Advice from someone who has been in your shoes
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How do you know if your attorney is good?

Your Question:
How do you tell if you have a "good" attorney? Also, information on North Carolina laws on joint custody or primary custody for father?

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My Answer:

I'm not familiar with NC laws and can't comment on them. But it largely doesn't matter. All you can do is put on your best case, and hope the judge sees it your way.

If you win, you have a good attorney.

That's a pretty glib remark, but that's about the only way I can assess whether an attorney is good or not.

For your consideration, I've had three family law attorneys, with mixed results.

The first one was competent but nothing mind-blowing. I didn't think she thought strategically, and she didn't seem to take seriously that my ex is pretty deranged. I had her representing me for one hearing, and she got me everything I was seeking (but I was also taking a very reasonable position). She failed to inform me about future problems I could expect that, in hindsight, she obviously must have known about. For reasons I can't quite recall (maybe I wanted someone "mind-blowing" who could work miracles), I didn't retain her again when I needed to head back to court. But I remained on good terms with her, and I hired her by the hour to review my paperwork when I was first starting out representing myself.

My second attorney was a level-headed, very smart attorney. She was a partner in her firm and a certified family law specialist (a special designation in California). She talked a good talk, and she seemed very reasonable to me. I had her represent me in one hearing that was continued twice (i.e., six months of delays). For all her education and intellect, she crumbled and got tongue-tied against a very aggressive opposing counsel. All I could do was watch my case fall apart because she couldn't argue it.

My third attorney was nothing short of a brilliant strategist. He had 30+ years experience and some very impressive credentials on his resume. During the 15 months I retained him, he taught me a bit about the mindset I need to have in family law, something the prior two failed to do. He was at his best in front of a judge and when taking depositions. He was at his worst at all other times. He missed deadlines, he fell asleep in a meeting with me, he rarely returned calls, he sometimes failed to follow-through on tactics we discussed, and his office staff was unreliable and chaotic. His biggest mess-up was with our final judgment, when he failed to advise me that opposing counsel had proposed a draft that had inserted some money issues to which I had never agreed and that had never been ordered. My attorney sat on the proposed judgment past the period to object. It got entered as a final judgment. My attorney attempted to bill me $9K+ in his futile attempts to correct his own error. I eventually dropped him after he didn't correct it, and I'm advised that I have a malpractice case against him if I ever wish to pursue it. Many months later, representing myself, I was finally able to get new orders from the court that corrected the original problem due to my attorney's unexcusable negligence. He hasn't sent collectors after me for the final bill I refused to pay (i.e., all of his "clean-up" work), and I haven't filed a complaint about him-- so I'm assuming we're at a stalemate.

Finally, I'll mention one attorney my ex had. This is the attorney who tongue-tied my own. He was a slick, little man who constantly threw tangents out, with no basis for any of them, who aggressively spoke over my own attorney, and who thoroughly confused the court as to who to believe. As he represented my ex while I was seeking new orders, he did a perfect job at completely sidetracking everything into a wasteland of confusing issues; and the judge naturally dismissed everything-- my attorney simply couldn't keep it on track. It's my guess that he ain't heading to Heaven in the next life, but he was 100% effective for what my ex needed.

No attorney is good for every situation, so you must assess what type of style is most advantageous for your situation-- not necessarily which style most appeals to you as a person.

If I were looking for a new attorney, I'd probably retain one with at least 10 years experience in the courthouse where my case is. It would mean that the attorney is very familiar with the judges and the local players in the system, and it would mean that the attorney has some experience with strategies that work. Further, I'd want to see my attorney in action before a judge, prior to me signing a retainer agreement (i.e., I'd ask the attorney when and where he/she will next appear in court, for me to observe). Because I have on-going conflicts in my case, I would need a strong litigator, versus a strong negotiator.

When I look back at the three I had, I would consider retaining my first one again. She was largely unimpressive in her style and somewhat impersonal, but she got the job done. That's all that matters when the judge makes a decision.


This website gives common sense advice that is not intended to act as legal guidance nor psychological guidance. The author is neither an attorney nor licensed psychologist. For specific legal guidance or specific psychological guidance, consult with a licensed professional.

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