A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO SELECTING THE BEST DIVORCE LAWYER IN IRVINE
CHOOSING THE BEST FAMILY LAW ATTORNEY IN ORANGE COUNTY – A PRACTICAL GUIDE
Choosing the best attorney to handle your divorce, domestic violence, paternity or other family law matter can be one of the most important decisions in your life. It is important that you take the time to research your options and interview numerous attorneys to choose the proper fit for you. There are hundreds of divorce attorneys in Orange County of varying backgrounds, skills and experience. This guide is intended to provide you with a list of items to think about when the important decision of retaining an attorney for a divorce or family law matter will be made. While we are divorce attorneys and are excellent at our craft, this page is not intended to promote our firm. This page is simply intended to provide you with ideas to consider when searching for your divorce lawyer.
FINDING THE RIGHT PERSONALITY & THE TRAIT OF LISTENING
The very first consideration when searching for a divorce law firm and attorney is to find an attorney that you get along with, that you respect, and that listens to you. Attorneys by nature like to talk, but when you first meet an attorney their job should be to listen to your explanation of the facts involved in your case and to understand your goals and desires in the case. Divorce attorneys will only understand the likely or possible outcomes in your case if they listen to you.
Over the years, we have had a significant number of potential clients call our firm that already have attorneys and they are looking to make a change. The most common reasons clients want to hire a different attorney is because their attorney (a) doesn’t call them back; (b) doesn’t listen to them; (c) doesn’t work with them on the case.
In our experience, the best divorce attorneys we have worked with on cases are the lawyers that listen to their client, understand their goals, advise their client about the proper direction to move forward in the case, but they must also have the ability to be aggressive when necessary. Successful attorneys often get along well with their client but are not particularly viewed as an overly nice person by the opposing side.
Finally, successful family law attorneys almost always have one trait in common: they get along well with their opposing counsel. Attorneys can be aggressive and unafraid to litigate, but be cordial and professional with their opposing counsel. There is an important reason for this, which is that the goal in every case is to reach a settlement. If the opposing attorney hates your attorney, the chances of settlement will be significantly reduced. Settlement reduces the time and expense of a case. Therefore, if your attorney and opposing counsel do not get along, it will cost you money. Of course, many times your attorney may not be the problem and it is opposing party’s lawyer that is just too difficult and is not helping resolve the case; in such a case, it won’t matter that you have a reasonable attorney.
Family law attorneys must have significant experience in order to properly handle a divorce or other family law case. This is not to say that an inexperienced attorney cannot successful complete a case; however, there is an extremely small likelihood that an inexperienced attorney will resolve your case with a result favorable to you, at an expected cost, within a reasonable time-frame.
There is a practical reason that experience matters in a divorce case, which is the overall cost will be reduced by having an experienced attorney. This concept seems counter-intuitive since the more experienced attorneys often charge a higher hourly rate. The reason is because experienced attorneys already have a significant knowledge base concerning divorce law and procedures, which they do not need to spend time, and charge you, to research.
More importantly, when you are negotiating a divorce settlement or litigating important issues like spousal support or child custody in court, you want to have the comfort of knowing that your attorney has been there before, they know what to expect, they know the players like the judge and opposing counsel, and they have the respect of the judge that will be making all the decisions that affect your life.
HOW TO FIND OUT WHETHER AN ATTORNEY HAS EXPERIENCE
Ask! Most family law litigants interviewing lawyers fail to ask relevant questions about an attorney’s experience. Attorneys are not created equal. There are excellent attorneys, good attorneys, average attorneys, and bad attorneys. Just because someone completed law school and passed the bar does not mean they understand how to properly handle your divorce case. Make a list of questions for an attorney you are interviewing to inquire about his or her experience, specifically relating to applicable facts of your case. For example, if you have a high-asset case with property, businesses, investments and those issues are extremely important to you, have a list of questions ready for the attorney you are interviewing tailored to those issues. If child custody is important, have a list of questions ready about the attorney’s experience handling custody and visitation matters. Here are some questions you might ask:
- How long have you been practicing law? How long have you been practicing family law specifically?
- Have you handled a divorce case involving a custody where one parent makes unilateral decisions for the child without including the other parent?
- How many divorce cases have you handled?
- How many cases have you completed, start to finish, involving significant assets and income?
- How do you prepare your clients for child custody litigation?
- Are you settlement minded? Do you prefer settlement or litigation in a divorce case?
- Have you appeared in front of many of the Orange County Family Law Division judges? How often to you attend court?
- How do you utilize technology in your office?
- How much experience does your paralegal have in handling divorce cases?
- How often does it typically take you to return a client’s telephone call?
- Do you have email available outside the office?
If a family lawyer is offended by these questions, they are probably not the right fit for you. Perhaps they don’t have the requisite experience to respond accordingly, or they feel they are too important to answer such questions. Either way, an attorney should have no problem answering these kinds of probing questions.
Another way to determine whether an attorney has experience in divorce, paternity, domestic violence, child custody and other family law issues is to find out if they are a Certified Family Law Specialist. A CFLS has achieved an accreditation from the State Bar of California as an expert in all family law matters. A Certified Family Law Specialist must show that they have years of relevant experience, provide case-specific experience, obtain positive reviews from their colleagues and judges, and pass a rigorous one-day exam that has an approximate 30% pass rate. There are only about 150 such specialists within Orange County for family law.
DON’T BE OVERLY CONCERNED WITH A DIVORCE ATTORNEY’S HOURLY RATE; FOCUS ON WHETHER THE HOURLY RATE IS REASONABLE CONSIDERING THE ATTORNEY’S EXPERIENCE
Attorneys charge a wide array of hourly fees for their services in Orange County. Some attorneys will charge as low as $250 per hour, while other attorneys charge upwards of $800 per hour. We believe that the attorney’s rate should be reasonable considering their experience and efficiency. Most experienced divorce lawyers that do the best job on cases in Orange County charge between $300 and $400 per hour, in our view.
Remember, as explained above, an attorney may only charge $250 per hour but if it takes them twice as long to complete a task as it should, it really costs you $500 per hour. Attorneys that charge too much per hour usually just want to have the perception that they are excellent attorneys. We have handled many cases against attorneys that charge $600-$800 per hour and can attest to the fact that we have handled cases with better attorneys that charge far less.
A LAW FIRM’S STAFF IS IMPORTANT
One of the important, overlooked factors of a good divorce law firm is the staff that will work on your case. Paralegals provide significant work and effort to help resolve a typical divorce or other family law case. They often answer questions that arise during the day-to-day occurrences of a case, and they prepare nearly all of the paperwork associated with a case. When you hire an attorney, you also hire their staff. Don’t hesitate to ask to meet with the paralegal before hiring the attorney to make sure they are a good fit with your personality.
MAKE SURE THE ATTORNEY EMBRACES TECHNOLOGY
If a divorce lawyer is hesitant to embrace technology, think twice about hiring them. Technology can and should be a divorce attorney’s best friend. There are ample resources available on the internet that can provide excellent information (including evidence) for your case. Perhaps more importantly, attorneys bill for the time they spend working on your case. If they could have used technology to cut their time by half or two-thirds, you are paying for the attorney’s lack of technological proficiency.
Our firm knows a lot of technology and divorce. Click here for a fantastic guide about how technology can be very useful in divorce cases.
INTERVIEW MORE THAN ONE DIVORCE LAWYER IN ORANGE COUNTY
There is no reason you should only interview one divorce attorney for your case. As we discussed, choosing the right attorney can be one of the most important decisions of your life.
USE THIS CHECKLIST FOR CHOOSING THE RIGHT DIVORCE LAWYER FOR YOUR CASE
- Research options for attorneys online
- Check out a lawyer’s reviews online, if available
- Call your local bar association (i.e. the Orange County Bar Association) for a referral
- Narrow down your candidates to 3-5 attorneys in an area that is convenient for you to get to
- Prepare a list of questions (some options above) for the attorney you are planning to interview
- If you have been served with divorce paperwork, bring a copy of those papers with you to the meeting
- Prepare an Income and Expense Declaration and Schedule of Assets and Debts in advance of your interview
- Arrive at your meeting a few minutes early to fill out the “intake sheet” that almost all divorce attorneys require
- Ask questions about the attorney’s staff, and if you think you might want to hire the attorney, ask to meet his or her paralegal.