So, it looks like you’re going to have to go to court to deal with a family law issue. Among the very first questions you will need to answer is who the right attorney for your case is. How do you know if any given lawyer is any good? How do you know that any given lawyer is going to have the right approach for your case?
The good news is, unless you have to be in court first thing in the morning, you probably have a little bit of time to be deliberate in the selection process. Many attorneys offer free consultations, which will allow you to speak with multiple attorneys and pick the one you believe is best for your case.
Taking a little bit of time to find the best attorney at the beginning of the process can make a big difference in how you think, feel, and react throughout the process. The right attorney will listen to you, understand your goals, and develop a strategy for how to best achieve them. The right attorney will be honest with you if your goals are unrealistically high, and will tell you if you are selling yourself short. The right attorney will advise you, show empathy, and fight for your rights while providing top-notch legal representation. But most importantly, the right attorney will “feel” like the right choice, and connect with you on a professional level.
The first step in the process is to take a look at the basic factors for evaluating potential lawyers. Here are a few things to consider as you research potential lawyers.
Ask around. If you have friends or relatives who have dealt with a similar situation, who did they use? Were they happy with the way the lawyer handled the case? If they were unhappy, scratch that lawyer off the list from the start. There’s no sense in rewarding one poorly done job with another one. On the other hand, if someone you know really liked a particular lawyer, that’s a great starting point.
Family Law Experience. Check their websites to see if their practice includes the type of case that you have. It’s called “the practice of law” for a reason. Experience matters, and it matters a lot. An attorney’s expertise should speak for itself. Family law has many nuances that are often overlooked by attorneys who do not regularly handle family law cases. Therefore, you should look for an attorney whose practice is primarily focused on family law.
Litigation Experience. Moreover, the attorney should also be comfortable handling cases in and out of court. That means they should be well-practiced in settlement negotiations, and have the ability to competently litigate a case in front of a judge when settlement negotiations break down. A well-rounded attorney has experience and expertise in both.
Local Experience. Check to see if the lawyer handles cases in your particular county on a regular basis. Most people who aren’t involved in the legal profession have no idea just how local the practice is. It’s one thing for a lawyer to have a good reputation in general. It’s another thing altogether for a lawyer to have a good reputation with the judge who will be deciding your case.
Online Reviews. Stay away from any lawyer with a lot of bad reviews, especially if those reviews follow a theme like “he ignored my case and didn’t return my calls.” Having said that, every experienced lawyer has had some bad experiences, and good lawyers get some bad reviews sometimes. Be wary of an attorney who has no negative reviews at all, as that might be evidence of “reputation management” rather than reality.
Disciplinary History. Check to see if the attorney has ever had issues with their law license? Look up the attorney on the website for the Illinois Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission, and if they’ve been in trouble for unprofessional conduct, pick someone else.
Cost. Talk about money up front. Working with an attorney can get very expensive very quickly. It’s important to get the money conversation out of the way right from the beginning. This can give perspective on what’s in your budget and help decide if the attorney is outside of your price range. A good family law attorney should be completely forthcoming about the hourly rates charged and the retainer required. While it is often impossible to estimate what the entire case may cost, be wary of any attorney who isn’t willing to have an open conversation about what to expect and how much it may cost. The last thing you want to do is sign on with an attorney and have no idea of what’s coming.
Personal Responsibility. Ask who you will be working with. While the attorney may work within a law firm, it should be clear you will be working with that attorney on your case. The goal is to have a strong relationship with the attorney – not pass you off to someone else in the firm. The staff of your attorney should also be welcoming and knowledgeable enough to provide updates when they are not available.
Routine tasks are usually handled by a paralegal or assistant that understands the logistics of your case. When you’re interviewing, ask about their process to ensure your case is handled by the attorney you have become comfortable with in court, in responses, and in other appearances. If not, this is not the attorney for you.
Vibe. Most importantly, vibe matters. The wrong vibe can disrupt your entire case. You want to work with an attorney that not only has your best interest at heart but one that believes in you and has a disposition that does not make you uncomfortable. If your personalities don’t mesh from the beginning, this may not be the right attorney to work with.
If a lawyer is disorganized in how they handle things, is not very responsive in communications, is distracted or inattentive, or is abrasive when conversing with you, choose a different lawyer. While attorneys are often busy with other cases for other clients, they should never be too busy for you. It’s important that you feel confident in every move your attorney makes and they should be actively involved from the moment you hire them.
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