Family law cases are often very emotional. Whether you’re seeking a divorce, legal separation, child support, or custody agreement, your case is very personal and likely involves some significant life changes. When there are kids involved, emotions run even higher.
Choosing the right attorney is always important, but it’s arguably more critical for family law cases. You’ll need to share very personal details with your attorney, so you need to trust them. Your attorney will likely be negotiating with your estranged spouse or partner, so you need an attorney who is in your corner and willing to fight for you. At the same time, you don’t want an attorney who is overly aggressive and will complicate an already emotionally challenging case. Finally, you need an attorney who listens, understands, and respects you throughout the entire process.
Whether you’re searching for an attorney or you’re evaluating an attorney who you recently hired, it helps to know what to look for and what to avoid. Following is a brief overview of some red flags to watch out for.
1. The Attorney Doesn’t Specialize in your Area
First, you need to work with a family law attorney—not someone who dabbles in several practice areas. Second, you need an attorney with experience working similar cases. A family law attorney who has never represented a client in a divorce might not be the best choice leading your divorce case, just like an attorney who has no experience with negotiating parenting time may not be the best choice for a child custody case. Ask your attorney how many years they’ve been practicing this type of law, and how many cases they’ve successfully prosecuted during that time.
2. You Don’t Feel Heard, Understood, or Personally Represented
It’s okay if your attorney offers recommendations or advice that seems to be counter to your ideas. The attorney is an expert in this practice area, and he or she knows some things based on schooling or experience that are worth listening to. That said, your attorney should still strive to hear your concerns, listen intently to your answers, and above all, represent your best interests. If your attorney ignores you and only follows their own agenda, that’s a major red flag that he or she doesn’t respect you.
3. The Attorney is Demeaning
Keep an eye out for attorneys who disregard your comments or frequently interrupt you. If your attorney rolls their eyes at you or makes rude faces or gestures, you should get up and leave. There are plenty of kind, respectful family law attorneys out there to handle your case.
4. The Attorney Doesn’t Return Your Calls in a Timely Manner
Attorneys are very busy professionals, so it’s not unusual to reach their voicemail. Between court appearances, depositions, mediations, and client meetings, they may be unable to return your call until the next day. That said, your attorney—or their assistant—should reach out to return your call in a timely manner. If you haven’t heard from your attorney for several days, that’s a red flag that something is wrong with your case or that they’ve dropped the ball.
5. The Attorney Doesn’t Remember Important Details About Your Case
Your attorney should know and understand your story. If your attorney frequently forgets significant aspects of your case (e.g. how many children you have, or your preferences for parenting time), that’s a sign that they’re too detached from your case.
6. The Attorney Doesn’t Know What’s Happening With Your Case
When you ask for an update on your case, you deserve an answer in a timely manner. Similarly, if you’re in court, a deposition, or mediation, your attorney should be prepared to provide answers to the judge and opposing attorneys. If your attorney frequently appears confused or doesn’t know the answers, that’s a problem.
7. The Attorney Repeatedly Misses Deadlines
When the stakes are this high, it’s okay to expect perfection. Your attorney charges a hefty fee for their services, so they should be on the ball at all times. Even if you are willing to forgive the occasional human mistake, repeatedly missing deadlines shows that your attorney is handling your case poorly. If they can’t provide a valid explanation, it may be time to find a new attorney who will prioritize your case and track major deadlines.
8. The Attorney is Always Late
Showing up late to court or important meetings isn’t just rude—it can seriously hurt your case. If your attorney has a valid reason for being late, they (or their assistant) should call ahead. You can forgive unexpected traffic conditions or inclement weather, but a history of repeated tardiness is unprofessional.
9. The Attorney Appears to be Unfamiliar With Local Court Procedures
Every state and local government has the freedom to set its own court procedures (pursuant to federal, state, and local laws), so a divorce case in Phoenix may proceed a little differently than a divorce case in Flagstaff. Ideally, you’re working with a local attorney who understands local procedures and has experience with the local court. If your attorney appears to be confused by local procedures, frequently misses deadlines, or has to refile, that’s a sign that he or she may be incompetent.
10. The Attorney is Dishonest
It’s a popular joke that lawyers are good liars, but in reality, a good attorney shouldn’t need to lie to achieve good results. The courts don’t look too kindly on dishonest attorneys, and judges aren’t afraid to deliver punishment for dishonesty, so a dishonest attorney can seriously harm your case. If your attorney appears to be dishonest, ask them in private why they did or said what they did, and hold them accountable for their words and actions.
12. The Attorney is Overly Aggressive
You need a confident attorney who isn’t afraid to go to bat for you, but you don’t want to work with a bully. Family law cases often involve delicate negotiations, and having a pit bull in the room will only fan the flames. It can be a fine line between appropriately aggressive and overly aggressive, but it’s a line you should certainly watch out for.
12. The Attorney is Too Timid
On the other hand, you don’t want an attorney who is too shy or timid to speak up on your behalf. Your attorney should have the confidence to handle tough conversations and speak up when you are being mistreated.
13. The Attorney is Over-billing
Look for an attorney who is clear about their billing practices. If there are charges on your statement that you don’t understand, don’t be afraid to ask for an explanation. Your attorney should provide you with their rates up front, and they should be expected to stick to those rates while you are under contract. When an unexpected charge comes up (and they do, from time to time), your attorney should discuss it with you before putting it on your bill. If you are concerned that your attorney is creating busy work for billing purposes, discuss your case with another attorney.
Meet With a JacksonWhite Family Law Attorney in Arizona
At JacksonWhite we are completely aware of all the factors that contribute to both a positive and negative experience for our clients. It is our awareness of these things, as well as our thorough understanding of Arizona family law, that makes the experience of working with us that much better, and our clients agree. However, we believe that family law cases are so personal and important to the well-being of your family that you should consult with several attorneys before choosing your representation.
Call the Family Law Team at (480) 467-4348 to discuss your case today.
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