Finding the right lawyer is not easy. This may seem like an easy question but there are several different answers to it. Most lawyers now advertise or, at least, have some kind of Internet presence (a Google search for “Divorce lawyers in WV” returns over 23,000,000 hits). Information is your most important tool in deciding whom to hire as a lawyer but how do you get the information you need when there is so much to choose from?
The Internet is a good place to start since it can help you get names of lawyers who emphasize family court work as a regular part of their practice. Once you get those names, however, your real work begins because an Internet ad is simply not the best way to choose a lawyer. You should contact lawyers or law firms that do family court work; these days, this can be done either by a phone call or through a “contact us” portal in a website.
You should hire a lawyer rather than a law firm. You should not decide who will represent you in family court based only on a call with a receptionist or even a paralegal, since these are not the people who will be responsible for your case. You should get to know the individual lawyer who will be in charge of your case. Oftentimes, you can get a quick impression of what it would be like to work with a lawyer by spending as few as 5-10 minutes on the phone with that lawyer. Remember, this is a job interview for the lawyer and you have to decide whether this is someone you want to hire. Does he interrupt you and cut you off when you are telling him something you consider important? Does she spend the whole time talking about herself and her accomplishments to try to convince you how good she is? Does he guarantee to get you custody of your kids or to get you a giant award of alimony? In these interviews—whether by phone, video or in-person—you are learning whether you and the lawyer will be able to communicate effectively and whether the lawyer is someone you feel you can trust with your case.
You should be prepared to discuss fee arrangements. A lawyer in West Virginia is not allowed to take a divorce case on what is called a “contingent fee” arrangement (in which the lawyer’s fee is contingent on securing a particular result or outcome in the case). For this reason, most family court lawyers charge for their time by the hour and will require the payment of a “retainer” at the beginning of the case, which is an amount of money you deposit with a lawyer at the beginning of the representation. Under such an arrangement, the lawyer will keep track of the time devoted to your case and will send you bills (usually, every month) showing the amount of time together with any costs or expenses for that month. If the case finishes before the retainer runs out, you are entitled to a refund of the remaining amount. If the case is still going on when a retainer runs out, a lawyer may ask you to make another retainer payment to cover future bills. When interviewing lawyers for your case, you should ask about the amount of retainer required and what the lawyer’s hourly rate is.