By: E.A. Putman
Sometimes relationships dissolve and parties to that relationship are required to invoke the legal process to move forward. Whether it is a child support, visitation, custody or divorce case, one or both parties will find themselves reaching out to a family lawyer at some point. When you embark on a journey that requires a family law attorney, you’re presumably stressed, scared and searching for the quickest and easiest solution to your problem. The family court system can be an intimidating process, so you’re looking for an attorney that’s capable of not only filing pleadings, but one who can address your individual concerns and guide you through the process.
There is a lawyer for everyone. Want a lawyer who meets at Starbucks? Want a lawyer who’s office wall is decorated with accolades? Want a lawyer who gives you access to their mobile line? Want a lawyer who’s your personal hype man? There are 98,671 active members of the State Bar of Texas. There is one for you. So, how do you choose the “right” family lawyer for your case? I have outlined four things you should take into consideration: Consultation, Credible Reference, Communication and Costs.
Prior to practicing family law, I practiced criminal defense and met a few of my clients for the first time at their first court setting. It worked in criminal law. But, in family law, it is inconceivable to not meet your lawyer well in advance of a court setting. Furthermore, it is ill-advised for one to hire a lawyer without so much as a consultation. Whether the consultation is free (not TPF) or requires a fee, it is an opportunity for the client to determine from the outset if the legal relationship is a right fit–if the clients goals comport with the lawyer’s strategy.
The consultation is a missed opportunity for both parties if the client does not feel comfortable in speaking frank about their situation. There is nothing more damning to a case than a half-truth. There is nothing more damning to a plan of action than unrealistic expectations. Thus, my first rule with any prospective client is “Don’t lie to me/ Tell me the worst thing the other party can say about you.” My second point is to always discuss the range of outcomes in a case (thank you criminal defense experience).
Before social media influencer was a profession, I decided to put out family law content through Facebook and Instagram that would engage readers. Memes, Thursday Thoughts, Monday Motivation and more filled the timelines of strangers and TPF Facebook page was replete with activity. Great photos, witty content and providing sharp commentary on the latest issues in family law are keen for a society where 1/7th of the world’s population is active on Facebook. Your family lawyer should also be able to muster a reference from a credible source. What do their reviews say? Are the reviews objective? Do you know another lawyer or a friend who could recommend their service?
Sometimes you may not be able to have someone you know refer a lawyer. There are several lawyer referral services, but even so, schedule a consultation. Evaluate for yourself.
Communication is key especially in a field of law that is heavily procedural and where emotions are running on adrenaline. Lawyers are bound by the Texas Rules of Disciplinary conduct to “keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter and promptly comply with reasonable requests for information.” Rule 1.03 (a). Nonetheless, that does not mean communication will take place on a daily basis.
Family law cases, if not an exigent situation where health and well-being is a concern, can takes months or years to resolve. It is imperative to ensure you and your family lawyer are on the same page with communication. In an engagement letter or legal services agreement, a lawyer will outline their time frame for response. Unfortunately, because we live in a hands on world where there are multiple modes of communication (email, phone, text, social media apps) and we can receive immediate gratification, it is assumed that communication should be as such. That is not always the case. However, there are lawyers on demand (I know of none at this time of the writing).
Many parties are concerned with the costs of litigation. Family law is not cheap (relative), but it can be affordable when you choose the lawyer who is right for you. The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees a person right to the assistance of counsel in criminal prosecutions. Save for Enforcement of Visitation or Enforcement of Child Support, which both can carry criminal consequences, parties to a family law case can choose to hire private counsel or proceed pro se.
I examine costs when it comes to selecting a law school. When one of my students ask me should they go to a Tier 2 school with no scholarship or a Tier 3 school on a full ride. I won’t blink to tell the student to go where the money is–meaning take the cheaper option. However, the same attitude cannot be applied to selecting an attorney. Likewise, the lawyer who charges more may not be best suited to handle your temperament on the days that the case looks bleak, to deal with an opposing counsel who’s ego precedes their clients wishes and to understand that at the end of the day, the parties will always be connected as co-parents. Costs are an extremely important factor and should be cautiously weighed in selected a family lawyer.
The relationship with your family lawyer is as important as the relationship that brought you to that family lawyer. Choose wisely. Schedule a consultation, do your research on reputation and be honest about your expectations.
The Putman Firm, PLLC is a family law litigation firm that handles a wide array of family matters including criminal matters that intersect family law, i.e. family violence assault cases, protective orders (criminal and civil) and allegations of child abuse.
If you or someone you know is facing a challenging family matter, contact The Putman Firm, PLLC at (281) 501-9033. You can also schedule a consultation by visiting Your Family Law Attorney.