10 Tips When Hiring a Divorce or Child Custody Lawyer in Austin, Texas
What to look for when hiring a Divorce or Child Custody Lawyer in Austin:
1. Experience. For most people, this is quite simply one of the biggest events in their life. You want someone with experience to help guide you through this time. You do not want this to be your attorney’s first case or be part of your attorney’s “learning curve” when it comes to preparing the best strategy and evidence in your case.
2. Expertise. All lawyers in the state of Texas are legally able to do divorce work, but you should look for someone who does only family law or for whom family law makes up most of their practice. An easy way to determine this is to look for a board certified lawyer, one who is certified in family law. This title is similar to a board certified surgeon in that the lawyer has exhibited expertise in a special area. Specifically, a board certified family law attorney in Texas has passed an additional exam related to divorce and child custody laws and continues to receive education in that specialty area annually for more hours than is required by a lawyer without certification. A lawyer board certified in family law is an expert in Texas family law.
3. Responsiveness. Do you feel like the lawyer will be responsive to your needs and able to respond to your questions timely? Will they give you a cellular phone number to reach them out of the office? The reality is that your attorney may not always be available. They may be in court on another person’s case and focused on that case. That is fine, because when it is your turn in court or mediation or some other time you will want the attorney devoted to your case. But does the attorney respond within a day of your communication? Does the attorney not respond at all? You deserve a family law attorney who will respond to you when you have questions about matters involving your divorce and child custody case.
4. Who will be handling your case. All too often at some firms, you have an initial consultation with the lawyer and that may be the last time you talk to him or her until you go to court. I believe that it is important that you are not “passed off” to a legal assistant. A legal assistant can be a valuable part of your team, but you are hiring the lawyer for their advice. You should be able to get what you are paying for
5. Billable time. In the area of family law, most attorneys charge an hourly rate. For board certified attorneys in the Austin, Texas area this usually runs from $325 per hour up to $500 per hour or more. When you are being charged these amounts how the time is calculated can have a huge impact. Are you being charged by the quarter hour or by the tenth of an hour? At Merritt Law we charge by the tenth of an hour or in six-minute increments. So if you call on the phone and have a five minute phone call, at Merritt Law you are charged for .1 of an hour versus firms who bill in quarter-hour increments who would charge you .25 of an hour for the same phone call. Paying by the quarter of an hour makes this phone call cost over two times more than someone who bills by the tenth of an hour; using the rates above this means an extra cost for that phone call of $48 – $125. You can see how that can increase your costs over the course of your entire case.
6. Expenses and Fees. A normal case may have expenses and fees such as filing fees service fees, expert fees, or even document coping charges when sent to a copier service. But what else are you being charged for? In-office copies? Faxes? Some attorneys try to pass these incidental fees on to the clients, which can add up over the course of your case. I believe that these expenses are part of the business and we do not charge them to our clients.
7. Technology. Is the firm leveraging technology to help you in your case? In the past when we received a letter from opposing counsel about your case, we had to mail that letter to our client for them to review. Now, it can be scanned and set almost immediately. This is but one way that we have learned to leverage technology to our client’s advantage.
8. Information. Does the attorney provide you with information for you to make the decisions or do they drive the case? At Merritt Law we believe that it is important for clients to have as much information as we can give them to make educated and informed decisions with attorney guidance. Once the client makes the decision, then it is the attorney’s job to advocate for that decision. Some attorneys believe that they should make the decisions. It’s your case and your life – you should make the decisions.
9. Reviews. Look online at the attorney’s website or Google the firm name There should be client testimonials about the attorney from actual clients. This can give you bits of insight to the attorney. If there are only bad reviews, do you think that your case will be different?
10. Comfort level. This is simply one of the most important facts for you to consider. You need to feel comfortable with the lawyer that you choose. You need to believe in him or her and believe in the advice that they give you. The reality is that this person will know your deepest, darkest secrets and know more about you, both good and bad, than only a handful of people. If it takes several consultations to find that comfort level then so be it. It is better to spend time up front finding a lawyer with whom you click than getting into court and not feeling like the person sitting next to you cares about you or your children.
The list of criteria is not exhaustive, however these are things you should look at when considering hiring a divorce or child custody lawyer in Austin, Texas.
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