Hiring a Minnesota family law attorney can be stressful. Odds are you haven’t been through the family court process before. Where do you start? We recommend contacting several family lawyers and asking them about their practice and experience. But what should you ask? You don’t know what you don’t know, right?
Here are 20 questions you can use as a starting point for discussion with any Minnesota family lawyer you may be considering:
1. Do you specialize in family law?
Like doctors, the most effective family law attorneys tend to specialize in one or two areas of practice. Gone are the days of the “main street” lawyer who dabbled in a bit of everything. Family law is ever-changing and has become quite complex. The best Minnesota family lawyers possess a deep understanding of child custody issues, child development, domestic violence, parental alienation, property valuation, taxation, and a host of other nuances that frequently arise in family court.
Our lawyers specialize in family law. It’s been our primary practice area for over two decades.
2. How many family cases have you handled?
The top family law attorneys in Minnesota have typically represented hundreds, if not thousands, of clients. Quite simply, there is no substitute for decades of experience in family court. You should explain your situation to any family lawyer you contact and ask them to describe any other cases they have handled that are similar to yours, along with the outcome.
Our lawyers have represented thousands of clients since 1998.
3. Do you have experience with family court cases in my county?
From the temperament of judges and court personnel to procedures and courtroom expectations, every county in Minnesota is different. What works in Hennepin County may not be well-received in Anoka County. It is important that you find a family law lawyer who has handled a number of cases in the county in which your case will be venued.
Given our location, most of our cases are venued in Hennepin, Anoka, Sherburne or Wright County. However, we routinely appear in other Twin Cities counties, including Dakota, Scott, Ramsey, Washington, Isanti and Chisago.
4. What is your practice philosophy?
You are trusting a family law attorney with all that is important to you. You should seek to understand how they view the role of a family lawyer. Are they settlement-oriented? Or, do they take a “scorched earth” approach? While neither is necessarily right or wrong, what fits with your personal philosophy? Most reputable family law attorneys work hard to settle matters as cost-effectively as possible, taking matters to trial as a last resort.
Our philosophy is to try the least expensive options first, including direct discussion with the other side or some form of alternative dispute resolution.
5. How many cases have you tried?
While the goal is to resolve matters outside of the courtroom, some cases do require a trial. In considering the retention of a family law attorney you should ask about the number, and types of, cases they have taken to trial. It’s a delicate balance. You probably shouldn’t hire a family lawyer with no trial experience. What if your case doesn’t settle? At the same time, a family court attorney who brags about the countless trials they’ve handled may be overly litigious. The ideal combination involves a family lawyer who is prepared to “speak softly, but carry a big stick.”
Our attorneys have tried cases throughout the Twin Cities and greater Minnesota. Some have involved just a few hours. Others involved more than a week. We typically try between two and four cases per year.
6. What percentage of your cases settle?
The top family law attorneys in Minneapolis settle more than 95% of their cases. For a skilled family lawyer, “settlement” doesn’t mean giving in. Rather, it means the attorney is doing his or her job by gathering the right information and making a persuasive argument to opposing counsel about an issue. That requires more skill and legal acumen than tossing things to a judge and hoping for the best.
Between three and four percent of the cases we handle end up in trial. The remainder are settled – most within a few months.
7. Will you be my lawyer?
Many Twin Cities family law attorneys hire associate lawyers to help with their caseload. Associates are typically recent law school graduates who are assigned work from a senior family lawyer. In some situations, the lawyer you retain will delegate responsibility for a file to an associate attorney. While some clients are OK with that type of arrangement, most find comfort in knowing their lawyer is actually “their lawyer.”
Our law firm does not employ associate attorneys. The lawyer you speak with and hire is the lawyer who will be with you every step of the way.
8. What role does your support staff play?
Most family law attorneys in Minnesota have a support staff to assist them in moving matters along. Paralegals and legal assistants are the most common types of professionals. A paralegal typically helps a family lawyer with routine drafting, information gathering, speaking with clients and trial preparation. Legal assistants perform more administrative tasks, such as scheduling, preparing exhibits, transcribing and preparing correspondence.
Our experienced and friendly support staff care deeply for our clients. We work as a team to ensure the best possible outcome.
9. Do you have an annual billable hour requirement?
Many family law firms operate in a target billable hour system. A family lawyer’s value to the firm is measured in the number of hours that are charged to clients in a given year. The more billed time, the better standing the attorney has within the firm. If you are considering hiring a lawyer who is one of many within a family law firm, the odds are very good that there is an expectation concerning billable hours. On the flip side, some family law attorneys practice in a smaller, more personal environment. Quotas fall by the wayside and client satisfaction is the measure of success.
Our law firm does not have a billable quota. Rather, we focus on resolving matters as cost-effectively as possible.
10. What certifications or qualifications do you have?
The best family law attorneys in Minneapolis have much in common. Most have been peer-recognized for their skill and expertise. Many have been qualified to serve as early neutral evaluators and mediators in family court cases given their experience and ability to work well with clients and opposing counsel. Others speak and teach at continuing education seminars or write published family law articles.
Our lawyers possess all of the attributes referenced above.
11. What you do you know about opposing counsel?
In interviewing a family law attorney, you should ask what they know about the temperament and approach of opposing counsel. It’s a good sign if they’ve previously worked with the other lawyer and can articulate how matters might play out in your case. A family lawyer’s history of a respectful working relationship with opposing counsel can save you substantial fees and costs by avoiding “games” and “ego.”
Our lawyers have established excellent working relationships with most of the well-recognized family law attorneys in the Twin Cities.
12. What do you know about the judge assigned to my case?
Being in front of a judge can be one of the more intimidating times in your life. The power of the court should not be underestimated. At the same time, judges are just human beings whose job it is to make decisions. It can be very helpful if your family law attorney has appeared before the judicial officer assigned to your case. The lawyer can better prepare you, and your case, if they have a sense of the judge’s expectations and approach.
We are familiar with the vast majority of the judicial officers in our area. If not, we reach out to colleagues who have appeared in front of a judge to learn more.
13. What is your minimum billing increment?
Because most family law attorneys work on an hourly basis it is important for you to understand if there is a “minimum” billing increment. Some lawyers, no matter the amount of time dedicated to a task, charge a minimum of a quarter hour (15 minutes). Others charge a minimum of .2 hours (twelve minutes). Still others record a minimum of .1 hours (six minutes). An attorney’s retainer agreement will spell out whether clients are subject to “minimum” charges.
Our law firm has a minimum billing increment of one-tenth of an hour. We never charge for time we have not actually dedicated to your matter.
14. Do you charge for copies or postage?
In addition to billable time and fees that are advanced for filing a case or paying an expert, some Minnesota family law lawyers charge copies and postage back to clients. Others do not charge, incorporating those expenses into the lawyer’s overhead.
We do not charge clients for things like long-distance calls, faxes, copies or postage.
15. Do you limit the number of files you handle?
Even the best family law lawyers in Minnesota are constrained by the fact that they are, indeed, just one person. There are only so many hours in the day. To ensure that clients receive the time and attention their family court matter deserves, many lawyers will purposely limit the number of files in their caseload. It is important that you ask an attorney if they have the ability to dedicate their full attention to your case.
We do limit our caseload in an effort to ensure that sufficient time and resources are dedicated to the matters we handle.
16. What technology do you utilize?
Family law firms typically fall into one of two camps. They are either tech-savvy, or they aren’t. Like every profession, technology has radically changed the way in which family court cases are capable of being handled. Many Minnesota family attorneys embrace cloud-based document storage and case management systems. Others still cart boxes of documents every time they go to court. It’s not that one way is necessarily wrong. But if time is money, you may want to work with a lawyer who can access information with a few clicks.
Our law firm has embraced the latest technology and will continue to do so.
17. Do you offer a free consultation?
Some family lawyers charge their normal hourly rate for an initial consultation. Others do not. Some potential clients understand that an attorney’s time is something of value and are willing to pay to learn more about how the law applies to their case. Others prefer to get to know an attorney a bit before committing financial resources.
We offer a free consultation to all potential clients. It shouldn’t cost you anything to determine whether our law firm is the right fit.
18. Can you offer a some references?
It may help for you to speak with a few former clients of a family law attorney in order to size up the lawyer’s skill and dedication. Understand, however, that family attorneys are ethically bound to protect client confidences. If the lawyer provides you with a few references it is only because the former client gave permission to do so.
The few times that a potential client has asked, we have provided several references for them to contact.
19. Will you return my calls and e-mails in a timely manner?
Satisfaction with a family attorney is most often tied to the promptness of the lawyer’s communication with a client. You should ask whether the attorney has a system in place to ensure that phone calls and e-mails are responded to as swiftly as possible.
Our top priority involves ensuring that your questions and concerns are addressed as swiftly as possible. Even if your lawyer is unavailable, our support staff is standing by.
20. Do you charge for an initial consultation?
We do charge a fee for an initial consultation. Some law firms will charge for an initial consultation while others do not.
Hiring a family lawyer is a deeply personal decision. We talk with potential clients almost every day. For some, our firm is the right fit. Others are looking for something a little different. As you consider your options, talk with a number of Minnesota family law attorneys and, in the end, trust your gut. You have the right to complete confidence in the lawyer you’ve selected to advocate on your behalf.