Q. What should I ask a family law attorney to see if we are a good fit?
A. Before you step into a lawyers office, you should know something about them. Today this is easy. Go to the California State Bar website. Search the attorney's name. You will learn where they attended undergraduate school and law school; when they were admitted to the Bar, whether they belong to any Bar Sections and stay current with the law, and how long they've been practicing. Not all law schools are created equally.
You will learn whether they have been disciplined. Lawyers can be disciplined for a number of reasons; some go to the essence of that attorney's character and affect their reputation in the community, including with Judges before whom they appear.
Second, ask for a referral. Be sure the reporting person is reliable themselves, not over-conflicted, and that they have a basis for their opinion.
Referrals from long practising mental health professionals are an excellent recommendation.
Referrals from other lawyers is a very good way to choose a lawyer, and if you know an attorney run the names you are considering by him or her. AVVO rates lawyers in terms of client satisfaction, reputation, and achievement. Martindale Hubbel is another resource.
Web sites, like this one, are also a good place to start. They may tell you something about the attitude of the attorney and the style of their practice, or they may be a misleading billboard. Most attorney websites are put together by advertising firms and don't reflect the real personality of the lawyers. Many lawyers pay ghost writers to put up blogs or "articles" on their sites.
They subscribe to "newsletters" that they appear to have, but have not, written.
Thurman Arnold has researched and written every word on this site (truly). We don't believe there is another family law website in the country that matches our commitment in making dissolution related information available to people for nothing.
Many lawyers will not charge for an initial consult. The Law Firm of Thurman Arnold III does not charge for initial consults, over the phone or in person, and we usually spend a half hour to an hour with clients when we first meet them. We want to know about you, and it is important that you get to know us.
Remember that lawyers are busy professionals, and time is their stock in trade. It isn't ethical for you to interview lawyers to gather free information or just to validate your opinions.
Asking the attorney their opinion on issues important to you at the initial meeting is not inappropriate or off limits in the slightest.
You are trying to determine several bits of information:
1) Is this attorney actually experienced in ways that are helpful to you?
Family law is complicated because it is not just the lawyer's experience with the law that is important, but it is also their familiarity with professional and life situations similar to your own.
2) What is the attorney's attitude about how divorces should be handled? Does she know how to listen?
Is that attitude consistent with your own goals? For instance, if you intend to lie to your spouse, hide assets, and if you care only about the outcome from your own perspective, you would need to hire a lawyer who tends to practice in a way that accomplishes that goal. If that is who you think you are, you want a divorce gunslinger.
But, beware, these lawyers will treat you the same way as you treat others.
If instead you are like most persons involved in the trauma of divorce, rational one day but distressed and confused and even nasty and reactive the next, you need someone compassionate and ethical to guide you. If you think that being ethical means being soft, examine what it is in your thinking that concludes that.
Conflict resolution is not the same as conflict avoidance. You do need to make sure that your lawyer has the background, ability, experience, and interest in you to manage your case. The best attorneys have some educational background in the family sciences or family studies, and regularly undertake family law continuing education. Such training reflects an unusual commitment to the craft that may distinguish them from the pack. The Law Firm of Thurman Arnold III actually lists our experience, training, and continuing education on this site to evaluate - we challenge other attorneys to do likewise.
3) You need to feel that you and the lawyer you hire are a good fit. If it reliably seems that the two of you can act as an empathetic team, and that you value the same things, you are on the right track.
Here's a detailed article I've written on the subject that will give some additional pointers for selecting your family attorney.