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Family Lawyer Requirements: Questions to Ask a Family Lawyer for Clients Seeking Representation

Description: It is important to prepare before beginning to interview and hire lawyers. Don’t end up unnecessarily explaining intimate details about your family law problems. Read our questions to ask a family lawyer so you are prepared before hiring a lawyer.


Family lawyers specialize in the intricately weaved realm of domestic relations. From the perspective of a sexual harassment attorney, this article explains what clients should demand from their domestic-relations representation. All attorneys are expected to be ethical and diligent,[1] but these cases involve intimate details of home lives. Because such personal details are at hand, hiring a family lawyer with true integrity and diligence is a necessity.

These cases can be entrenched in family scandals and tragedies. Usually, finances and children must be considered. They can involve severe and complex issues amongst ancestors and heirs. Choosing which family lawyer to hire should be a task not taken lightly.

If you are interviewing lawyers before choosing representation, you are a prospective client.[2] As a prospective client, the attorney owes you a limited duty of confidentiality.[3] During these interviews, carefully explain the facts of your issue and ask the attorney the following questions. From prenuptial agreements to a divorce attorney consultation, these questions will allow you to make an informed decision about your representation.

I. How long have you practiced family law? Do you have any other specialties or experiences that make you a good family attorney?

The Model Rules of Professional Conduct (“MRPC”) codifies the ethical standard for lawyers.[4] One of the first rules in the MRPC, Rule 1.1, covers attorney competence.[5] Competence is established by factors such as the lawyer’s general experience and their training and experience in the field in question.[6]

As a client, you should feel comfortable with your attorney. The attorney must represent a client’s interests.[7] It is imperative that the attorney can reassure a potential client about their competence in the present matter. If the attorney is not a domestic relations specialist, they should explain their experiential qualifications for handling your case competently.

At the end of the day, a prenup is not just any contract. A will is not just any legal document. Family is not just any people. These matters should not be handled by just any attorney.

II. Who else will be working on my case with you?

When hiring lawyers, clients should assume that the lawyer will have at least one other person on their legal team.[8] Usually, lawyers will staff paralegals, secretaries, and clerks.[9] For several reasons, the attorney may even request to assign a second attorney to the case as co-counsel.[10] Sometimes, your case will need an expert opinion through an expert’s testimony.[11]

While interviewing attorneys, ask them about the other members of their legal team. The client is going to be billed for the contributions made by anyone on the legal team.[12] Each member has a different fee rate, depending on their education and experience.[13] The attorney should clearly explain the roles that each member plays in your case.

III. At maximum, how long does it take you to respond to calls and emails?

An attorney should set the boundaries for communication expectations with their clients.[14] Domestic relations law is usually time-sensitive. For example, clients are looking to get a prenuptial agreement because they are getting married soon. Likewise, clients seeking legal assistance with an adoption want to finalize the adoption as soon as possible.

MRPC Rule 1.4 requires lawyers to reasonably stay in communications with their clients and keep them updated on their cases.[15] Rule 1.4, Comment 5 explains: “the client should have sufficient information to participate intelligently in decisions concerning the objectives of the representation.”[16] To the fullest extent possible, the client should know and understand the status and proceedings of their case.

The attorney should be able to give clients an estimate of the expected frequency of such communications. Additionally, attorneys should detail how emergencies will be handled. Clients should not be left feeling ignored. Instead, attorneys must be responsible for establishing these boundaries for their representation.

IV. What is your fee schedule, and can you give me an estimate?

Under MRPC Rule 1.5, the lawyer should clearly detail the fee schedule that a client must pay for the services rendered.[17] The terms of the payment must be fully explained.[18] Providing the client a written statement to sign and detailing the fiscal terms of representation reduces the chances for a misunderstanding.[19] Prior to your interview, research the typical cost of hiring a family lawyer in your area as a reference point.

If the attorney asks for a retainer and an hourly fee, the client should know the rates.[20] If the attorney wants to be paid on contingency, they will be receiving a percentage of the award.[21] This percentage must be pre-determined, and the client needs to know the percentage.[22] Each person that is billing the client — paralegals, associate counsels, co-counsels, etc. — must clarify their fees or percentages.[23]

When asking questions as a prospective client, be sure to ask for a written fee schedule. Check that the document includes the terms of payment, attorney’s rate, legal team’s rate, and when payments are due. Ask if the retainer is refundable. Attorneys should explain the reason for billing, so clients should not shy away from requesting billing explanations and clarifications.

V. What is your typical approach for cases like mine?

This question allows the client to not only assess the attorney’s competence in the specific matter, but it establishes the objective and the scope of the representation.[24] Domestic relations law is a vast legal area. Hiring a family lawyer does not mean that the attorney has experience solving your specific problem.

Also, you may not agree with the attorney’s approach. Several matters can and should be resolved out of the courts — such as child custody cases or most divorces.[25] If you do not want to go to court, do not hire an attorney that insists on going to court. Hire an attorney that will accommodate your wishes as diligently as possible.[26]

VI. What are the possible outcomes for my case?

After diligently considering the factors at hand, the attorney should be able to thoroughly explain the possible outcomes to clients.[27] The explanation should be given in a manner that you fully understand your options.[28] As MRPC Rule 1.4, Comment 5 explains, clients need to be given sufficient information to intelligently participate in their representation.[29] Without a proper understanding of the consequences, how can clients intelligently participate?


By the end of the attorney-interview, you should feel confident in your choice of representation. Asking the questions above during the interview will give you all the necessary information to consider — allowing you to trust your intuition and make the best choice. Seek additional advice if you are not sure which attorney to choose.

At the end of the day, you are hiring an attorney. The attorney should want to answer your family law questions. If a lawyer is not convincingly competent, diligent, and honest, they should not be representing your interests.

[1] See Model Rules of Pro. Conduct r. 1.1-1.3, 2.1, 3.1 (Am. Bar Ass’n 2020).

[2] Model Rules of Pro. Conduct r. 1.18 (Am. Bar Ass’n 2020).

[3] Id.

[4] American Bar Association, About the Model Rules, Model Rules of Pro. Conduct, (last visited Apr. 12, 2021).

[5] Model Rules of Pro. Conduct r. 1.1 (Am. Bar Ass’n 2020).

[6] Model Rules of Pro. Conduct r. 1.1 cmt. 1 (Am. Bar Ass’n 2020).

[7] Model Rules of Pro. Conduct r. 1.2 (Am. Bar Ass’n 2020).

[8] Steven K. Yoda, Everybody’s Talkin’: A Primer on Communicating Effectively with Your Attorney, 40 Fam. Adv. 12, 14 (2017).

[9] Id.

[10] Stephen C. Sieberson, Two Lawyers, One Client, and the Duty to Communicate: A Gap in Rules 1.2 and 1.4, 11 U.N.H. L. Rev. 27, 30 (2013).

[11] Fed. R. Evid. 702.

[12] Model Rules of Pro. Conduct r. 1.5 (Am. Bar Ass’n 2020).

[13] Id.

[14] Model Rules of Pro. Conduct r. 1.4 (Am. Bar Ass’n 2020).

[15] Id.

[16] Model Rules of Pro. Conduct r. 1.4 cmt. 5 (Am. Bar Ass’n 2020).

[17] Model Rules of Pro. Conduct r. 1.5 (Am. Bar Ass’n 2020).

[18] Id.

[19] Model Rules of Pro. Conduct r. 1.5 cmt. 2 (Am. Bar Ass’n 2020).

[20] Id.

[21] Model Rules of Pro. Conduct r. 1.5 cmt. 3 (Am. Bar Ass’n 2020).

[22] Id.

[23] Model Rules of Pro. Conduct r. 1.5 cmt. 7 (2020).

[24] Model Rules of Pro. Conduct r. 1.1-1.2 (2020).

[25] Rebecca Aviel, Family Law and the New Access to Justice, 86 Fordham L. Rev. 2279, 2280 (2018).

[26] Model Rules of Pro. Conduct r. 1.3 (Am. Bar Ass’n 2020).

[27] Model Rules of Pro. Conduct r. 1.1-1.2, 1.4 (Am. Bar Ass’n 2020).

[28] Model Rules of Pro. Conduct r. 1.4 cmt. 5 (Am. Bar Ass’n 2020).

[29] Id.