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How To Select An Attorney

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By: Jack W. Abel
Managing Partner, Abel & Zocolo Co., L.P.A.

Once you have decided to hire an attorney, the next question is who to choose. Initially, if you have a regular attorney, talk to him or her first. If he or she does not regularly handle domestic matters ask him if they could make a recommendation. Do not assume that your business attorney is a divorce attorney. If you do not have an attorney, ask friends or relatives for a name or names. Keeping in mind that no two divorces are exactly alike nor are the results ever the same, try to determine whether your friend felt comfortable with his or her attorney, whether they felt that the fees were reasonable, and most importantly, whether they felt that their attorney represented them to the best of his/her ability. If you can still not find an attorney, try calling your local Bar Association for a referral.

Although many other attorneys may disagree, I would recommend an attorney practicing in a small to medium size firm. I would also recommend an attorney with at least five years experience in the field of domestic relations law. It is my own personal view that an attorney in a smaller firm will be able to give you greater personal service and on many occasions at a better rate. Divorce, simply stated, is a very personal matter that requires personal attention.

Once you have selected an attorney, go interview him or her. Ask him his background in domestic relations cases, whether he has tried custody cases and whether she is aware of the tax implications of your particular circumstances. You would be surprised at the number of attorneys who have limited experience in divorce and custody matters. Furthermore, find out whether you can talk to your attorney. In spite of all the skill in the world, your attorney must be able to communicate with you and understand your thoughts and wishes in your divorce. If you cannot talk to your attorney, your divorce, no matter what, will go badly. At your first meeting also be prepared to discuss fees and payment options. Although your attorney will not likely be able to give you an exact figure of what your divorce may cost, they should after listening to the facts be able to give you a “ball park” figure and the hourly rate for the services that he or she will be performing on your behalf. Additionally, be prepared to pay a retainer fee at the beginning and regular bills as you go along. Although lawyers are bound by their canons of ethics to diligently represent their clients to the best of their abilities, human nature dictates that a person who gets paid tends to be more diligent and put forth more effort.

At the time that you meet with your attorney also have all of your information handy. Appropriate financial records such as prior tax returns and pay check stubs are invaluable to your attorney. Other items you attorney will want and need are listings of bank accounts with account numbers, investment account statements, retirement account and pension information, and a listing of any and all real estate you own along with the present mortgage balances due. Also supply your attorney with a list of all your debts. Any other items of value owned by the parties should also be listed along with their approximate values. Be prepared to discuss the facts upon which you feel you are entitled to a divorce.

Finally, the choice of a male or female attorney is strictly one of personal preference and with whom you feel comfortable. The days of bias among the judges is long gone. Either, so long as they meet your other qualifications, will serve equally well.Jack W. Abel is the former chairman of the Family Law Section of the Cleveland Bar Association. He is a mentor for the Ohio Supreme Court Mentoring Project, a former Guardian ad Litem for the Court and focuses on all family law matters including divorce, custody, juvenile and paternity matters.

This article is intended for educational purposes only. It is not to be construed as legal advice. Contact a licensed attorney for legal advice.

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