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A letter to a family/divorce lawyer with questions before engagement

If you have spent less time searching for the right family lawyer than you would normally spend before buying a car or a house then you may need to review your choice once more. After all it is your future, money, property and the relationship with your children that might be affected by the wrong choice.
The questions in this letter are simple because they require only a “Yes” or “No” answer. The answers however will give the family law client an insight into the lawyer’s experience, expertise and efficiency.

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A letter to a family/divorce lawyer with questions before engagement

  1. 1. Choosing your family lawyer A sample letter with questions to a prospective family lawyer Disclaimer: The author of this sample letter accepts no responsibility for any errors or omissions, and expressly disclaims any such responsibility. The material in this document does not constitute legal advice and is provided for general purposes only.
  2. 2. [Name of lawyer/law firm] [Address of law firm] [date] Dear [Sir/Madam or name of lawyer] CHOOSING MY FAMILY LAWYER I need to retain the services of a family lawyer. I understand that you practice family law and would like to ask you some preliminary questions before I make an appoint to see you in person. I believe that your answers will assist me in choosing the most suitable lawyer for my case. Questions: 1. How long have you been practicing family law? 2. Are you an accredited family law specialist? 3. Do you have experience in alternative despite resolution (ADR)? 4. Do you have experience in collaborative law? 5. How much of your caseload involves family law? 6. Are you going to manage my case personally on a day-to-day basis? 7. If someone else will manage my case on a day-to-day basis can you please answer questions 1 to 5 regarding that person? 8. Does your firm have a quality management system in place? 9. Do you offer alternative billing arrangements to the billable hour such as fixed fees? 10. Do you give opinion to clients on the likely outcome of their matter? 11. Do you provide your clients with a step by step management plan for their matters? 12. Do you provide an estimate of costs for each stage of the matter? 13. Do you provide a list with the major variables which may affect the cost estimate? 14. Do you provide an estimate of how long the matter is likely to take to finalisation? 15. Do you provide your clients with a regular progress report? I am looking forward to receiving your response soon. I thank you in anticipation. Kind Regards [Your Name] [Your Address] [Your email] [Your phone]
  3. 3. EXPLANATORY NOTES TO QUESTIONS If you have spent less time searching for the right family lawyer than you would normally spend before buying a car or a house then you may need to review your choice once more. After all it is your future, money, property and the relationship with your children that might be affected by the wrong choice. The questions in this letter are simple because they require only a “Yes” or “No” answer. The answers however will give the family law client an insight into the lawyer’s experience, expertise and efficiency. 1. How long have you been practicing family law? If you have a skin problem you would consult a dermatologist and if you have an eye problem you would consult an ophthalmologist. The same principle is valid when choosing a lawyer. If a person has a family law issue than they would need to see a family lawyer with extensive experience in the family law arena. 2. Are you an accredited family law specialist? Accredited family law specialists must have minimum years of experience and successfully pass a test before they become accredited. Such lawyers are likely to practice predominantly in family law. 3. Do you have experience in alternative despite resolution (ADR)? Court action is the last resort unless there are urgent matters to be brought before the court. Alternative dispute resolution is a collective term for how parties can settle disputes, with (or without) the help of a third party. A lawyer with such experience is a great asset. 4. Do you have experience in collaborative law? Collaborative law is an ADR method enabling separating couples to work with their lawyers to avoid the uncertain outcome of court action and to achieve a settlement that best meets their individual needs and those of their children. The main distinguishing feature of collaborative law is that the couple signs a contract binding each other to the process and disqualifying their respective lawyer's right to represent either one in any future family related litigation if negotiations break down (both parties’ lawyers must have experience in collaborative law). This method of resolving family law disputes is not necessarily less costly than the other methods but would be less stressful. 5. How much of your caseload involves family law? To get a better perspective of your lawyer’s experience in family law this is an important question to ask. Ideally your lawyer should spend most of his time resolving family law disputes. 6. Are you going to manage my case personally on a day-to-day basis? Now that you have asked questions directly related to that person’s experience and expertise ensure that your matter is not being passed on to someone else for day-to-day handling.
  4. 4. 7. If someone else will manage my case on a day-to-day basis can you please answer questions 1 to 5 regarding that person? It is common for experienced lawyers to have a heavy caseload and pass some of the matters to other lawyers within the firm. You want to ensure that whoever is handling your matter has the necessary knowledge and experience. You don’t want to be paying for someone’s training. 8. Does your firm have a quality management system in place? A quality management system increases efficiency, predictability and quality. 9. Do you offer alternative billing arrangements to the billable hour such as fixed fees? Time costing arrangement is often compared to signing a blank cheque and handing it over to your lawyer. For a comprehensive analysis of the billable hour arrangement and why you should consider its alternatives read the Honourable Wayne Martin (Chief Justice of WA) Perth Press Club address. 10. Do you give opinion to clients on the likely outcome of their matter? Your lawyer will advise you on the best course of action to achieve your objectives. Your lawyer is not a prophet but should be able to advise you on the possible outcomes in your case. 11. Do you provide your clients with a step by step management plan for their matters? Legal work, including family law, requires careful planning if it is to be provided efficiently. A step by step project management plan is essential if you want to maximise efficiency and minimise your legal costs. 12. Do you provide an estimate of costs for each stage of the matter? In Australia your lawyer must give you a fee estimate for each stage of your matter. 13. Do you provide a list with the major variables which may affect the cost estimate? A fee estimate is what it says it is – only an estimate. Ideally your lawyer should provide you with a list of all the variables that may affect this estimate. Such information will reduce the likelihood of unpleasant surprises in relation to your legal costs later. 14. Do you provide an estimate of how long the matter is likely to take to finalisation? Once instructed your lawyer should be able to give you an estimate of how much time (a time range) your matter is likely to take to finalisation. 15. Do you provide your clients with a regular progress report? How do you keep track of the progress of your matter? One way is to receive from your lawyer a regular report with an up to date status of your matter. Costs reports should be free .

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If you have spent less time searching for the right family lawyer than you would normally spend before buying a car or a house then you may need to review your choice once more. After all it is your future, money, property and the relationship with your children that might be affected by the wrong choice. The questions in this letter are simple because they require only a “Yes” or “No” answer. The answers however will give the family law client an insight into the lawyer’s experience, expertise and efficiency.

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