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Tips for Selecting a Family Law Attorney and Going Through an Initial Consultation

attorney consultation
Photo Credit: Alex Green

It can be daunting to select a family law attorney and attend an initial consultation. Below are tips to cover when selecting an attorney to meet with for a consultation.

Selecting an Attorney

Family law is the most common type of litigation in California and the choice of family law attorneys in any geographic area is dizzying. How should you select an attorney?

The first thing you should do when selecting an attorney is check the State Bar Website to see if they are an attorney in good standing. An attorney facing bar discipline should be avoided like the plague.

It is a good practice to select a few attorneys to meet with at first. Preferentially select attorneys on the basis of personal referrals over online reviews. If a friend, family member or colleague has interacted with an attorney in their own case or the case of a person close to them, that attorney has already gone through some vetting by a person you trust. Online reviews can be helpful, but are not complete guides or break-downs of an attorney’s strengths and weaknesses. Online reviews can also be gamed.

Make sure that the attorney does the kind of work that you need. Some attorneys cover every type of family law issue while others specialize in issues like domestic violence or adoptions. Additionally, some attorneys cover a wide geographic area while others specialize in working in a specific county.

When calling the attorney’s office or emailing the office, the attorney or staff should answer every question clearly and forthrightly. The attorney should be clear about their years of experience, what they do and their hourly rate. If you have a court hearing coming up in your case, clear the date with the attorney to make sure they are available for it.

It is supremely important to determine whether the attorney has already spoken to your ex. An attorney-client relationship arises during an initial consultation, even if it is a free consultation. The attorney in this case owes a duty of confidentiality to the first person they speak to and are forbidden from speaking with you if they have already spoken to your ex. You don’t want to open up about your position to someone who may represent your ex and can’t be your lawyer.

Determine whether the attorney will review any of your documents. This can be very helpful with the consultation, but is not a given in many consultations. If the attorney will not review court pleadings or other records, be prepared to sum up the relevant parts of the records in your narrative.

The Initial Consultation

You have selected several attorneys and have scheduled initial consultations with them. Now is the time to get ready and make the most of your time with each attorney.

attorney consultation
Photo Credit: Sora Shimazaki

Consultations are short and typically only last an hour. It is important to prepare for the consultation in order to make the consultation fruitful. Prepare a narrative that outlines your story and the issues you want to address. You may even want to email a written narrative to the attorney in advance in order to prep the attorney and give that person a chance to prepare and even research any sticky aspects of family law.

At the consultation, a good attorney will review the basic process of the litigation you are in or want to initiate. For example, if you want to start a divorce an attorney should describe how a case is initiated, the preliminary declarations of disclosure, discovery and hearing practice and the judgment phase - at the minimum. Running along this should be a discussion of relevant legal issues like the concepts of community property or the best interest of the child.

Before diving into any legal analysis, you should be given a chance to tell your story and present the issues you want to address. A good attorney is a good listener who responds to your situation with empathy and sensitivity. Be wary of an attorney who cuts you off or barrels through a pre-programmed spiel.

After you have told your story, an attorney should frame your story in light of established legal principles and tell you what you are legally facing. For example, in a divorce case, the attorney should describe basic legal principles pertaining to property division, child and spousal support, child custody and visitation and attorney’s fees – all tailored to the facts of your situation and as is relevant to your situation. The attorney should provide some perspective and concrete steps for action. Don’t leave the room unless you are given next steps you can take whether you retain the attorney or not.


At the end of the day, you should select an attorney you feel comfortable with, who has been vetted, has the experience you need, who is a great listener, is empathetic and who has the skills to translate your story into legal action.

See first-hand how a great consultation works by calendaring a free initial consultation with the Law Offices of Jane Migachyov NOW.

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