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How to Choose an Attorney

In a family law or matrimonial case, your lawyer is one of your primary advocates. You may or may not have the emotional objectivity or stamina to make important decisions during the legal process; therefore, it is crucial that you carefully choose an attorney. By making a wise choice of an attorney, other decisions usually fall into place.

You must trust this attorney to work with you to protect your legal rights. Often, you will dread the personal risk of giving up some control over your affairs to your attorney who may be a stranger to you. You may feel vulnerable, exposed and threatened by revealing unflattering secrets to your legal counselor. You may feel insecure and not fully confident that you can trust him or her. Will your attorney needlessly run up tremendous legal fees? Will he or she be difficult to contact? Will he or she fail to explain what has been done for you or confuse you with legal jargon? These concerns create much anxiety if you are unprepared on the basics of choosing an attorney.

Finding the right attorney is critical to making life less traumatic during matrimonial problems. You must trust and feel comfortable with the attorney you have chosen to represent you. If someone does not inspire confidence in you, then keep looking. Seeking a competent attorney is not enough. Consider the personal qualities your attorney should have before you start interviewing candidates. Things you should look for are as follows: scrupulous honesty and integrity; sensitive and perceptive communication; good judgment and common sense; discipline and toughness; and creativity in finding constructive solutions. When choosing a matrimonial or family lawyer, I would also inquire whether the individual is a member of the Family Law Section of the State of Alabama and whether the individual is a fellow in the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.

After knowing what to look for in an attorney, you are ready to begin the selection process. The easiest way to find an attorney is by personal recommendations. Ask your friends, neighbors and/or business associates. This is a good method -- as long as you know whom to ask. There are some drawbacks to this method, however. You might not want to ask someone close to you as they will soon know of your problems when you tell them the type of attorney for which you are looking. Your employer’s attorney, court reporters and law clerks are also familiar with good attorneys, since they see many attorneys in action. You may also want to ask other attorneys for a recommendation of an attorney who practices in other areas of the law. This is an excellent way to find a good attorney who specializes in the area of the law in which you may need assistance.

Lawyer referral services sponsored by the local bar association are also excellent resources; however, these referral services do have some drawbacks. They are sometime training grounds for recent law school graduates or incompetent lawyers with few clients. Carefully check out the qualifications and personal demeanor of the attorney recommended to you.

The Martindale-Hubbell Law Dictionary is an excellent way to learn about attorneys. This directory is available at your local library & law school and lists licensed attorneys, along with their education, honors and personal background. As an added attraction, Martindale-Hubbell develops ratings for individual attorneys by asking for confidential opinions of members of the bar associations, including judges, who have some knowledge about an attorney. Two ratings are given. The legal ability rating evaluates an attorney’s ability in his or her city and takes into consideration experience, nature of practice and qualifications. The general recommendation rating considers faithful compliance with standards of conduct and ethics of the general profession, professional reliability and diligence. The directory gives an "AV" rating to the highest rated attorneys.

Below are some excellent questions to ask an attorney during your initial interview:

  • What is your experience in this field?
  • Have you handled matters like mine?
  • What are the possible outcomes in cases such as this?
  • How long do you expect this matter to take?
  • How will you keep me informed as the case progresses?
  • Will anyone else be working on my case?
  • How do you handle your legal fees? Do you charge by the hour? What is your hourly rate?
  • Beyond fees, what types of expenses do you expect to incur in my case?
  • How often will I receive a bill?
  • What are my alternatives?
  • Do you recommend arbitration or mediation?

It is imperative that each client feels extremely comfortable with his or her attorney and that he or she is informed on a consistent basis regarding the progress of their case. I believe that following the above recommendations will ensure that you select a topnotch, ethical, experienced family or matrimonial attorney who is qualified in his or her field.

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