How to Find a Good DV Lawyer
One of the most important things you can do for yourself as a DV survivor is to find a lawyer to stand beside you when fighting against your abuser in court. The stories I hear from abuse survivors about rulings they’ve received in custody court would turn your hair. When abusers get partial or even full custody of their kids, this is NOT OKAY – and it happens more often than you would believe. I wish all of us could afford a good high paid, high-powered attorney. Sadly, most of us can’t.
There are some things we can do, however. I recently took a webinar hosted by NCADV. Two lawyers from the American Bar Association gave some pointers on how to find a good DV lawyer. I hope you find these tips helpful.
Finding an attorney
Finding a good family law attorney isn’t good enough.
Many family law attorneys are great for your average divorce, but domestic violence is an entirely different story.
In the same way you would want an accountant who specializes in tax law to help you if you were being audited by the IRS, you will want a lawyer who specializes in DV when getting a protection order or fighting for custody with an abuser.
If it is at all possible, try to find a good DV attorney before you leave your abuser. Of course, if you must leave in a hurry, leave. But having an attorney before you leave may make all the difference in the outcome of your case.
Surprisingly, the lawyers from the ABA said that pro bono lawyers (those assigned by the court) often have more experience with DV than highly paid lawyers. How does a person find a good DV lawyer? Here are some resources:
Get a referral from your local DV crisis center. Find your local center here.
Interviewing an Attorney
We who have been abused often ask too little of the professionals who serve us.
It is easy to allow a person in authority (like a lawyer) walk all over us. Whether or not you are paying this person, they are working for YOU. It is not their life, but it is your life, and the lives of your children that are in danger. Getting the best representation you can is incredibly important. Here are some questions to ask:
- Have you been trained in Domestic Violence? How many hours of training have you received? Are you open to receiving more DV training?
- How often do you take DV cases?
- Which judges have you argued before in the past?
- Are you experienced in getting Protection (Restraining) orders?
- How will you protect me from my abuser when I go to court?
- Are you trained to work with clients experiencing trauma?
- Do you have a list of other resources, like counselors, you can recommend?
- How often will I hear from you? Will you call me periodically? Will I be able to reach you when I need you?
If the attorney won’t give you time to ask these types of questions, s/he is not the right attorney for you. DV attorneys should have more than a one hour course in DV. Don’t hire a lawyer who makes all the decisions. They should be client centered – as the client, you decide what the attorney should do. The attorney can advise, but you get the final say.
Ask them for references of DV victims they have helped before. Then call their references and ask pointed questions about how the lawyer practices. Do not, however, ask the attorney for their win/loss ratio. Those numbers can be misleading.
What Will it Cost?
Find out what the attorney’s costs are up-front. Ask:
- For what will you charge me, and how much will you charge?
- Do you charge less if I call with a question for the receptionist or legal assistant?
- If the attorney requires a retainer, ask if they will work out a payment plan with you, and will they return any portion of it that they don’t use?
- Will you have to pay other costs besides the attorney’s (like mediators, Child and Family Investigators, etc.)?
- What can you, as the client, do to keep your attorney costs down?
Once You’ve Hired an Attorney
- Insist on meeting face to face before the court date.
- Ask for protection from your abuser when meeting at their office, or going to court. If you have a protection order, you should not have to sit with your abuser in their office.
- Don’t be hesitant to insist that your attorney meet your needs. Don’t be overawed by their position.
- Get a copy of everything your attorney enters in court. If you can make the copies yourself, it may be less expensive.
- Periodically, ask for a breakdown of the fees they are charging you.
- Be aware that attorney/client privilege is only valid if no one else is in the room, like advocates or interpreters.
The ABA attorneys were aware that many abuse victims get a raw deal in court. However, they also pointed out that judges can only rule on the evidence that is submitted to them. If you or your attorney do not present all the evidence you have, the judge cannot be held responsible for a bad ruling.
Proverbs 24:23b – 25:
To show partiality in judging is not good:
Whoever says to the guilty, “You are innocent,”
will be cursed by peoples and denounced by nations.
But it will go well with those who convict the guilty,
and rich blessing will come on them.
Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.
The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble.
Question: Have you had good or bad experiences with attorneys? I’d love you to share your story in the comments of this blog.
My great desire is that our court system will one day give justice to all abuse survivors. Until that day, I pray you get the legal help you deserve.
Many blessings to you all,