Although many adoptions go through seamlessly, others hit a glitch or result in full-blown litigation. Before selecting an attorney for your adoption proceedings, educate yourself on the importance of choosing the right attorney. There is a common misconception that attorneys know all the laws pertaining to every conceivable cause of action. Unfortunately, this is a myth, not a reality. Adoptions can be highly emotional and have important ramifications for your family, so it is imperative to feel confident in your selection of counsel. As each adoption situation is unique, an attorney with limited or no experience in adoption law may not be the best candidate for your case. As you embark on this journey, you should plan to interview a couple of attorneys to ensure you are confident in your selection of counsel. Hopefully the information that follows will help you make an informed decision.
The earlier you retain an attorney in your adoption process, the more confidence you should feel regarding the legal process involved in completing your adoption. However, the desire to retain an attorney early in the process should not lead you to hire the first attorney agreeable to accepting representation. Instead, you need to make an informed choice after doing your homework. Ask questions. Dig deeply. Grow your knowledge. Make an informed choice.
You should ask your attorney these questions, at a minimum:
1. How long have you been practicing adoption law?
2. Approximately how many adoptions do you personally handle each year?
3. What percentage of your practice is devoted to adoption law?
4. What other area(s) of law do you practice?
5. How experienced are you in contested adoption litigation?
6. What times of day are you available to receive telephone calls, emails or texts?
7. If I were to retain the services of your office, would I communicate with you directly or with you through a paralegal or other individual?
8. What is your fee for this type of adoption (i.e. private agency, interstate, step-parent, re-adoption, etc.)?
9. In what court(s) do you typically practice?
Common pitfalls of selecting counsel include retaining an attorney who (1) practices in the area of “family law” but does not have significant experience in adoption law; (2) has some experience in adoption law but no experience litigating contested adoptions; (3) is inaccessible after typical business hours; or (4) quotes the lowest fee of the attorneys contacted and thus is retained, despite a lack of experience.
Before hiring an attorney, it is important to ascertain whether adoption is an area of law in which this particular attorney merely has “some” experience, or whether this is an area in which s/he frequently practices. Someone who handles only a couple of adoptions annually may not be as familiar with changes to the law as someone who works primarily in the area of adoption. Also, someone whose professional adoption experience is comprised almost exclusively of step-parent adoptions may not be familiar with the significantly different requirements and expectations of newborn adoptions, which typically require significant legal work and case management prior to the birth of the child. Furthermore, it is often significantly less-expensive in the event of contested adoption litigation to select a firm from the outset with vast experience in contested adoption litigation than selecting counsel that does not litigate and then transferring your case to experienced litigation counsel who will later need to invest a significant amount of time to be brought up-to-speed in the matter. Most importantly, experienced adoption counsel can often times avert or short circuit contested litigation.
Asking what time of day your attorney is accessible, as well as whether your attorney provides her/his cell phone number to clients can help you determine whether this is the right firm for your needs. Adoption practitioners generally are very accessible because they understand that when a baby comes is unpredictable, and a baby can’t be enticed to arrive during business hours. If the attorney with whom you consult is not accessible outside of normal business hours, you could find yourself facing unnecessary delays and enduring unneeded stress or frustration when after-hours issues arise.
Finally, the age-old saying, “You get what you pay for” rings very true in this arena. Retaining the attorney with the lowest fee quote can actually end up causing more damage to your wallet than a veteran attorney with a higher fee. Although finances are an important aspect of adoption because the Court needs to ensure you can afford to raise and rear the adopted child, it is important to not sacrifice experience for a lower fee. The consequences of that choice can be catastrophic in the adoption arena.
As you can see, it is imperative that you choose an attorney who is not only going to make you a priority and not simply view your case as another pay check, but who is also familiar with the requirements and expectations of adoption law in the jurisdiction where the case will be filed. Do not be afraid to ask the questions to confirm you hire the right attorney to help with your unique situation.