Having a family attorney on retainer is a forward-thinking move that will protect you and your loved ones before the need arises. Just as with any profession, there are those who truly care about the people they serve. These lawyers take the American Bar Association Model Rules of Professional Conduct to heart. And then there are those who past clients would not hire again if given the second chance.
How can you make sure that you find a long-term association? Here are things to look for when finding a family attorney.
- A clean background.
Do a background check on the attorney you are considering. Check with lawyer disciplinary agencies to find out if he has had any disciplinary actions filed against him. Other questions to ask include: How long has he been practicing? Have any malpractice lawsuits were filed against him? What about misconduct charges or complaints? These and other pieces of information can be found online.
- A good reputation.
What do past and current clients have to say about this family attorney? Did he handle the case in a professional manner? Was she approachable? Did he have sufficient experience in handling the case presented? You can also find out what his peers think of him through peer review ratings. These ratings are given by judiciary and members of the bar in the US and Canada.
These days, it’s almost unthinkable to purchase any item without reading reviews first. Neither should you hire a lawyer without first hearing others’ past experience with the lawyer. You might find one or two disgruntled clients who are quick to cast shade. But if a lawyer’s actions have been persistently above reproach, that fact will eventually become clear the more you learn. Ask for a list of references from the attorney you are thinking of hiring, and do your own research as well.
- An understandable fee structure.
Do you understand the attorney fees and how to calculate payment? A trustworthy attorney is one who will have no hidden fees and will make sure there are no surprises on your end. Two common forms of fee structures include hourly billing or a flat-fee billing arrangement. But even if a flat-fee appears low and reasonable, additional costs might not be included. So it pays to ask what the total billable expenses per month will be before signing any documents. Additionally, you will want to ask if he requires a representation agreement, or if he uses a written fee agreement.
- Clear communication.
Being a good communicator is a skill that not everyone has honed. A lawyer may be brilliant in the courtroom, but lack the organization ability to keep you up to speed. Or perhaps she hates technology and does not return text messages, emails, or phone calls. Another aspect is whether their communication style is one that you feel comfortable with. Abrasive communication does not lead to feeling comfortable in your lawyer’s presence. Your family lawyer is someone you should be able to trust and communicate with openly and honesty.
What happens if your communication styles do not match? You may find yourself not as open as you need to be for your lawyer to be effective in representing your interests. The good news is that understanding a person’s communication style is easy to determine. Did he or she take the time to address all your concerns? Or did he or she sweep some of your questions aside with generalities? During your initial meeting, the lawyer will be doing his or her best to make a good impression. So small concerns will likely turn into larger issues down the road. Go with your instincts on this one.
- Well-staffed and capable of handling your case.
Does the potential lawyer score high on all of the above points? Even if the answer is yes, if he or she is too busy to give your case the attention it needs, your case will suffer. Finding a law office that is well-staffed and capable of giving your family the attention you need should also be on your checklist. One way to evaluate this area is to measure their responsiveness to questions sent via email. If they get back to you promptly, that’s a good sign. But if they take over 32 hours to respond, you might want to keep searching.
Finding a lawyer you can trust during some of the most difficult moments of your family’s life is not something that should be done on the fly. Do your research so that the person you hire is one that will be in it for the long haul.