What criteria should I used in selecting a California Family law attorney to represent me?

a) Value: You should find an attorney that represents a good value which is a combination of an attorney’s years of experience combined with the complexity of the issues at hand. I have been practicing Family Law for 14 years and my fees for my service reflect this investment of my time. There are attorneys that charge less than I do and there are attorneys that charge substantially more than I do. Retainers on the east side typically vary between $1,500 to $7,500 and up. Hourly rates range from $150 to $400 plus an hour and attorneys bill in increments of 1/10th of an hour. “Going cheap” is not the best practice nor is “spending more will get me more”.  Depending on the complexity of your case and your budget, you should hire an attorney that reflects both. 

b) Location: In conjunction with the other criteria listed here, an attorney’s location relative to the Courthouse is an important criteria. Attorneys are more likely to appear at courthouses that are geographically close to their offices. For example, being located in Covina, I appear with great frequency at Pomona, Whittier or Stanley Mosk courthouse, but infrequently appear at the Chattsworth or Santa Monica courthouses. As such, I have a greater knowledge of the judicial officers and local practices at the courthouses that are relatively local to my office. I believe you will get a better result if the location of the attorney to the courthouse is part of your list of criteria in hiring a lawyer.

c) Review websites: It is imperative that you look at multiple review websites rather than rely solely on a single website.  The most frequently used review websites are Google, Avvo and Yelp. I believe that you can get more of a well-rounded overview of a lawyer by looking at multiple sites rather than just one. An attorney may have a great review on Yelp, yet have horrible reviews on Google. Also, you should understand that Yelp buries reviews under “Not Recommended” if certain criteria are not met. Yelp is a publicly traded company and their business model involves advertising. The more people that use the Yelp platform, the greater exposure companies that pay for advertising on this site get. Therefore, businesses in turn encourage their customers to leave reviews for additional businesses so that they will have enough reviews to come out of the “Not recommended” category. As a general rule, I always look under reviews listed in both the general category as well as the “Not recommended”. I also believe it is imperative to look at both positive and negative reviews. If there are negative reviews, did the person leaving the review have realistic expectations? Did the attorney respond to the review? How did the attorney respond to the review? Again, consider the source of the person leaving the review as well as the content of the review.

d) State Bar Profile: All attorneys have a profile on the California State Bar website which is Calbar.ca.gov. It is imperative that, before you hire an attorney, that you review their State Bar website. The State Bar website lists the attorney’s current contact information, where they went to law school, the year they graduated and if they have any history of discipline. Again, not all law schools are created equally and not all schools are accredited by the State Bar. It would seem wise to choose a lawyer who attended a prestigious and reputable law school rather than a less prestigious school. In addition, attorneys likely do not advertise their number of years of experience when they are still relatively new attorneys. Not many people would be impressed with an attorney who advertises “More than 2 years of experience”. As such, you will likely not find that newer attorneys openly advertise how long they have been practicing law. Since the year an attorney graduated is public record on the State Bar website, you can look behind the curtain to see how long an attorney you are looking to hire has actually practiced law for. Finally, if an attorney is disciplined by the State Bar for misconduct, this information is listed on the State Bar website. Certainly attorneys do not advertise that they have been disciplined in the past or the outcome of these State Bar discipline proceedings. As such, it is crucial that you use this free resource in looking at an attorney past record that you may otherwise be unaware of.

e) Single Practice Area: When looking for an attorney, you should seek an attorney that limits their practice to Family Law. Again, Family Law forms that are used by the Court are frequently changed up to twice a year by the Judicial Council at their semi-annual meetings. If the current forms are not used, the pleadings will be rejected, the case will be delayed and you may not be able to correct the mistake. It is better to hire an attorney that is up to date in terms of the current forms to use. Hiring an attorney that exclusively practices Family Law are more likely to be familiar with the local judicial officers as they likely appear more often in front of them rather than those that appear in other types of courtrooms. The most important attribute of an attorney is their reputation. This reputation is built on years of experience with their local judicial officers whom they become familiar with rather than an attorney you may see infrequently and are otherwise unfamiliar with.           

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