Selecting An Attorney
The legal profession is like any other profession – there are good, better than average, average, below average and bad lawyers. With hourly fees of $200+ and retainers of thousands of dollars most fathers involved in custody negotiations have to get their choice of attorney right the first time.
It is important to do your homework. Spend time online searching for attorneys in your area who practice family law. One place to start would be finding your county bar association. Look for reviews and reach out to family and friends for recommendations. Then find four or five that you want to talk to about your situation.
Remember, this is their job interview.
What questions should you ask?
- What is your background and where did you graduate from law school?
- How long have you been practicing law?
- How much of your practice is family law, and specifically custody law?
- How many custody cases have you done?
- What was the result of your last 10 cases?
- How often do you settle out of court versus having a hearing?
- How many times have you had to go to court in custody cases?
- What were the outcomes for those cases?
- Did any of these last more than one day?
- What were the outcomes for these cases?
- What is your general approach or philosophy in handling child custody cases?
- On average, what kind of custody arrangement do you believe most benefits children?
- What is your approach when working for fathers?
- What kind of obstacles do fathers face in custody cases?
- What approach works best for fathers in custody cases?
- What is your track record in representing fathers?
- Do you tend to settle for less to avoid trial?
Can you give me any references from some other dads you have represented?
- What is your hourly rate?
- Do you require a retainer?
- What other possible expenses might occur?
- Can you give me an estimate of what the total cost may be and also what your billing cycle is?
- Will you personally manage my case or will someone else be responsible for it?
- Will you personally handle my custody negotiations and court appearances?
- Will you be my primary contact?
- What is the best way to contact you (or other person), and what will the response time be?
When you are done, ask yourself:
- How comfortable are you with the lawyer’s approach? Will he or she give you the balance you need between providing direction and being willing to go in the direction you want?
- Is the lawyer willing to fight for more than occasional custody for the father? Is his or her tendency to settle for less to avoid a trial? Will he or she really work do get what you believe is in the best interest of your children?
- Does the lawyer point out several nuances in the custody situation that you wouldn’t have thought of on your own?
- Is the lawyer actually listening to your questions or merely eager to get your retainer?
- Is the lawyer’s estimate of the time/money needed to get through various parts of the process in the same range as our guidance or is the lawyer trying to lowball you?
DON’T SETTLE IF YOU ARE NOT SURE, either on your choice of attorney or on what custody arrangement you are going to work toward. Fathers can be overly deferential in these matters. It is never good for children when their parents are unnecessarily contentious. But, once custody is established it is very hard to have it altered.
You know both the mother and your children better than anyone else. Trust your gut and follow your heart. What is in the best interests of your children, not just today, but also a year from now, five years from now, etc.? You will be paying your lawyer a lot of money, they are working for you, on behalf of your children.
The Dads’ Resource Center can provide coaching and best practices for single fathers.