Lawyers

Finding A Lawyer 

And God said: 'Let there be Satan, so people
don't blame everything on me.' And, 'Let there be
lawyers, so people don't blame everything on
Satan.'" George Burns

Finding a Lawyer

                                                                         

Finding a lawyer is an unsettling task. Even though you may have had no contact with lawyers it is prudent to give some thought to what you want to know about a lawyer before you choose one. Begin to think about what you are looking for and what you need to find out to answer the questions which are starting to form. Think about what you are trying to accomplish and what kind of lawyer might be best to assist you in accomplishing your objectives. 

Define Your Own Needs

                                                                        

Start thinking about what you want to know about a lawyer before you even start. Don’t blindly accept the recommendation of another person, however knowledgeable you think they may be. Always tailor your search to your own needs. What kind of divorce do you want? What kind of lawyer might be best to help accomplish your objectives? How much experience do you want the lawyer to have?   There are some lawyers who handle only divorce and custody matters.  Do you need a specialist? Do you want a lawyer who will resolve your situation without causing additional hostility and conflict? Or is your situation one in which force must be met with force? Do you want a lawyer who is better known for an ability to settle cases or for the ability to litigate cases?  (Or, in the terms of a favorite phrase, “winning through intimidation!”) Which do you need? Do you want a man or a woman? Why? How accessible do you want the lawyer to be? How do you want the lawyer to communicate with you? Should you be kept involved, or do you just want someone who will just “handle it”?

Friends

Talk to friends. Sometimes, to your often relieved and grateful surprise, many friends and acquaintances will have shared your experience and already have become involved in the divorce process, either vicariously or personally. In today’s society, many friends will have been involved in divorce and custody cases of their own, or they will be acquainted with the cases of others.  They are likely to know the names of, and have opinions about, lawyers involved in these other cases. Nearly everyone has opinions about lawyers.  However, remember that opinions are usually based upon personal experience. The opinions you hear are often reflections only of what worked or did not work for the person giving you their opinion.  Try to filter out the bitter or sweet salt of their experience and think carefully about what you need.  It is helpful to listen, but it will be more productive for you if you evaluate those opinions in the context of your own situation and your own needs, objectives and desires. Always ask what they liked or disliked about the particular lawyer involved, so you can place their opinion in the context of your own objectives. Your likes, dislikes or needs may be different. As they say, what is good for the goose is good for the gander, but the goose is not the gander. Make them tell you why they were satisfied or dissatisfied. What mattered to them may not matter to you. If they liked a lawyer because he or she was "nasty" or "aggressive", that may or may not fit with your own objectives.  Remember, it is your divorce, your objectives and ultimately your own choice which will affect your own life.

Recommendations of Your Past Lawyer

                                                                                                 

If you have used a lawyer in the past that you respect, ask for their recommendations. But don’t do it blindly. If you have some working hypothesis about the mixture of background and abilities which you think are needed in your particular situation, tell your former lawyer. They are more often than not acquainted with different types of lawyers.  Their ability to assist you in your search is much greater if you can give it this focus.  If you have not used a lawyer in the past, have used a lawyer for reasons other than divorce, or don’t trust their judgment, you need to start elsewhere.

Internet

Most lawyers now have web sites which will give you some idea of their background and expertise. If you have Completely E-Legal in your region, you are fortunate. It has a distinctively local flavor. The Nolo Law Directory can be halpful. “Findlaw.com” is another reference.For specialized expertise, consult the web site of the American Matrimonial Lawyers Association. Its members have been selected by their peers to be members of this prestigious group of family lawyers. If one of them cannot help you, they can refer you elsewhere. The Internet is undoubtadly the richest source of information.

                                                                                                                      

As should be true in all your affairs, be careful, be thorough and listen carefully in your search.

Local Bar Associations

Bar Associations often operate a "Lawyer Referral Service"(Anne Arundel) in which participating local lawyers have indicated their interest in handling cases in particular fields, including divorce and custody.  These tend to be younger lawyers who are in search of business.  However, if your economic situation restricts your range of choice, the fact that a younger lawyer has indicated to the local Bar Association an interest in divorce and custody can often lead you to someone who is both energetic and capable. Some lawyers may be willing to represent people at reduced rates or on a sliding scale based upon income. It can’t hurt to ask. Don’t feel embarrassed. Most lawyers would consider it an intelligent question, and more often than not you will get a willing response. Most City, County and State Bar Associations have a “Family Law Section” which consists of lawyers who have chosen to be in the Section because of their interest or background in the field of family law. Family Law Sections are generally governed by a smaller group of lawyers who are selected to serve on the governing board or Committee. When you call the Bar Association, ask for a roster or list of the lawyers who are members of the Family Law Section or who are  members of the Family Law Committee. You might even get copies of the rosters for the past several years. These “older” lists may also include lawyers actively practicing family law who are not presently members of these professional groups. They may have “been there” and “done that” and be well qualified to help you.

Public Library

The library of the local bar association or law school in your area or at a law firm with whom you have had contact should have in its collection a publication listing the lawyers in your geographic area who are members of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. This is a professional group made up of a limited number of lawyers who are judged by their peers to have experience and expertise in the practice of family law. Membership in this group usually implies a significant amount of experience. If experience is one of your criteria in choosing a lawyer, membership in this group gives you some reassurance.

                                                                                       

At your local library, you can find a copy of a thick and heavy multi-volume publication known as "Martindale-Hubbell".  This is an alphabetical listing of lawyers arranged by state and by cities located within each state.  There will be a “Maryland” listing.  The listings for other states will be useful if your situation involves litigation outside the State of Maryland.  Martindale-Hubbell is published by a “listing” business which charges lawyers an annual fee to have their professional and personal autobiographical information listed, published and then circulated inside and outside of the legal profession. The publication uses a rating system in which lawyers acquainted with the listed lawyer are asked to evaluate his or her legal ability, competence and integrity. The publication uses the results of its survey to assign some of its listed lawyers a “rating”. The purpose of the rating is to give guidance to those who are selecting a lawyer, or are referring a case to a lawyer, in making that judgment. At best, it is an imperfect system, but it has gained a creditable degree of acceptance and has been used for many years. At a minimum, information about age, educational and professional background, areas of specialization and years of experience are data which the “searcher” can find at no cost. If you see a name and qualifications that attract you, you can call that person and either seek a consultation or request their advice regarding other lawyers they believe to be competent in this particular field.  It has been my experience that calls to such attorneys are welcomed, and you can generally rely upon the advice which you receive.

Legal Aid

Although it is not universally true, most legal aid organizations representing indigents do not handle domestic matters unless the case involves domestic violence.  For fiscal and other policy reasons, they have other priorities and, despite the fact that you may be indigent or have insufficient funds to retain a lawyer, they are not available to handle your case. Call and ask.

                                                                                                         

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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