The choice of a family law attorney is always very personal. Given the subject matter, you’ll want to work with someone you can trust, who is nonjudgmental and willing to listen and learn about your circumstances. Considering what may be at stake, your choice of lawyer should be experienced, hard-working and committed, but also willing to find ways to save you money and help you move on as soon as is practical. From my experience, here are three questions that every potential client should have answered before making a significant financial commitment to a custody or divorce attorney:
- Will you work as hard to settle my case as you will to try it? At first, this may seem unusual. Working hard to settle means caving in, right? Doesn’t extending an olive branch equate to surrender? Far from it. Contrary to popular belief, 80% or more of divorce cases settle before trial, and that’s a very good thing for your family, your pocketbook and your sanity. Nevertheless, there are still too many family attorneys who apply their war paint as soon as their client signs a fee agreement. They ignore overtures from the other side, or possible avenues for compromise, and take every opportunity to ratchet up the vitriol. Or worse yet, they put their client’s file in the drawer and dust it off a few days before trial, squandering any opportunity for an early resolution. It takes effort to achieve a fair compromise. Even though settlement isn’t always possible, you don’t want your lawyer’s pigheadedness to result in an unnecessarily expensive, time-consuming and painful divorce for you. If your attorney can achieve a fair-to-advantageous result without all of the drawbacks of trial, shouldn’t he or she aggressively explore that option? Failure to do so does a disservice to the parties involved and their families.
- Will you get to know me and my unique goals? Too many attorneys put their cases into preconceived cookie-cutter compartments. Many clients don’t even realize that it’s happening. You’re a father who works full-time? Then you’ll be an every-other-weekend parent. You don’t have a steady income? Then you won’t be able to continue living in the marital home. These are fallacies. Your attorney must take the time to get to know you and your aspirations for life after your family law case. You may want to fight for equal custody, and there may be ways for you to continue to reside in the marital home after your divorce. Your lawyer must find out what’s most important to you, and explain the full range of strategies available and possible outcomes. No two people are the same and every case is different, with different personalities, histories, dynamics and leverage points at work. Your attorney’s obligation is to see the whole picture before diagnosing your case, and then to prepare a custom-designed game plan.
- Will you delegate some of the work in my case to save me money? Hidden costs abound in litigated divorce cases. The discovery process can be expensive, as can various preliminary motions that require your attorney’s time long before a final trial. Digestion and analysis of information and documentation can also be time-consuming, as your attorney learns your history and synthesizes anything that may be of use in your case. If your lawyer handles every single piece of your case, without assistance, your invoice will expand exponentially. The best lawyers are successful in part because of the help that they receive. Junior associates can prepare first drafts of pleadings and settlement agreements. Paralegals can shepherd the discovery process and streamline document review. This delegation of work to individuals with lower hourly rates will significantly reduce your bill. It can also free up your attorney to focus on big-picture issues in your case, as well as strategic decision-making and trial preparation. If your attorney has a team behind them, they will be much more affordable, efficient and effective at the same time.
If you are facing a divorce, custody or other family law matter in Northern Virginia, the experienced family lawyers at Livesay & Myers, P.C. will work hard to correctly diagnose your case, provide a workable and individualized strategy, and attempt to reach an amicable resolution if possible, with an eye toward saving you money throughout the process. Contact us to schedule a consultation today.