6 Questions to Ask Your Family Law Attorney
The attorney-client relationship for a family law matter begins with an initial consultation. This conversation sets the foundation for all other decisions and discussion about your case. Due to the gravity of this conversation, many family law firms in Oregon and Washington the initial consultation to be before any work is done on your case, and most request that it is an in-person meeting.
For attorneys, the initial consultation is the first opportunity to ask questions and learn about your legal matter, but it is also the appropriate time for a client to ask questions of his or her attorney. You want to understand if the lawyer is a good personality and strategic fit for you, and because everything discussed in the initial consultation is confidential, it is the perfect time to ask questions that help make this determination. These are six questions that can help you decide if a family law attorney is right for your case.
#1: Have You Handled Other Cases Similar to Mine?
Every family law case is different. Your family, your concerns, and your desired outcome from a family law matter are unique, and all of these considerations affect your case. However, experience is an important quality of a family law attorney. Experience gives the lawyer a basis for strategy and approach to your case, and insight into the options for navigating the specific aspect of your legal matter. In particular, if your family law matter is contentious or involves a complication, you want to ensure a family law attorney has some basis to address that element.
#2: Who Else Will Work on My Family Law Matter?
Many people meet an attorney with the expectation that person will personally handle their case, but might not be true. It is likely that more than one attorney or individual at a law firm will handle your matter. Many family law firms have assistants, paralegals, or associate attorneys that support a partner, but every firm is slightly different. In some instances, an entire team will be involved in your case. This division of work can be incredibly helpful for ensuring your legal representation is cost effective and efficient, but you also want assurance that the responsible family law attorney closely manages your matter.
The initial consultation is the best time to understand the structure and approach at that particular law firm. Understand who will be your first point of contact at the firm, and how much work you should expect the partner to handle personally. As well, if other attorneys will be involved in your case, it is acceptable to request the opportunity to meet or speak with them.
#3: Questions of Cost
Not a single question, but many. Questions of cost are imperative to ask and answer in an initial conversation with your attorney. You want to understand what costs are included to achieve your desired outcome, and provide an honest assessment of your ability to afford those services. Some cost questions to raise with a lawyer include: how and when the lawyer sends an invoice for payment; if you need to pay a retainer; what is the attorney’s hourly rate; and what other expenses do you need to consider.
#4: What Will Be Your Approach to My Case?
While a family law attorney may not have enough information at an initial consultation to provide a definite or detailed answer to this question, it is important that you understand the lawyer’s approach and priorities early in the attorney-client relationship. You want to know if the family law attorney is going to consider alternative-dispute resolution, such as mediation, or foresees that your case will go to trial without a settlement. If you are speaking with a family law attorney in Oregon or Washington about divorce, then asking about the lawyer’s approach will also address the availability of a collaborative divorce.
Another way to phrase this question is to ask a family law attorney if there are alternatives to trial and if he or she intends to pursue them.
#5: What Factors Could Influence the Outcome of My Case?
From the start, most clients want to understand not just the possible path of their case, but also the potential outcome. However, the result of any family law matter is dependent upon several different factors. These factors are frequently noted and understood by lawyers, but rarely inquired about by clients. Better knowledge of these factors helps to set expectations and stay informed about your legal matter.
#6: How Long Will the Case Take?
Clients are surprised that questions of duration are very difficult question for a family law attorney to answer. There are several variables that influence how long your case will take and when you can expect a final resolution. Response and strategy of the other party and court orders can all impact the length of your case, and in some instances drastically.
However, in your first meeting a lawyer should be able to provide some estimates on timing and duration. For example, an experienced family law attorney can describe how long similar cases lasted in the past and discuss what aspects of your case might change this approximation.
Have an Initial Conversation with Your Lawyer
At Gearing Rackner & McGrath, we welcome these and other questions during the initial consultation with any client.