How to Find a Family Attorney

Three Parts:Beginning Your Search for a Family Law AttorneyMaking a DecisionAvoiding Bad Attorneys

Family law attorneys handle cases involving marriage, divorce, child support, adoption, and other issues involving the family. Family law lawyers practice civil law, which is completely separate and distinct from the criminal justice system. If you need a pre-nuptial agreement, a divorce, or you are considering adopting a child, you should consider hiring a quality family law attorney. While there may be a lot of attorneys to choose from, not all attorneys are as good as others.

Part 1
Beginning Your Search for a Family Law Attorney

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    Decide whether you need a family law lawyer. Sometimes realizing your need for an experienced attorney can be the hardest thing. Oftentimes you might think you can handle family matters on your own, but in reality, getting help from a family law attorney may be the best option. Navigating the legal system can often be confusing and convoluted. If you are considering any of the following, you should think about hiring an attorney:
    • Getting a divorce;
    • Deciding issues of child custody;
    • Collecting child support;
    • Adopting a child;
    • Determining the legal rights of a child; or
    • Getting a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement.[1]
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    Determine where you will need to hire the lawyer. The legal profession is regulated on a state-by-state basis. Therefore, lawyers are licensed to practice only in specific states and are not usually able to practice anywhere they want. In order to hire an attorney that will be able to help you, you will need to look for an attorney who can practice law in your jurisdiction.
    • For example, if you live in California and want a divorce there, you will need to hire an attorney that can legally practice in that state.
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    Know what to look for in an attorney. When you are looking to hire an attorney, try and find one that is familiar with the local judges, court staff, customs, rules, and other attorneys. Finding an experienced attorney who is familiar with these things will greatly increase your chances of having a positive and successful encounter with the attorney you hire. When you are going through the hiring process, think about these things when you are making your list of possible candidates.
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    Do your research. These days there are many ways to find a quality family law attorney. If you want to use the internet, make sure you are going through reputable and reliable online sources and avoid scams. A great place to start is the American Bar Association (ABA). While they cannot help you directly, they have great resources to get you started.[2] The ABA maintains a national database of local bar associations who often have lawyer directories.[3]
    • After finding your local bar association, go to their website and use their services. For example, in Ohio, you can search for attorneys not only by their names but also by their specialization.[4] This is great because you can search for attorneys who specifically do family law.
    • You can also use public interest websites like A site like this focuses on helping low income individuals find quality lawyers.[5]
    • Try online directories but be aware of their limitations. These sites are often for profit and only list attorneys who pay to be a part of the service. Popular directories include those found at,, and Use more than one directory to get the best results.[6][7][8]
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    Talk to friends and family. Aside from using the internet, talking with friends and family can be a great way to find a quality attorney. Ask them if they have used a family law lawyer's services and if so, how they liked their experience. Keep in mind that their opinions may be skewed based on the outcome of their case. Even great lawyers don't win every case.
    • The most important questions to ask your family and friends involve process questions. For example, ask them what the attorney's fees were like, ask them about the attorney's punctuality and professionalism, and ask them about their knowledge of the law.
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    Look at an attorney's reviews. When possible, take some time to look at lawyer reviews. Reviews are a great way to get an idea about other peoples' experience with a particular lawyer. A lot of websites offer these reviews, including Avvo, Findlaw, and[9][10][11]
    • You can also check out an attorney's social media presence, which might include Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin. These sites will often include personal information about an attorney including their educational background and work history.
    • Do a general online search for the attorney's name and check out any news stories or press releases available. High profile lawyers will often be in the news for their cases and you can learn a lot about an attorney by what news outlets say about them and the cases they take on.
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    Check an attorney's history of discipline. Before making any decision, you need to check an attorney's history of discipline, which can be found easily online. An attorney can be disciplined by their state bar association for breaking ethical rules or for getting into legal trouble. You should not hire an attorney who has a history of getting in trouble as it is a sign of an untrustworthy individual. To check an attorney's history, go to your state's supreme court website or state bar website.
    • For example, in Ohio, you can access discipline history by searching the state's online attorney directory, which is found at the Ohio Supreme Court's website.[12]
    • In California, you will go to the California State Bar website to search for an attorney and their history of discipline.[13]
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    Narrow your choices. Once you have a list of candidates, you will want to narrow that list down to your top three to five choices. The factors you will use to narrow down your list will depend on your situation and what you find important. For example, some people may be focused on the cost of hiring the attorney while others may be focused on the attorney's education and experience.

Part 2
Making a Decision

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    Call your top choices. After you have narrowed your list of candidates to around five, you should call them and ask some general questions. This phone call is not supposed to be an in-depth conversation about your case. Instead, you should call to get a feel for the office and the way the attorney handles their business. During the phone call, you should ask some of the following questions:
    • Whether there is a charge for an initial consultation;
    • What a common fee arrangement may look like; and
    • If they are looking for more clients.
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    Set up initial consultations. If you are happy with your phone conversation, set up an initial consultation. An initial consultation is a chance to meet the attorney in person and to ask them anything you want about your case. While this will not be an in depth conversation about the strengths and weaknesses of your legal problem, it will give you an idea of how the attorney will handle your case. While many attorneys offer free initial consultations, some do not. Schedule your free initial consultations before scheduling one you will have to pay for. You may find an attorney you like before having to pay for a meeting.
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    Gather documents in anticipation of your meetings. When you go to your initial consultation, you will want to bring as many documents regarding your legal issue as possible. Even if the attorney does not ask you to bring anything, you should do so anyway. Be sure you are not bringing originals in case they get lost on your way to the attorney's office. Make copies and bring those. In family law matters, an attorney may like to see some or all of the following documents:
    • Tax returns and pay stubs (especially for divorces, child support, and prenuptials);
    • Documents showing the assets you have, which could include stocks, bonds, and investment accounts (especially for divorces);
    • Any court documents you have received as part of an ongoing case; and
    • Any documents related to past family law matters such as divorce decrees and adoption records.
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    Know about your case. During the initial consultation, the attorney will likely ask you in depth and focused questions about the facts of your case and the people involved. If you are able to answer these questions, the attorney will be better able to give you an accurate portrayal of your case and the legal issues surrounding it.
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    Make a list of questions to ask. While the attorney will certainly be asking you questions, you will also have the opportunity to ask questions of them. Come prepared with a list of questions, not only about your case but also about the attorney. Some areas to address include:
    • The attorney's fees;
    • Their personal background;
    • Their educational qualifications;
    • Their work history;
    • Their areas of expertise;
    • Their thoughts on the strength of your case; and
    • Ideas about how they would handle your case.
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    Attend your initial consultation. Be sure you arrive on time and you are dressed appropriately. While you are looking to hire the attorney, the attorney can always refuse to take on a case if they do not feel comfortable themselves. Pay attention to the details of the office and see how everyone interacts. If you end up hiring that attorney, you will be in their office quite a bit interacting with the employees.
    • Ask your questions and answer the attorney's questions. After the initial consultation, thank them for their time and let them know your timetable for making a decision.
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    Make a final choice. After you have completed all of your initial consultations, it is time for you to make a final determination about who to hire. Look back on any notes you took while researching the attorneys, and look back on any information you gathered while taking part in the initial consultation. Use this information to make your decision. The lawyer you hire should be trustworthy, punctual, kind, and knowledgeable. Above all, you should feel comfortable working with the attorney you choose.
    • Make sure to choose an attorney who handles your type of case regularly. For example, if you are going through a divorce, hire a divorce lawyer and not a lawyer who usually handles adoptions.

Part 3
Avoiding Bad Attorneys

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    Watch out for attorneys that solicit you. Attorneys are prohibited from soliciting business directly from you in person. You must have already expressed interest or given them permission to contact you in order for them to solicit business from you. If an attorney finds you, as opposed to the other way around, you should consider staying away from them.
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    Do not hire an attorney that pressures you. If an attorney is pressuring you to make a hiring decision, they likely have ulterior motives for wanting you to hire them. Not to mention, an attorney is prohibited from pressuring you into any fee arrangement or client-attorney relationship. If you feel like you are being pressured, find another attorney.
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    Avoid attorneys that will not discuss their credentials. An attorney should be happy to talk about their educational background and professional credentials. If they are unwilling or hesitant to do so, you should look elsewhere. Even when an attorney does give you their credentials, be sure you follow-up and check out what they say. A great way to do this is by looking the attorney up in your state's attorney database. These are often found online at your state's bar website or your state's supreme court website.
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    Look out for unethical attorneys. Attorneys who lie to you, who are not punctual, or who act in a general unethical manner should not be hired. Lawyers are required to abide by professional rules of conduct and those lawyers who cannot shouldn't be trusted.
    • For example, if a lawyer asks you to lie on the witness stand or tells you to burn a document, you should immediately reconsider your choice to hire that attorney.


  • When you hire an attorney, they work for you (not the other way around). Therefore, if you are not completely satisfied with your representation, it is well within your rights to fire that attorney. Before you fire an attorney, sit down and discuss your issues. Oftentimes, firing an attorney can lead to delays in your case while you look for a new one.

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