choosing an attorney

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Why should I hire an attorney

A common question is “Why should someone hire an attorney if Arizona is a community property state, where for the most part property is divided equally?” This is an extremely relevant and important question, as it will get into whether or not your attorney can actual provide a useful service. Even if you end up not retaining counsel for your entire matter, a consultation itself may provide significant insight into the process, and what the result should look like once it is over.

Second, the dissolution process (or paternity) is not something to be taken lightly as it can significantly impact your financial future. And although your spouse may be telling you that they are not seeking counsel, this is not something that can be trusted. After all, you are getting divorced for a reason and implicitly trusting your spouse may not be in your best interest. Mr. Berkshire can point you to countless cases where one spouse was completely duped out of their property by the other. He has done consultations, after the divorce is complete, where the result was completely inequitable.

The most important cases to consult with an attorney are those that involve children, where there are any business assets, long-term marriages, those with acts or allegations of domestic violence, cases involving spousal maintenance, cases involving retirement assets, separate property claims, real estate, and unquestionably any case with significant assets.

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Choosing an attorney

The process of hiring an attorney is not something to be taken lightly. In essence you are trusting someone, that you most likely don’t know personally, with your financial future, or more importantly, your children’s future.  To begin, Mr. Berkshire is one of only around 70 Certified Specialists in Family Law in the state of Arizona.  To become a Certified Specialist an attorney must demonstrate a mastery of Family Law through experience in litigation as well as knowledge of precedent.   Mr. Berkshire also teaches Family Law topics to other attorneys, writes for legal publications and deals in the complicated area of appellate practice where knowledge of the complexities of law is required.  He was also honored in the Super Lawyers publication as a 2012 Super Lawyers Rising Star Award Recipient which resulted from peer reviews by other lawyers.

Mr. Berkshire receives the vast majority of his cases as personal referrals, which is something that should be looked for in interviewing attorneys because anyone who has to rely solely on advertising probably doesn’t receive referrals for a reason. Consulting with multiple attorneys is never an issue and is encouraged, as it allows you to find someone that you personally fit with and, to get differing perspectives on your case.

Family Law is a unique area of practice, and any potential client should be wary of attorneys that practice in too many areas, or have too many “specialties,” as they cannot focus on the intricacies of Family Law.

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Attorneys versus document preparation services

With the downturn in the economy many people contemplate the use of a document preparer service instead of utilizing an attorney. This is not a decision that should be made in haste as the long-term financial impact could vastly outweigh any initial cost difference. Mr. Berkshire can direct you to example after example where these document services have made significant mistakes in documents resulting in huge financial losses to a party. Often assets and claims are ignored, resulting in financial loses, or documents that are completely unenforceable.

Additionally, these services are ethically prohibited from offering ANY legal advice of any kind. There is also no procedure to ensure that the service has any experience in dealing with divorce or paternity cases, as there is no requirement for experience in specific areas. If your case has any important issues, then utilization of one of these services should be thoroughly discouraged.

This same hesitation should also be taken when utilizing the court forms available for free on the internet. Although these can be used in simple cases, they often result with orders that are confusing or contradictory. The final divorce or paternity order is one of the most significant legal documents that will ever affect you, and drafting it yourself is something that should not be taken lightly. Mr. Berkshire deals with these legal issues daily, and his experience can help you obtain the best possible result.

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Hourly rates and retainers

Many people call around to an excessive number of attorneys simply looking for the lowest hourly rate, or the lowest retainer (advance deposit). In essence, neither a retainer nor an hourly rate should be the primary concern, as retainer amounts only signify how much work can be done prior to requiring a replenishment of the retainer. Just because another attorney requires a smaller retainer does not mean that the case will be done any cheaper, it simply means that you will be called sooner to replenish. A lower hourly rate also does not mean that a total cost will be less, as the billing practices of attorneys vary widely and it is not uncommon for counsel with lower rates to have higher total bills.

If a client is on a limited budget there are various ways to limit expenditures on cases, like attending  mediation or utilizing limited scope representation, that can be discussed with Mr. Berkshire at a consultation.

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What to bring to a consultation

In preparation for any consultation, you should always bring a list of questions that you have, to make efficient use of your time and obtain the most relevant information for your case. It is always helpful to come with a list of assets, values of property, and amounts of debt, so that the attorney will have a better idea of what the marital estate contains, as it is relevant to other issues beyond property distribution. For example, spousal maintenance (Alimony) depends on what other assets exist.

Here is a simple list of questions that can be asked at a consultation:

Questions of the attorney:

  • What percentage of your practice is family law?
  • Do you practice in my county?
  • Have you appeared in front of my judge (if already assigned)?
  • Can you offer names of other attorneys or clients who would recommend you?
  • How often do you attend mediation?
  • How often do you utilize experts?
  • How many trials have you completed?
  • How often do you appear in Court?
  • Where do most of your cases come from?
  • Are you involved in any legal committees?
  • Do you teach any legal seminars?
  • How often do you attend legal seminars?

Questions regarding your case:

  • Are you familiar with my case's issues?
  • How often do you deal with these issues?
  • What statutes affect my case's issues?
  • Do you suggest mediation?
  • Have you done any appeals on these issues?
  • What precedent affects my case's issues?
  • What processes would you suggest for my case?
  • Trial
  • Mediation
  • Utilization of experts
  • Counselors
  • How is alimony calculated?
  • How is child support calculated?
  • For legal decision-making (custody) and parenting time:
  • Can you give examples of parenting plans?
  • Can you give research or books to justify your positions?

Limiting Cost

Limited Scope Appearances

If you have been handling your case on your own and feel that the outcomes have been overall positive but you have a particularly difficult issue going to trial in your matter, you may want to consider scheduling a consultation with one of our attorneys to discuss the possibility of a limited scope appearance for the upcoming hearing. The fees are generally less and the contract of representation is drafted very narrowly to define the attorney’s role and the limitation of his or her representation.

Mediation

In Maricopa County, more than most counties, the Court process can be slow to get hearings. Given this lengthy process, mediation has become a common occurrence in family law cases. Participation in mediation can drastically reduce the cost of litigation, if both parties come to the table prepared to be reasonable. Our attorneys strongly advise the use of mediation as a cost saving measure, and as an attempt to be reasonable. If there are minor children involved, the statistics show that successful mediation reduces the likelihood of future litigation.

There are two types of mediation. The first type of mediation is to hire a private mediator, who is usually a private attorney or retired judge. These are trained professionals who are well-versed in all areas of family law, who our attorneys have dealt with in the past, and who can assist you in achieving your goals without costly litigation. Private mediation is usually quicker to get into as you are dealing with private attorneys, versus a court appointed process.

The second type of mediation is through a request for ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) through the Court itself. This is a free service, offered by volunteer attorneys who will provide a similar process to private mediation. The drawbacks in ADR are that it is usually slower to get into, as it requires a court order, and the length of the mediation is usually less than one-half of a day. In many cases this is an acceptable route.

Post Decree Mediation

In addition to mediating your case, before a final order, our attorneys can also assist you in mediating changes to a prior court order. Many divorce decrees and parenting plans include a provision where mediation is required prior to filing any petitions with the court. Our attorneys can review your current documents and advise you if mediation is required and can guide you through the process of requesting mediation and help you determine which type of mediation is most appropriate given the issues in your case.

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