10 secrets on finding a Family Lawyer that won’t wreck your family
So, how do you go about choosing a family lawyer?
Are you looking for a family lawyer? Not sure who will be a good fit for your situation? It’s not always obvious. The first place to start is to do a bit of research and read some reviews on family lawyers in your area. This will give you an idea of who is providing family law services near you and you’ll get an overview of the costs involved. You may find yourself convinced by the flashiest websites or the biggest practices.
However, the biggest names can sometimes be something to watch out for. Family law should be personal – what’s more personal than family? Big firms and flashy lawyers can sometimes care more about their image and their next big client than they do about you. It’s something to watch out for, anyway.
In any case, word-of-mouth is another common way to find a family lawyer who is right for you. Pay attention to how they are recommended, though. Words like “tough” and “aggressive” may seem appealing at first if you imagine them being on your side. Unfortunately, such attributes can just as often yield costly, litigation-heavy, emotionally draining, and damaging outcomes.
What questions should I ask a family lawyer?
The more experience your family lawyer has, the more rewarding the outcome is likely to be – for all parties involved. Law of any kind can be a complicated field, and when families are involved, it gets even messier. This means there’s no substitute for the kind of valuable experience that a family lawyer with, say, at least 10 years of cases behind them can bring to the table. They’ll be able to provide sound legal advice, navigate the complex legal processes, and have an intuitive understanding of the legal norms that apply to your circumstances.
Of course, the job isn’t everything. A good family lawyer often has a family themselves – empathy allows them to work harder to understand your situation and help you out. This kind of life experience is invaluable in family law. It’s much easier to work with a lawyer who understands the issues you are presenting, whether those are economic or otherwise.
But how will you know if the family lawyer you’re thinking of hiring has these life experiences? Simple: ask. Schedule an appointment or a consultation. This is a big decision, so there’s no need to be shy about it. Ensure the family lawyer you hire can work with you and be an asset to your team.
Finding a family lawyer near me
Don’t let yourself fall into the trap of a big firm with international offices and an expensive website. In law, bigger doesn’t always spell better.
Some of the best family law firms are operating with fewer than ten full-time lawyers. Bigger than this, and things to start to become impersonal – family lawyers are contracted by corporate clients to cover your case, with no real attachment to the outcome. All this, and it will end up costing you more, too! With pressure coming from above, the lawyer’s top priority won’t be helping your case, it will be racking up billable hours. Odds are, you’ll be billed for an associate’s work at the same time and rate as your primary lawyer. Consider the costs of all their extra staff, the extra offices, the fancy website – all of this adds up, so it’s not hard to understand why their fees get so high.
To provide a concrete example, I recently saw a case in which a divorcing husband and wife each hired lawyers from different family law practices – the husband from a big, flashy firm, the wife from a smaller, local outfit. Their lawyers were similarly experienced, and the outcome was not materially affected by the size of either party. Nonetheless, the husband paid nearly $80,000 for his representation, while the wife only paid $24,000.
What are the responsibilities of a family lawyer?
The one thing you don’t want in any family law situation, whether it’s divorce, custody, or anything else, is an aggressive, excitable lawyer who is looking to “dominate” or “get one over” on the opposition. This is a surefire recipe for a toxic outcome. Family law is emotionally charged enough without this kind of juvenile behaviour.
Pragmatism and level-headedness should instead be the qualities you look for. Someone who wants to understand your case and work with you to achieve your desired outcome calmly, not through aggression and conflict. This is a lawyer who wants to solve problems instead of creating them.
One familiar route that the aforementioned lawyers will take is to play up the injurious nature of your situation, getting you fired up for vindication in court. They’ll act like they’re your boxing coach, wrapping your hands and getting you hyped for your time in the ring – and they’re the only ones in your corner. Sure, it all seems quite stirring. But give it a few years, and after a costly, damaging experience, that same lawyer will tell you that you did everything you could, but it’s time to settle out of court. It’s a game to get you to spend much more money. All those hours, and the outcome is the same as if you had simply worked together from the start.
But how do you know ahead of time what sort of person your family lawyer might be? Again, you simply have to ask. In this case, there are questions that can give you the information you need indirectly. How many cases do they take to trial each year? How many are settled out of court? Too many of the former and not enough of the latter should make you suspicious, to say the least. Family law is best settled out of court, with litigation as a last resort only.
Lastly, make sure your family lawyer has your family in mind. Do you still want to be on speaking terms with everyone involved after all of this? Does your lawyer seem like they care about this?
Difference Between An Aggressive And An Assertive Family Lawyer
Although it may be exciting to hear all about the amazing results you will get from the warrior lawyers out there, these are actually the ones you’ll want to avoid. Assertiveness is good, to a point, but aggression is outright detrimental. Aggression only serves to antagonize, and whoever you are dealing with will respond in kind.
Instead, find a family lawyer who looks to understand your situation and approach it with a rational, problem-solving methodology. Quiet assertiveness and confidence will always get you further – both in court and with your family – than will brash arrogance.
Angry lawyers who brag about their courtroom victories are the last people you want representing you. This is a person whose ego would likely not allow you to settle, even if it were the best outcome for all involved. Not to mention the extra costs that come alongside the lengthy court battle they are about to draw out.
Of course, as always, you will have to find out for yourself which among these camps your family lawyer falls into. How do they look at the world? Do they have a family of their own? Avoid pessimism, and look for someone who understands your situation.
Choose A Lawyer That Understand The Interests Of Children
Family law is a diverse practice. In many cases, though, it involves children. These are sensitive cases, and a good family lawyer should know that. The advice and handling in such cases is critical, so if you’re dealing with children in your situation, make sure you pay attention.
While it’s not impossible for a lawyer to represent you well even without similar life experiences, it’s often easier to trust when they do. Do they have children of their own? Do they understand how challenging it can be to navigate the law while raising a child? The emotional, financial, and mental toll that these stressful situations can take needs to be taken into account. Ask whether your lawyer has children, or what role kids have played in their life. Do they seem to care about your children’s situations? What are their thoughts on parenting? Get to know the answers to these questions and more – it will be worth it.
Choose A Family Lawyer Who Supports You In Mediation
Whether you’re sorting out your legal issues in court or through mediation, you’ll need a family lawyer in any case. This becomes particularly true when mediation or other means of settling only achieves partial resolution, and there are still more legal issues to be sorted.
Despite the complications, a responsible family lawyer will understand the value and importance of mediation. Not every issue has to be completely adversarial. There are often benefits for all parties when amicability rules the day. Ask your prospective family lawyer how many cases they’ve taken through mediation, and what the outcomes were. Do they seem disdainful of this process? That’s a bad sign, if so.
Another thing to watch out for is how often the lawyer is present for mediation. It’s, of course, good and important for them to take an interest, and they should be there for important sessions. But if they insist on being present every single time, it could be because they want to throw a wrench in the process. The purpose of mediation is for the parties involved to sort out their issues themselves, not for the lawyers to become adversarial. Not to mention how convenient it is for you to be billed on all of those hours your lawyer is present. The role of a family lawyer in mediation is initially and primarily to advise and explain.
Find someone who understands this and who is willing to be patient with you through such a process. Many lawyers are used to having their clients place blind trust in them, but this is not what you want. Hold out for better. Be prepared, and find a family law practice that can support you in that preparation to ensure you get the best possible outcome from your mediation.
Beware Of A Lawyer Who Uses Intimidation And Manipulation Tactics
Dirty tricks and tactics should be avoided at all costs. Don’t fall for this kind of cheap bravado. I promise: the outcome will not be amicable. Is that what you want out of your situation? However, such lawyers can be consulted with to rule them out of the case altogether, including representing your spouse or any other opposition party. The conflict of interest ensures such predatory lawyers will play no role in your case.
What are these dirty tactics that these lawyers might use, and that you want to avoid? Unfortunately, there are many. To name a few:
- Convincing their clients to empty bank accounts, safes, or safety deposit boxes
- Using custody battles as a threat or as leverage
- Asset seizure
- Lying, manipulation, intimidation, etc.
There are many, many other predatory tactics to avoid, but these are some of the most common. Run far away from anyone with a reputation for these terrible practices. They are sure to turn your case into a toxic nightmare.
How Much Is A Family Lawyer In Ontario
How much does a family lawyer cost in Ontario? Family law is rarely cheap, unfortunately. However, there is still a vast difference in the fees between firms, even when skills and experience are similar. So how can you tell?
Sometimes the consultation tells you all you need to know – exorbitant consultation fees usually mean similarly high rates later. First, you can ask what the lawyer’s hourly rates are. If you’ve done a bit of research already, you should have a few prices that seem like the norm for your area. You can also ask for references to other associates they have worked with and compare fees with them.
Above-average rates are not a bad thing – often, fees are above average for a reason. It’s worth considering if you can afford it, as you may get your best representation in this window. Fees and rates that are way too high above average, though, are of course to be avoided.
If you’re in Ontario, we can provide a short summary to help you understand how much family lawyers will cost in your area.
In the GTA, highly rated family lawyers can charge anywhere from $400-1000 per hour. In regions outside the Greater Toronto Area, you’ll likely see rates closer to $350-600 per hour.
With more experience will likely come higher prices. Family lawyers are no exception. Most family lawyers will also require a retainer, which is an upfront fee for a certain number of hours in advance. This is because family law often deals with clients who end up being unwilling or unable to pay their legal fees. Retainers can be expensive – sometimes as high as 15-20 hours of advance payment (some are as high as $25,000).
However, many of these high prices can be avoided with mediation. You will then pay your lawyer at the end of each consultation, for an average of 5 hours. These terms are generally more than reasonable, and they don’t justify huge retainers. Nonetheless, an honest family lawyer should have no trouble taking you on as a client in such a case, so refusal should trigger your suspicion.
If mediation is not an option, your fees will depend on a number of factors:
- How much of your lawyer’s time you need
- How much reassurance or clarification you will require
- How many phone calls you make (most lawyers charge per call)
And so on. It’s as simple as looking at how much you engage with your lawyer. The more you engage, the higher the cost. Notably, though, there is no data to suggest that the bigger the fees, the more likely your chances of success. So don’t let yourself be roped into paying more than you have to.
What Are Better Female Or Male Family Lawyers
In family law, gender can sometimes play a role in your decision-making. In a divorce case, for instance, a wife may feel she needs a female lawyer, while a husband may imagine a male lawyer is better for him. However, in my experience, there is no evidence whatsoever for this imagined gender bias in outcomes. The gender of your lawyer doesn’t play a role in how they approach your case.
The skills and experience that a lawyer brings to the table are what matters, not their gender. Many top Ontario family lawyers are women, and many are men. The same is surely true in any area in Canada.
So, don’t worry about gender when choosing your family lawyer. Personality, fees, skill, experience, personability – these are the traits you should be watching out for. Your gender doesn’t matter either, just pick the lawyer that works best for you and your situation!
Check If The Lawyer Has Time For You
Again, this is a place where the big firms will often fail you. A family lawyer should have the time to work with you and understand your situation, not just bill you hours whenever they get the chance. Lawyers just starting out may have plenty of time, but they could be short on experience. Finding a balance is crucial so that you don’t have some head honcho taking you on and offloading all their work to associates, either.
There are a number of easy ways to spot when a lawyer simply won’t have the time of day for you:
- You won’t receive callbacks in what feels like forever
- Documents are filed at the last minute
- Delays and adjournments seem like their bread and butter
- They seem overstressed or overworked
All of these are major red flags that your family lawyer won’t have the time for you or won’t get you the outcome you desire or deserve. Make sure it’s the right fit before you commit to a hire
If you’re still convinced by the high-flying, high-priced, fancy firms, you should be prepared for the many issues detailed above. Even if their time management is great, it means they’ll just have an associate working on your case for them. You won’t be getting the star experience you think you are. Meanwhile, you’ll be paying the fees for top-priced representation!
If their time management is bad, well, then what’s the use? Ask yourself if all of this is worth it. The key to any family law situation is to do a serious assessment of the lawyers in your area. Are the family lawyers in Ontario right for you? How many have you spoken with? Remember to ask questions and follow up, as outlined in all we have discussed here.
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