I have been exclusively practicing Family Law for 14 years and I wanted to start this post with a list of some of the worst reasons I have heard throughout the years on how people choose their lawyer. Following these reasons, I will elaborate on why this selection criteria is flawed.
a) Price: Often the phone rings and the party calling will ask the question: What is your retainer/hourly rate? As an attorney (and devil’s advocate) I think if I quote them a lower number, will they select me based on this criteria ago? That is, if lawyer “y” quotes a retainer of $3,600, but lawyer “x” down the street has a retainer of $2,500, would you hire lawyer “x” based on having to come up with only $2,500 vs. $3,600 to start your case? Price alone is a horrible criteria. Typically, an attorney’s retainer and hourly fee is based on the length of time that they have been practicing law and their level of experience. Newer attorneys require less of a retainer and charge a lower hourly fee because they do not have much experience or are a relatively new to the practice of law. It is not too uncommon for newer attorney to take substantially longer to do the same thing that a seasoned attorney due to this inexperience. As such, the lower retainer or lower hourly fee will be depleted much faster and you will likely have to deposit additional funds with your attorney as he/she will take longer to complete the tasks. At the other end of the spectrum, just because an attorney charges a higher retainer or a higher hourly fee does not equate with exceptional service and experience. As stated earlier, attorneys with more experience charge a higher retainer and a higher hourly fee. However, the lawyer may not have experience in Family Law . As such, you will be paying substantially more money to have your case resolved because you are paying for experience in another field of law rather than their experience in Family Law.
b) Ethnicity/Race/Gender: I have also seen over the years people selecting a lawyer based on having a shared ethnicity/race. Mexican people selecting a Mexican attorney because they are also Mexican. African Americans selecting an African American attorney because they are also African American and so on. Having a shared ethnicity or race has zero correlation with competence. Assuming that, rather than a lawyer, you are seeking a doctor to do a heart transplant. Would you rather have a surgeon with years of experience and multiple successful operations rather select an African American doctor because you are also African American. I believe the same logic and rationale applies to the selection of a lawyer.
In addition to a person’s ethnicity or race, selecting a female attorney because your are female etc., fails on similar logic as set forth above. A lawyer’s gender has no bearing on their competency.
c) Location: When I say location, I am talking about the two extremes here. I will start with hiring a lawyer based on being close to your home/place of work (just down the street). With modern advances in technology, the client is only required to go to the lawyer’s office to hire them or to meet with the attorney. Sharing documents between a lawyer and their client is now frequently done online. Documents are shared via Drop Box or some other program or emailed directly to the client or from the client to the attorney. As such, selecting an attorney based on being “just down the street” should not be the primary criteria. As to the other extreme, using an attorney whose office is far from the courthouse where your case will be decided , just because he/she was recommended to you by a friend or because it is close to work (although far from home) is equally not a good criteria to use. Keep in mind that, if you choose to hire an attorney who is close to work or that was recommended by a friend, but is located far from the courthouse, you will be paying this attorney’s hourly fee to sit in traffic from their office to the courthouse. In addition to the extra out-of-pocket cost, you will likely also pick an attorney that is very likely not familiar with the practices of the judicial office that will be deciding your case.
d) 1st Page of Google/Yelp: Attorneys pay thousands of dollars to advertise on Google and be placed at the top of your searches. All too often I receive the spam email where a person promises me if I give him $x per month, he/she will place me on the 1st page of Google for key word “x”. Alternatively, Google advertising (Pay per click) programs will place an attorney at the top of the list and they will pay “$x” if you click on their ad and are taken to their website. These same practices are (pay per click etc.) are also offered on Yelp. Attorneys who pay the big bucks can pay to be at the top of the Yelp listings. Often people looking for a lawyer choose the lawyer solely because they are on the 1st page or listed at the top of the Yelp search. An additional misconception involving Yelp is that Yelp buries reviews of attorneys under “not currently recommended” if the person leaving the review does not have so many Yelp Friends or x number of other reviews or no picture on the Yelp profile. As such, to get all of the reviews, you have to scroll to the bottom of the screen and click on another link to get all the reviews. As such, placement on these various advertising platforms alone is not a good criteria in finding a lawyer.
e) Flat Rates: Similar to the price criteria set forth above, picking an attorney on the basis that they offer a flat rate is equally not a good idea. Very few attorneys offer a flat rate. Most flat rate attorneys are either 1) new starving attorneys who will take any case that walks through the door regardless of the merits of 2) attorneys who may have been disciplined by the State Bar of California and are likely finding it difficult to find people that will hire them. As for the flat rate new attorneys, you may be paying less, but at what expense? If you end up losing custody or your children or paying a high child or spousal support, do you really care if you saved on your lawyer by going with a flat rate. As for the disciplined attorney, you may also get a flat rate, however, why was the attorney disciplined? Disciplined attorneys are not the same as buying a dented can of spinach and saving at the register because of the dent. Disciplined attorneys are frequently disciplined because of some wrong doing involving their clients such as not competently practicing law, withholding client’s funds, non-compliance with the continuing legal education requirements etc. Certainly, you do not want to be the guinea pig to see if the lawyer has learned his or her lesson or whether they will re-offend at your expense. Finally, keep in mind that, if you end up selecting a flat rate attorney, keep in mind that you may not be able to undue/fix (get your kids back/lower your support etc.) the bad work that they have done.
f) Aggressive Attorneys: Selecting an attorney solely because they advertise as “aggressive” should also not be the sole criteria. All too often I see websites boasting that an attorney is “aggressive”. However, when I end up having a case with that same attorney, they are anything but aggressive. Some are actually push overs and are intimated by either being in front of the judicial officer or dealing with someone who has more experience then they do. In addition, aggression alone may actually end up damaging your case rather than being be an asset. Some attorneys would rather litigate (and spend limited resources) just to prove a point or to “see whose right” rather than take a more settlement-minded approach. If parties and their attorneys can reach an amicable resolution amongst themselves in the hallway of the courthouse, they will likely be more satisfied with the outcome and still maintain some control over the outcome rather than leave the outcome to a person in a black robe who may know very little about your situation besides what you set forth in your pleadings.
g) General Practice Attorneys: If you see on an attorney’s website or advertisement any offering of services beyond Family Law, keep on looking. For example, if you see “We provide services for Family Law, Criminal Law, Probate Law etc.”, keep on looking. Although there are general principals in Family Law that remain the same (e.g. property acquired during the marriage is community property), the interpretation of the law and other more advanced aspects of Family Law are ever changing. As of the drafting of this statement (May 4, 2019), over twenty new cases in Family Law have been handed down by the Appellate Court that have a bearing on various aspects of Family Law that may have a direct bearing on your case. Attorneys that practice multiple areas of law, rarely keep track of these new cases as time does not permit them to do so as they are also attempting to stay abreast of other practice areas of law that they are also involved in are having a similar number of cases being handed down by the Appellate Court.
Another reason for NOT selecting an attorney that practices in multiple areas of law is that, because they are so spread out in various courthouses all over souther California, they do not have the same name recognition and familiarity that an attorney that practices Exclusively Family law. As the saying goes: “Jack of all trades and master of none”.