Selecting a Family Lawyer: Old School Vs. New School October 29, 2015

When I started practicing law 17 years ago, most attorneys had websites, but the internet was a secondary means for finding a lawyer. At that time, the old school method for finding an attorney was to get a referral. The new school way, though really not new at the time, was to break open the yellow pages.

Fast forward to 2015 and the internet has completely displaced the yellow pages, not only with law firm websites but also attorney referral sites and consumer review sites. But the old school way persists. There’s no doubt that the World Wide Web has completely changed how we access information. Still, some of the most successful lawyers spurn the internet and build their clientele based on referrals.

New School Problems: The Internet is Marketing

So why not just find a lawyer on the internet? You have to remember that the internet is marketing. Lawyers used to spend obscene amounts of money on yellow page ads. Now, even more money is spent on the internet – website creation and hosting; search engine optimization; paid listings; Google ads; pay per click. The list goes on and on and on.

While you may think you’ve found the perfect lawyer on the internet, you may have simply found the lawyer who is best at marketing. Or, you found the lawyer who spends the most money on the best marketing company. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of good lawyers with a strong web presence. But being on the first page of a Google search does not equate with knowledge of the law or excellence in the courtroom.

New School Problems: Information is Power

A referral is a great place to start. But what does that tell you about the lawyer? It tells you that somebody used that lawyer in the past and was pleased. Ultimately, you will have a consultation with that lawyer. That consultation will last 30 minutes to an hour, which may be less time than you need.

The Solution: Do Both

Step 1 – Get a Referral
To get a referral, ask a friend (or better yet lots of friends) who’s been through what you’re about to go through. Everybody knows somebody who’s been through a divorce. Ask your friend who her lawyer was and whether she recommends that lawyer. If not, at least you can eliminate that lawyer from consideration. What would she look for in a lawyer if she had to do it all over again?

Attorneys are also a great source for referrals. If you know a lawyer, even if it’s not a family lawyer, ask for a referral. If you’ve used a lawyer in the past, call the lawyer up and ask for a referral. The local bar association is a close-knit group. We love making referrals to our colleagues. And most lawyers are very particular about who they refer people to. We don’t want our reputations sullied by referring a client to a hack.

Step 2 – Do Some Research
There is a lot of great information on the internet, both about lawyers and about the law. Your consultation will be limited in time. You want to spend that time wisely. Before the consultation, research the attorney. Look at his background and experience. How long has he been practicing law? Does he specialize in family law? Is he board certified in family law?

Next, research the issues in your case. If you expect a battle over the division of property, research that. Child custody? You can find a plethora of information about that. Alimony? You might want to know if you qualify for alimony and what the limitations are. Child support? How is it calculated, and what can you expect?

With a little due diligence, you can make the most out of your consultation. You won’t need to spend a lot of time discussing the lawyer’s background, and you’ll have a basis for discussing the issues in your case. You will also know what questions to ask.

Step 3 – The Consultation
This is, without a doubt, the most important part of the process. It is crucial to meet with the attorney before you decide whether he’s right for you. No matter how strong the recommendation of that lawyer was, choosing a lawyer is a very personal matter. Your problems become your lawyer’s problems.

Here are some things to look for in the initial consultation:

  • Does the lawyer strike you as a person in whom you can place your trust?
  • Does the lawyer listen to you?
  • Can the lawyer articulate a strategy for achieving your goals?
  • Are you comfortable with the lawyer’s practice philosophy?
  • Do your personalities mesh?

Here are some red flags:

  • Does the lawyer spend most of the consultation talking about himself?
  • Does the lawyer have a hard time listening?
  • Is the retainer unusually low?
  • Does the lawyer give vague or ambiguous advice?
  • Does the lawyer talk about the outcome or results?

Step 4 – The Decision
Usually, you can rely on your first impression. If you don’t feel comfortable with the lawyer, move on. Find one you feel comfortable with.

Cost is certainly a factor. But if you let cost cloud your decision, it becomes the only factor. If you are involved in a divorce, the end result will be the biggest financial transaction of your life. If it’s a child custody case, there’s nothing more important. Consider the cost, but understand that cost is not the ultimate decision-maker. Ultimately, your decision begins with the referral and your online research, and it ends with whether the lawyer inspires confidence in that first meeting.


At Hayes, Berry, White & Vanzant, we pride ourselves in providing a high level of service to our clients. We are knowledgeable, professional, responsive, and good at what we do. If you would like to set up a consultation, please contact us here, or call (940) 387-3518.

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