How do I choose a lawyer?

You need a lawyer who limits his or her practice to Family Law in the city or county where you live or where your spouse lives. Usually, the best way to find a family lawyer is to ask other lawyers. If you have had a good experience with a lawyer who wrote your will, handled your real estate settlement, or helped you with a business or traffic matter, call him or her and ask for a referral. These practitioners will know the experienced and competent family lawyers, and should be able to give you the names of good attorneys. They will also help you avoid the wrong attorneys.

Your second choice is to ask your family, friends and co-workers for a referral to an attorney. Use caution here, however. People close to you emotionally might think you need the meanest and most aggressive attorney in the community to "protect" you. Few people need such protection. Be sure that the person giving you the referral has had a positive experience with the attorney, and then interview the attorney personally.

A third place to look for a family lawyer is to ask your counselor. Marriage and family therapists, counselors, social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists usually have worked closely with family lawyers before and can help you choose an attorney with the right experience.

Finally, call the bar association office for the city or county where you live and ask for the lawyer referral service. For a small fee, usually about $40, the lawyer referral service will give you the name of a family law attorney who practices in your community. For that fee, you will get a 30 minute consultation with the attorney, which will allow you to interview him or her personally.

When you have an attorney's name, call him or her and schedule an appointment. You should expect to be able to speak with the attorney on the telephone for 10 or 15 minutes free of charge. Ask the attorney if his or her practice is limited to family law, and how much experience he or she has handling custody, support, business valuation or pension division questions. If you are satisfied with the answers, schedule an initial consultation with the attorney. You should expect to pay for the lawyer's time at the initial consultation, so come prepared with a list of your questions and a synopsis of your family's situation and financial condition.

After the initial consultation, if you are not comfortable with the attorney for any reason, do not retain him or her. Go back to step one and find an attorney that you trust, who has a firm grasp on the legal issues in your case, and the experience to see your case through successfully.

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