Choosing the correct lawyer, is one of the most important decisions a person dealing with the break-up of their marriage or other difficult family law matters can make. Attorney styles and experience (with fellow attorneys, the type of case, and the particular court) can dramatically impact not just the outcome of your case but the manner, cost, and resulting impact of the litigation on the parties and any children involved. I hope this page will help guide you in your search for the right attorney for you.
Choose an attorney that is not only capable and competent to handle your legal matter but also compatible with serving your true overall goals — and that you get along with. The best attorney for one person’s divorce may be the absolute worst for another.
Keep in mind, at the onset of family law litigation, you may not be psychologically and emotionally capable of making the most rational decisions. Nevertheless, it is at this point that the critical decision of who to retain to assist you must be made. Other than deferring to friends, parents, and others to assist you in hiring an attorney (which often results in their imposed views and desires rather than your own), I recommend that you consider how your judgment may be clouded in this difficult time and take a moment to step back from your fear and anxiety, speak openly about your present concerns, and get a feel of how any attorney you consider helps you with your issues while you process them yourself. I believe that an attorney that merely takes and executes marching orders from a distraught client without counseling as to the short and long term ramification of such a course of action fails their client.
Consider the following when choosing an attorney:
1. Do you want a specialist or a generalist?
Does the attorney handle cases in a wide variety of practice areas or confine their practice to one or more concentrations?
Do you want or need a Board Certified Specialist and what does that mean? Is this evidence of a particular knowledge and experience you need for your case, or will this merely mean higher fees to you?
2. Does the lawyer have experience with the Court in which your case will be tried?
In smaller counties, judges tend to see the same set of attorneys on a frequent basis where reputations are created, and the court’s tendencies and local rules become known. Out-of-town attorneys often do not have the same feel for a judge making it more difficult to advise a client on what the court tends to do in similar circumstances or how a judge likes to conduct specific types of hearings. This impact is lessened somewhat in the larger counties where the volume of attorneys and cases results in a more standardized approach.
3. If your case involves children or a marriage, is the attorney married or have children? Is the attorney divorced himself, which may provide some real life understanding to what you are going through?
Late night feedings, sick children, and balancing family and work have an entirely different meaning when you have been there yourself. The love of a parent for their child is impossible to fully understand until felt yourself. Dealing with the dissolution of a marriage or issues relating to one’s child takes a special personality. Someone that can empathize with the hardships and identify and address future problems that are likely to arise. Does the attorney have a viewpoint from which you can discuss these issues? You do not want to be forced to explain to your attorney what being married or being a parent is like.
4. Is the lawyer committed to staying current on the law? How much Continuing Legal Education (CLE) does the attorney attend each year in family law?
To remain a licensed attorney in Texas, one must participate in legal education each year. This requirement can be met by attending seminars on virtually any legal subject. Does the attorney take only the minimum number of courses each year? How much of the attorney’s schooling each year regards family law? This is often a clear indicator of an attorney whose real practice and interest lies elsewhere. The world’s best criminal defense attorney may be a horrible family law attorney, but often people try to “do it all”.
Does your lawyer personally understand related areas important to your case. Does your case involve mental health issues where a knowledge or treatment modalities and outcomes are important? Are there substance abuse issues that a special knowledge would be helpful? Does one of the spouses have a narcissistic personality disorder and how would that impact the case and what can be done to mitigate those negative effects? You need an attorney that can speak to your specific issues and recognize what needs to be done for your specific situation.
5. Does the attorney speak directly with you about problems in your case or make unreasonable promises and expectations?
Beware of lawyers that will only tell you what you want to hear or that inflame your emotional responses. In hiring a lawyer, you need someone that will look at your problems objectively and help you accomplish your goals. Avoid any lawyer that serves merely as a louder mouthpiece for you – that is just an ineffective and costly bull horn.
6. Are you able to speak freely and comfortably with the attorney? Is the attorney open to discuss and understand your real concerns and feelings?
You have to feel comfortable with your attorney or you will not have the mutual understanding necessary to really convey information and ensure your interests are pursued. Some attorneys are very cut & dry and sometimes even terse. I proudly have a reputation as a “hand holder” and will strive to keep you comfortable and well informed throughout your lawsuit. Keeping in mind that attorneys generally charge by the hour, this is a difficult balancing act, but you must look to yourself for what you need and desire from your attorney: someone to guide and assist you through the process or someone to merely turn your case over to and allow them to control its direction.
Also, rely on the knowledge and experience of paralegals. Paralegals are amazing additions to a legal team and offer another set of eyes and ears to a case. At our firm, Megan offers a unique perspective and voice that adds a critical layer of experience and observation that cannot be understated. Often clients feel more comfortable discussing certain issues with a woman or a man, feel a connection to another mom or to a single-dad, or just need to take a breather from all the legal talk and just vent to a caring person. Use these resources.
7. What kind of relationship does the attorney have with his fellow attorneys, and if known, opposing counsel?
Professional attorneys that are respected and personally liked by other attorneys can streamline your case, avoid unnecessary skirmishes (saves money), and more persuasive in the courtroom as the Judges know these attorneys are only bringing to them that which needs the court’s assistance to resolve. Watch how the attorneys act in the courtroom. It is interesting how many people have hired us over the years based on how we acted to fellow lawyers (comfortable, respected, friendly) after being uncomfortable with the attorney that had previously employed.
8. How does the lawyer charge for legal services and costs?
Make sure you understand how fees are covered. Does the attorney use paralegals at a lower rate to handle legal work performed under the attorney’s supervision thereby lowering your fees? Or are you hiring a sole practitioner who is charging at their attorney billing rate for all work done on your case? Hourly billing continues to remain the normal method of billing for most attorneys, but flat-fee based and value-billing are becoming increasingly popular and often a better idea for clients. Ask anyone you are considering to hire how they operate.
Also, know that all lawsuits take longer and cost more than you wish and more than you expect. Have an honest discussion with your lawyer about these issues and what you can do to help.
9. If your case is likely to include unique or unusual facts, discuss them with your attorney. Does the attorney have any experience or knowledge relating to the issue?
Oftentimes family law matters include mental health issues, drug or alcohol addictions, financial issues, or domestic violence. Has the attorney ever dealt with cases involving issues similar to those present in your case? Does the attorney have any knowledge or training dealing with such issues or have ideas in how to address them? For example, a working knowledge and familiarity of the issues likely to arise in your case will assist your attorney in crafting requests for relief and dealing with these issues as they arise in a knowledgeable and reason based approach as opposed to one based on fear, prejudice, and uncertainty. It is also important that any attorney you speak with be willing to bring in and work with experts as needed to address specific issues that fall outside their legal expertise.
10. Does the attorney typically settle cases without trial or frequently have to try cases? Is the attorney willing and able to try cases when necessary?
Family law is unlike any other area of law. Trial and the actual process of litigation can often be very damaging to the parties, their family, and especially children. Does this mean that hearings should be avoided altogether? No. But when a client’s goals can be achieved without the stress, cost, and emotional strain that hearings and trial create, I feel it is demanded of the attorney that they find a way to achieve the client’s objectives in this less painful and costly manner. Further, the advent of alternative dispute resolution and general nature of the legal process now encourages the resolution of matters without court intervention. A family law attorney with a record of frequent trials may indicate an inability to resolve cases that should be settled and should be a warning sign to a potential client.
Nevertheless, there are cases that have to be tried and anyone going through a family law matter needs to know their attorney is willing, able, and competent to try their case when necessary. Sometimes issues arise on which compromise is impossible either due to the positions of the parties or by their very nature (e.g. should a child’s name be changed or whether or not a child should be permitted to move across the country).
While some cases demand and require the finalization that can only come from the conclusion of trial and the court’s ruling, I recognize that many cases may be resolved through means that are less costly both financially and emotionally. I am trained and have experience as a litigator, in the Collaborative Law Method, and as a Mediator. My goal is to assist you in getting not just the final result, but a stable result that will not hopefully minimize future court intervention in your life. Relying on my substantial contacts and experience with fellow attorneys, financial, and mental health professionals I strive to employ the appropriate procedures and professionals in each case to assist in fulfilling my client’s true long term and holistic goals. Each case and client is unique and I strive to treat you as such.
Contact me today to make an appointment or for more information on how I may best serve your needs. I hope this website assists you in making the very important decision of choosing an appropriate attorney for your personality, case, family, and self.