s expectations are of you as their client. Many times, attorneys will have a hard time handling a case and moving it forward because the client is not cooperating or providing information in timely manner. Asking this question will set the stage for how you will work together, what is your responsibility and what does this attorney need from you to effectively work on your case.
If you need assistance with your family matter or simply have a questions, please contact us at 303-431-0415.