How to Choose a Lawyer
There are many considerations when choosing a lawyer to represent you. You will find a lot of competing information on the web, on TV and in the phone book. Your friends and family are all likely to have advice for you as well. There are some basic things you need to consider as you make your choice of an attorney. Remember, it is one of the most important decisions you will ever make. Prospective clients can check to see if a lawyer has had ethics, administrative or discipline problems in the past by checking the South Carolina Bar website scbar.org and using the member quick search feature. It is important to have an ethical, responsible lawyer. You should never choose a lawyer based on an advertisement alone.
Consider these things:
First, what kind of case do you need help with? Lawyers are a lot like doctors in that most have a niche or area of practice that they focus on. If you need a divorce, you want a lawyer that does a lot of Family Court work. If you ask what percentage of the lawyer’s practice is spent in Family Court matters and that lawyer either cannot or will not answer that question, I would suggest you find another lawyer. If you have been arrested, you want a lawyer with substantial criminal law experience, preferably as both a prosecutor and a defense attorney. If you have been in a car wreck, you want a lawyer who focuses on those sort of cases. If you need to buy a house, you want a real estate lawyer. So go into the decision knowing what kind of case you have and be ready to ask the lawyer about his or her experience in that area of law. Think of it like this: you would not hire an OB-GYN to do brain surgery.
Once you have narrowed your search down to lawyers that practice in the area you need, you will get to other, more subjective considerations. You should be comfortable with your lawyer. You should have confidence in your lawyer’s ability to handle your situation. You should even like your lawyer. However, remember that your lawyer is your lawyer, not your friend.
It is important to find a lawyer whose practice style is compatible with your goals and your personality. All lawyers do not work the same way. Some people prefer a very aggressive approach, others a more subdued approach. Either style of practice is fine, but you need to be comfortable with it. You should ask about how a lawyer typically conducts their cases at your first meeting with the lawyer.
Remember that you are buying a service. The lawyer is selling his or her time, knowledge and skill to you. Therefore, you should listen to the advice that you have bought with your hard earned money.
My philosophy is to always be honest with my clients, the Court and the other party. I tell my clients the truth about their situations, whether that truth is painful or not. However, I do not ever let my client be bullied or attacked. I am tough when I have to be, but always in a polite and professional way. I fully believe that mediation and compromise are the keys to long term successful divorced relationships. However, if the other side is not willing to compromise, then there is no choice but to fight. I will leave no stone unturned in vigorously pursuing litigation when necessary.
Litigation requires a great deal of work and if your case has to be litigated, it is important to have a plan or strategy. The plan includes a great deal of preparation for the divorce or custody trial. No lawyer should be expected to give you a complete plan or strategy at an initial consultation. However, your case plan will develop over time. You should expect to be an active participant in the planning and execution of the plan. Recent South Carolina case law provides for attorney fees to be awarded against parties that are particularly uncooperative or who prolong litigation unnecessarily. This is also an important consideration in preparing for trial, especially in divorce or custody cases in South Carolina.
If you are headed to Family Court, take the time to really consider who you want to represent you. Make sure your divorce lawyer or custody lawyer is experienced.
M. J. Goodwin