How to Find a Good Divorce Lawyer in California? A Step by Step Process

B. Robert Farzad

I wrote this article for you and hope you enjoy it. We know the question of how to find a divorce lawyer in California can feel complicated. Here, we bring logic, common sense and a lot of experience to answer that question.

How do you find a good divorce lawyer in California? You interview a few attorneys and pick the best one out of the small group. Plenty of husbands and wives do that. But did you actually interview California divorce lawyers that best fit your facts and issues? Or will you go with the cheapest? The divorce lawyer that tells you what you want to hear? The one that makes big promises you wonder how he or she will keep but, hey, you are willing to take your chances?

A lot to think about. Here is the most important. Don’t go with the cheapest because they’re the cheapest or hire the one who tells you want you want to hear. Unless you like burning time, money and increasing your stress level, there is a much better way.

Finding a good divorce lawyer in California does not have to be a complex. It doesn’t have to become an unreasonably time-consuming process. In fact, the process is relatively straightforward and you can logically narrow your choices from the initial phone call you make to the law office. From there, ask smart questions and make sure you get straightforward and non-evasive answers.

Do this and you will go a long way toward finding a good divorce attorney for you and your family law matter.

In this article we’ll discuss:

1. What to look out for in that initial phone call when you’re talking or attempting to talk with divorce lawyer you wish to interview. It may surprise you to learn that most of the time a lawyer won’t be the one who speaks with you and that is a huge red flag you should not ignore.

2. The first in person consultation.

3. Getting straightforward answers to your questions.

4. Getting a reasonable estimate of attorneys fees and costs for the divorce case.

5. The law office’s organization and appearance.

6. Your divorce lawyer’s reputation in the industry including testimonials and reviews, the types of family law case results he or she has obtained and referrals.

7. The lawyer’s knowledge of family law and how well published he or she is on the subject.

8. The lawyer’s areas of law and whether it is only family law

9. The fee agreement the divorce lawyer is asking you to sign and what you should look for in such agreements.

10. Billing and how you will receive your bill, what it will contain, and the type of responsiveness you can expect to questions.

11. A bonus factor you’ll have to read to find out…one that is not very well-known but should always be one of the considerations when finding a good divorce lawyer for your specific case. it may surprise you!

Finding a good divorce lawyer in California starts with the first phone call

Why do you call a law office for a divorce or family law case? Do you do it to speak with a secretary? A paralegal or a law clerk? Or to talk with an experienced divorce attorney who can take the time to speak with you about your factual situation and decide if he or she can help you?

It’s the last one right? Of course it is.

I don’t know any person who wants to see a doctor so he or she can see a nurse.

Lawyers are no different.

That doesn’t mean the person with whom you speak must be the attorney who will represent you. Some law firms have multiple lawyers. It does mean that you should only be speaking with an attorney at that law firm who is experienced in divorce, knowledgeable enough to engage in dialogue with you and get the basic information regarding the case.

If you contact the law office and you find yourself speaking to anyone other than a divorce attorney about your situation, that is a concern. I realize that different lawyers have different styles but consider why you are not talking to a lawyer.

There are really only two reasons for it.

  1. The lawyer doesn’t have time to speak with you, or
  2. the lawyer doesn’t want to speak with you.

Is there a number three? I suppose opinions can vary but we don’t think so. Even if the divorce attorney doesn’t have time right then and there, he or she can certainly call you back. You can leave a voicemail or a message and you should receive a call back within a reasonable period, same day and no later than the next day.

Why do we emphasize this point? Because if the divorce attorney doesn’t have the time speak with his or her prospective client in the first phone call, what kind of service you think you’re going to receive once you actually hire the lawyer and pay him or her money? Don’t be surprised if it is more of the same.

The in-person consultation must be with a family law attorney

In our opinion, if you show up for an in-person consultation and you meet with anyone other than an experienced divorce lawyer, turn around and walk out.

It doesn’t even make sense what anybody other than a lawyer would be doing in the room and speaking with you. Only lawyers are permitted to give legal advice. What is it that the other person who is not an attorney intending to do, violate the law? Just take down the general information you provide? Any scenario is nonsense and may be a bad sign of things to come.

Good divorce lawyers give you straightforward and honest answers

How to find a good divorce lawyer California

Matthew J. Sundly is a senior associate and family law attorney at our law firm. Smart, honest and hard working, Matthew is an exceptional divorce lawyer

It is always interesting to me when I receive a call from a prospective new client who has called several lawyers before me. I generally like to ask why the person has spoken with so many lawyers before calling me. Most of the time, the caller tells me the divorce lawyers wouldn’t call them back or when they finally spoke with the attorney, he or she couldn’t give a straight answer to questions.

Don’t get me wrong. Very few times can direct legal advice about your specific factual situation be given in a phone call. Most divorces require a review of the facts and review of documents. This is especially true on financial issues that are not straightforward.

Child custody

However, that doesn’t apply to the more general issues. An experienced California divorce attorney will explain to you what impact your current custodial schedule, even if it is not court ordered, may have on future requests.

If you currently have a court order, the divorce lawyer will discuss with you the prospect for keeping it the same or seeking a modification. Have you checked out our in-depth California child custody guide? If you have children and have custody and visitation questions, go there first. We share a wealth of valuable information with you and all you have to do is sit back and read.

Child and spousal support

A lawyer should be able to give you, based on your income and that of your spouse, a general ballpark of child support and a calculation of temporary spousal support.

This will be more challenging if one or both spouses are self-employed. However, the divorce lawyer can run various hypotheticals. In other words, if you tell the attorney that you want him or her to assume that you make $100,000 per year, your spouse makes $20,000 and parenting time percentage is calculated, the lawyer should give you estimated numbers. You won’t get an exact number because those are not the only factors but it will give you something to work with.

Community and separate property

Regarding community property, separate property, business valuations or any other issue that concerns characterizing or dividing assets, while specific legal advice may need a deeper review of the facts, good divorce lawyers can draw on their knowledge of family law and courtroom experience to give you a reasonable idea of what you should reasonably expect in the divorce process including the factors that will help decide the outcome.

All of this adds up to getting the big picture.

If you find yourself in a situation where you cannot get answers to these questions, you may not be consulting with good divorce lawyers and it’s time to keep searching.

Finding a good divorce lawyer in California doesn’t mean you break the bank

How much will my divorce cost?

How much will this child custody hearing cost me?

How much can I expect to spend in fees and costs on my case?

The questions are different but they are all the same. You ask them because you are looking for some type of budget to better understand your projected out-of-pocket expenses for the divorce or family law case.

If an attorney with whom you speak refuses to give you any estimate of the initial fees and costs, refuses to commit to an hourly rate or the deposit, what have you really got? An open checkbook?

No divorce lawyer will be able to give you an exact amount of the fees. No lawyer will be able to tell you your fees will be at a particular amount unless that lawyer is taking on your case on a flat fee basis.

However, a good divorce lawyer in California willl give you at least a range of what others in your similar situation have spent. If that range is $5,000 but your case ends up being less or much more, things probably happened that were outside of your control and that happens in divorce or family law cases.

Prospective lawyers sometimes say, “another lawyer I talked to said I would never spend more than ___” and fill in a number. A good way to test the lawyer’s honesty is to ask him or her to put the cap on the fees in writing and be clear that the fees won’t exceed that amount. If he or she refuses, you may be getting “sold” and it’s time to move on.

Law office presentation and organization when searching for a good divorce lawyer in California

How a law office looks is a little-known indicator of organization. If you walk into a lawyer’s office or a law firm conference room, and you see many boxes stacked on top of boxes, papers all over the place and a general sense of disorganization or chaos, that is probably a good clue that the office or firm does not run very efficiently. A busy office will look busy. A messy office is something completely different.

On the other hand, if you walk into a family law office and you see that things seem to have a place, that the staff is working within their own offices or cubicles and there is a sense of order and how things are done, that is typically an indicator of a well run law firm.

Why is this important? It is important because it is these same people, lawyers and staff, who will work on your case. It is important because your file may end up being one of those files that you see and that is either all over the conference room floor or office or is otherwise organized and put away where it is supposed to be.

Reviews, testimonials and references. What do they tell you about the divorce lawyer you’re thinking of hiring?

You should not believe everything you read or hear, right? We agree. You definitely want to do your due diligence to make sure that what you are reading about the divorce attorney you’re considering to hire is actually correct as opposed to manufactured.

I would not be surprised if there are lawyers out there that actually write their own testimonials and try to pass them off as those written by clients. That would be awful but no profession has only good seeds. At the same time, if you search the Internet, and an attorney has especially good or bad reviews, does that mean the attorney is an especially good or bad attorney? Of course not. Again, it comes down to due diligence.

Here are some tips:

  1. Check reviews about the divorce attorney carefully and don’t be shy about asking the lawyer about it if you have concerns. If it is a bad review, it may be legitimate or bogus. Lawyers are not immune from on-line attacks from spouses or parents on the other side of cases who lost. Sometimes, we have even heard of competitors writing poor reviews. If the bad reviews are the only on-line reviews, that may be a bad sign.
  2. Ask the lawyer about the circumstances of each testimonial that interests you, perhaps 3 or 4 of the ones that sounded like your case. Without naming the client, giving you the general facts of the case is perfectly acceptable.
  3. Ask for references of other clients the lawyer has represented. There is nothing wrong with that. No good divorce lawyer in California will hesitate to give you references. Now, you have to respect other people’s privacy rights. That means the attorney will likely have to get former clients’ permissions but getting several for you should be a piece of cake for a good divorce lawyer. Anytime any prospective client has asked, we have been able to get them as many referrals as they reasonably wanted.

Is a good divorce lawyer in California well versed and published on the law?

The best lawyers are students of the law. That means they never stop learning and trying to get better at what they do. If you are searching the internet and you notice the lawyer has a pretty boilerplate website and has not written a lot of articles or information about family law, you should ask yourself why?

Is it because the attorney won’t make the time to share his or her knowledge?

Is it because the attorney is not a very good writer? Do you really want to hire an attorney who is not a good writer considering how much family law judges rely on what is presented to them in writing before a hearing?

Is it because the attorney doesn’t have a well working knowledge of the law for a variety of reasons?

Not being published on divorce and family law is not a sign that you dealing with a bad lawyer anymore then being published on the subject means that your hiring a great lawyer. However, this is yet another aspect of the due diligence that you can do to decide whether or not the California divorce attorney you are hiring is a good one.

Does the California divorce attorney you’re looking to hire exclusively handle family law cases?

Sarah Carlson Lambert, Family Law Attorney

Sarah Carlson Lambert is an experienced associate attorney at the law firm. Intense, intelligent and attention to detail. She teams with Mr. Farzad and Mr. Sundly on the complex divorce cases.

Lawyers who try to be a jack of all trades generally do not have a working knowledge of a specialist who only focuses on one area of law.

If you’re going to hire an attorney, no matter what experience level, that handles several (or even more than one) areas of law, you may be setting yourself up for heartache if you expect that attorney to excel at your CA family law case, especially if your case is more of a complicated one.

Why is this?

1. The law has become more complex and more specialized than it was years ago. That means that as our laws have become more complicated so has the requirement lawyers be more up to speed on the evolution of the law and procedure.

2. Cases move at a faster pace. In the old days before cell phones, emails electronic communication and the information superhighway called the internet, things moved slower. Divorce cases did not generate as much paperwork as they do today and communication wasn’t as intense. A general practitioner who handles many different areas of law will have a hard time keeping up with all of those areas of law. For example, how is one attorney supposed to do a good job on his or her divorce cases when he or she is also going to have bankruptcy, personal injury, immigration and other files and all of them are going to demand that attorney’s attention. The answer is, it would be very difficult to do so. So why hire that attorney when you have smarter choices?

3. Attorneys who are general practitioners often spread themselves too thin and rely heavily on secretaries or assistants. We see this in cases where we go up against general practitioners. Our law firm exclusively practices divorce and family law. Getting the other lawyer on the phone is sometimes nearly impossible. The attorney hardly has time to communicate with his or her clients, so how is he or she going to make time to communicate with the other lawyer on the case? You are better suited with specialists like us.

The attorney fee agreement you are asked to sign

I have volunteered for the Orange County Bar Association as a fee arbitrator. That means I have been asked by the OC Bar to judge attorney-client fee disputes. I know this subject well and I believe there is a minimum amount of information any fee agreement should have in a divorce case.

  1. The scope of the attorney’s services, whether it is to handle your divorce or family law case in all respects or a specific limited scope.
  2. The hourly rate for the divorce lawyer or lawyers.
  3. If non-attorneys are billed, their rate should be listed.
  4. An explanation of costs, as they differ from fees. Costs include things like filing fees but there are others.
  5. An explanation of the initial deposit and how the attorney will bill the client.
  6. When is the client is expected to pay his or her bill?

Our retainers go into much more detail that just the above 6 and give you all the reasonably necessary information you need to make an informed decision.

Billing statements

“How often will I receive a bill?”

“How will the bill be sent?”

“What information will that bill include?”

“Who do I talk to if I have any questions?”

Any good divorce lawyer in California will answer these questions with ease. More importantly, the divorce lawyer you’re considering hiring should be able to explain to you how the entire billing process works and give you information on safeguards used to make sure the billing is correct.

The little known way to finding a good divorce lawyer in California – the “local” factor

An experienced divorce lawyer who knows each judge’s style. One who has gained the respect of the local family law judges as well as the clerks. One who knows procedural idiosyncrasies of the local courts. A divorce lawyer who is not just familiar with California family law but also the local county rules. In Orange County Family Law Courts have local rules that do not contradict state-wide rules but offer guidance on procedural issues and family law cases.

Is hiring a local attorney in the county your case is filed or will be filed the deciding reason? No. No one thing should be a deciding factor. However, if everything else is equal and one California divorce attorney is local to the county court and has significant experience in that family court versus the other one who does not, you should look at this factor as one that will help you find a good divorce lawyer that is right for your case.

Our California divorce lawyers are based in Orange County and are experienced in Orange County, Los Angeles County and the Inland Empire courts. If your case is outside the OC, LA or IE, please contact us. We can find you a good local attorney and, if you have a complex case, work with him or her, together, as associated counsel. You get the best of all worlds even if your divorce case falls outside of our territory – our knowledge and experience in family law, and the benefit of an associated local family law attorney who we know and trust.

Finding a good divorce lawyer in California just got easier

You started reading about how to find a good divorce lawyer. We hope our law firm has given you a great head start on that path. Our California family law attorneys are knowledgeable, experienced, ethical and hard-working. Divorce and family law is all we do. We exemplify the qualities listed in this article. We enjoy representing good people going through a difficult time, we are great at it and our family law firm is ready to help you.

Contact us at our Santa Ana office today for a free initial consultation.

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