It's sad but true that consumers lack good options for shopping for services from professionals such as attorneys. We have a higher quality of information about toasters and tennis shoes than we have about legal services. Still, there are a few things that you can and should do before hiring an attorney for your grandparents' rights case.
Develop a List of Possibilities
Start at the website of your state's bar association.
Most have a function where you can look for lawyers. Look for those in your area who practice family law. Look at the credentials of those that come up. The website should tell you if the attorney has been sanctioned for any reason by the bar association. If the attorney has a clean slate, that's good but not particularly impressive. Most lawyers do. Go ahead and use this website to generate a list of possibilities.
Next, weed out those that don't handle grandparents' rights cases. Even some who specialize in family law don't take grandparent visitation cases. On the other hand, any attorney who handles custody cases should be able to handle a suit for grandparent custody. Websites and yellow pages often detail the types of cases attorneys handle. If in doubt, make a phone call.
If you are looking at a local lawyer, ask everyone you know about their dealings with local family law attorneys.
Those in associated fields, such as police officers and child welfare workers, are most likely to have an opinion. Take everyone's opinion with a grain of salt, however. Some people aren't able to be objective about those whom they have faced in a courtroom. You can check online reviews, but you should be even warier of them as it's impossible to check their veracity.
Interview the Candidates
The next step is to interview the attorneys you are considering. Many lawyers offer free consultations in which you will give a rough outline of your case and the attorney will give you a rough estimate of your odds of success. If you are looking at a lawyer who is located some distance from your home, you may be able to make your initial contact via the website and conduct the initial consultation by video conference.
Don't be afraid to make the following inquiries:
- Ask how many similar cases the attorney has handled and what the outcomes have been.
- Ask whether the attorney practices in the courthouse where your case will be heard.
- Ask what method you should use to contact the lawyer and how long you might have to wait for a reply.
- Ask for a rough timetable of how the case might proceed.
- Ask about fees, how the fees are determined and what circumstances could cause additional fees.
- Ask what you will be charged if you decide to drop the case or if you are unhappy with the attorney's handling of the case and wish to terminate the contract.
Making the Decision
There are bad reasons to hire lawyers. These include:
- The lawyer is extra nice and accommodating, and you don't want to seem unappreciative of the time that he or she has already spent talking to you.
- The lawyer seems extremely tough and aggressive. A bad-tempered lawyer can be a nightmare to deal with and isn't always successful in court, either.
- The lawyer paints a rosy picture of your odds of success. Grandparents' rights cases are difficult to win. Any lawyer who tells you differently is probably angling for fees.
On the other hand, if you get very good vibes from a lawyer, it may mean that you will be able to work well together. Just don't let such feelings overrule more important considerations, such as qualifications. Very few of us have infallible intuition. It's unwise to go on intuition alone.
Never hire a lawyer without a written agreement about fees. That doesn't mean that you will know exactly how much you will have to pay, but it will give you a chance to push back if you think you are being overcharged.
Be a reasonable client. Legal matters move slowly. Delays may not be your lawyer's fault. In addition, you are not your lawyer's only client. It's fine to call if you haven't heard from your attorney in a while, but don't be that person who calls weekly.
If it becomes immediately obvious that your lawyer is not going to give satisfaction, terminate the arrangement as detailed in your written agreement. You will have to pay some money, but it's better than throwing good money after bad.
Grandparents can act as their own attorneys. This works best when the case is fairly simple, when your state readily makes forms available and when you are willing to put in many hours on your case.
Free or reduced-cost legal advice may be available through Legal Aid or through an appropriate social service.
- See Also: 6 Steps for Estranged Grandparents
- Learn More: Getting Your Grandparent Visitation Order Enforced