The first requirement of a domestic relations (or family law) attorney in your area is that the lawyer actually practices domestic relations law in your city or county courthouse. An attorney who practices family law regularly can often handle those cases more efficiently. If an attorney has just a few family law clients each year and usually works on criminal or personal injury cases, he or she may not practice family law enough to really know the law in this area. Many of the lawyers I encounter who practice family law as a sideline seem uncertain of what to do and put their clients at a significant disadvantage both in court as well as in settlement negotiations.
In addition to being familiar with the latest family law cases and statutes, an attorney should be familiar with the court he or she is practicing before. Many of the issues in a divorce are decided based on the judge’s personal prejudices. Knowing a judge or master’s past rulings (or the general disposition of the court) towards awarding alimony, child custody, division of assets and debts and other issues can provide valuable insight.
If you are a military service member, retiree, dependent, uniformed service employee, or federal government employee there are particular rules that may dramatically affect your case. Also, if you have a security clearance facts may come to light that could jeopardize your clearance (and your career). In other cases, it may be to your financial advantage to avoid a final divorce. You should inquire about the attorney’s background and experience in handling military divorce cases. Ask if he or she is aware of the impact of divorce on your military benefits, pension and career.
Be wary of the attorney who promises to make your dreams come true. Almost always a client is worried about his or her case when she decides to hire a lawyer. It’s very easy for an attorney to take advantage of the client’s anxiety by telling the prospective client exactly what he or she wants to hear.
Don’t be the fish who jumps at a lawyer’s promises like bait. Remember you are not paying for an outcome – only the judge controls the outcome of the case (and you can’t pay them). Instead, you are paying for the attorney’s expertise and efforts on your behalf. Those are the traits you should be evaluating during your initial consultation and throughout the representation.