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5 Questions to ask a CPS Attorney Before You Hire Her

I meet with many families who are in the juvenile dependency system for the first time. They are frightened and panicked and desperate for help navigating the CPS maze. Some of them come to me after firing another attorney who did not help them reunify and did not fight for them in the dependency court. Some clients had attorneys who had no familiarity with the dependency court or the procedures in this unique system. Scary!

Here are 5 Questions I wish clients had asked their first attorneys. They are the 5 questions to ask your CPS attorney before you hire her.

1. What percentage of your practice involves dependency law?

Most attorneys who handle these specialized cases lack the experience that is necessary to be effective because they don’t handle enough of them. They may be family law or criminal attorneys who appear 1 or 2 cases a year. These attorneys may be lured by the prospect of the fee, feel overly confident that they can win in this system, or just want to help a client who has another type of case they are handling. The problem is that a lack of awareness of the nuances of these cases will land these attorneys, and their clients, in hot water. Clients don’t have time for lawyers to learn how to practice dependency law with theirs cases. Your attorney should devote a substantial amount of their practice (over 50%) to dependency law, either in the trial court or on appeal.

2. How many dependency cases have you handled?

The more cases a dependency lawyer has handled, the more opportunity they have had to have appeared in front of the judge your case will be assigned to, to have negotiated with the lawyers they may have to deal with, to have raised legal issues and to have litigated different types of motions. Dependency law is an area that requires not only passion and skill but experience. Practitioners who are new simply may not have the necessary experience to know how to handle all of the issues that may arise in a single case (and there can be many).

3. Do you have the requisite training, experience, and continued legal education hours to practice in the dependency court as required by the local rule of court?

Different courts have different rules about who may practice in their courts. Orange County Superior Court certifies the private attorneys who appear in dependency cases. Is the attorney you are hiring in your case certified to appear in that court or do they have the requisite training, experience an education to walk in and be certified at their first appearance on your case?

4. What types of motions do you routinely file in dependency cases?

No two cases are alike. However, there are motions that dependency attorneys should routinely file. Unfortunately, attorneys inexperienced in dependency law or who don’t regularly practice in the area either don’t know what motions to file or have never filed them. Discovery motions, evidentiary objections and the noticing of witnesses are governed by the Welfare and Institutions code and these motions are just some of the motions an attorney may file before your actual trial. There are several other types motions that may be filed over the life of your case. Does the attorney know which ones to file and when?

5. What will you, the attorney, expect of me during my dependency case?

Every dependency case involves a family. Some attorneys lose sight of the fact that this unique family has its own strengths and challenges. Experienced, savvy, and effective dependency attorneys learn who their clients are and help identify what they need. They partner with the parents to show them exactly what they need to do to succeed and get their child back. Without that specialized knowledge and assistance from the attorney, parents end up relying on the social worker for help. No parent should be with counsel but without the wisdom of their counsel or have to rely on an overworked, government employee to tell them exactly what they need to do to succeed.

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