Navigating the legal system is confusing and complicated under the best of circumstances, and it can seem even more intimidating when you’re going through a serious family law matter, such as divorce or child custody.
In cases like these, the last thing you need is for your interactions with your attorney to pose yet another challenge. Before you hire a family law attorney, here are four questions you need to ask him or her. By doing a little legwork now, you can find an attorney you can trust and feel comfortable with at a cost that your budget can handle.
How much experience do you have?
Family law in New Mexico is a constantly evolving field. You want an attorney who has the years of experience needed to operate within the system. Law school helps someone think like a lawyer, but it doesn’t prepare him or her to practice in court; that’s something that only comes with experience. You can also ask about the experience of staff members in the attorney’s practice. This is especially useful when it comes to the people who could be working on your case.
What is your average case load?
Your case demands attention, and an attorney with too many cases and too little help will not be able to give yours the focus it needs. There’s no “magic” case number limit. The number of cases one attorney can handle depends on his or her capabilities and staffing, so use your best judgment here. A sole attorney with 20 cases at one time may struggle even with staff, but a team of attorneys with employees may be able to effectively manage that many cases all at once.
Response time can also tell you a bit about how well a particular firm is handling its current caseload. If you’re able to get in contact with people and get answers immediately, it’s more likely that particular attorney’s office is able to handle its current docket of cases effectively. If your phone calls, emails and questions have gone unanswered for days, you’ll need to look elsewhere. Being able to communicate in a timely manner with your attorney will be crucial in your case, and if the firm is struggling with that now, it’s unlikely that it will improve after you sign on.
Do you practice in court?
While you’re likely better off in terms of cost and emotion if you can come to an agreement in your case without going to court, going in front of the judge may become necessary despite your best efforts. Finding out that your attorney has little to no litigating experience when you need to go to court could be a disaster in your case. An attorney who isn’t comfortable with litigation may shortchange your case to avoid it, so it’s best to discover what you can about this experience area from all of your prospective attorneys.
How do you bill?
One important aspect of the attorney-client relationship is billing. You should ask for and receive a detailed statement of the attorney’s fees and billing practices, including any extra charges that may be applicable in your case. Being buried in legal fees you can’t afford to pay will make your family law case even more stressful, so make sure you understand exactly how much the attorney will charge and how he or she will bill you.
If an attorney does not seem to be upfront or honest about his or her billing practices or fees, look for someone else. An ethical attorney will have no problem explaining his or her fees and billing practices, which can go a long way toward putting your mind at ease when it comes to your finances and your case.