Over 30 years of experience in divorce & family law



H. Michael Stern, Esq., a New York matrimonial and family law attorney and mediator with over 33 years of experience raises the question:

Broken wedding rings Is an Associate Attorney the right choice to handle your matrimonial case?

Before I get to the question, I want to emphasize that this Blog represents my personal opinion and is not based upon any empirical data or studies.

At the outset, let me address some definitions.
A solo practitioner is a lawyer who works alone in a law practice and does not have any subordinate lawyers within the firm.
A lawyer who is “of counsel” may not be a member of the law firm but may provide services to the clients of another law firm. Accordingly, a solo practitioner can have another lawyer on the firm letterhead who of is “of counsel”, but that lawyer is not an employed subordinate attorney in the firm. The “of counsel” lawyer may have her own independent practice and an affiliation with another firm to provide legal services. A partner or junior partner are attorneys who have an equity (ownership) interest in a law firm.
An associate attorney is an employee of a law firm, working under the supervision (hopefully) of a partner or junior partner.

The purpose of this blog is not to disparage associate attorneys in any way, but there are many questions that the client should ask when a divorce or family law case is delegated to an associate of the firm. Associate attorneys may be upcoming talents in their own right, but there are concerns that should always be addressed before a hiring decision is made by the client.

I shall list some of the questions that a client should consider below:

  1. How will decisions be made in the client’s case?
  2. Will the associate be making decisions in the client’s case with or without consultation with the supervising partner?
  3. Will the client be billed at the hourly rate of the associate, or of the partner, or both, for intra-office communications concerning the client’s case?
  4. What is the procedure for decision making (and billing practices) if input of the partner is required for all decisions in the case?
  5. How will the charges for intra-office communications or partner input be reflected on the client’s bill?
  6. Are there meetings in the firm that the client is billed for where the client’s case is discussed in a group setting attended by the partner and other attorneys?
  7. Is the client billed (and how is the client billed) for the time spent in brainstorming the client’s case in the group meeting attended by the partner and other attorneys?
  8. Does the associate have experience in handling cases similar to the client’s case?
  9. How much experience (and in what specific contexts) does the associate have in handling cases similar to the client’s case?
  10. Will the associate be going to Court on the client’s case without the partner?
  11. Who does the client contact at the firm concerning the client’s case, the partner or the associate, or both?
  12. How accessible will the partner be after the client’s case is delegated to an associate?
  13. Will the partner be accessible directly or through a secretary or assistant to buffer the client’s communications?
  14. Will access to the partner be limited or restricted in any way?

Without a doubt, there are many more questions that can be listed. However, I think I addressed a sufficient number for the purposes of this blog.

The client’s decision to hire a multi-lawyer matrimonial firm is typically based upon reputation, success, exclusivity or fame of one or more of the partners. Typically, a client seeks out the multi-lawyer matrimonial firm to have a well-known, prestigious attorney handle the client’s divorce case. What may occur is that following the payment of the retainer, the case is delegated to an associate to handle. Oftentimes, the partner will be the trial attorney and the associate do most everything else, sometimes with the partners direct supervision, sometimes without any supervision. I want to point out that many associates have significant experience and have the ability to handle a case from beginning to end with extraordinary skill, without any need for supervision. In my 33 years of experience, I can count those associates on two hands, they are few and far between.

I have been in solo practice in the area of matrimonial and family law for over 30 years and I handle the client’s case from start to finish. I make all decisions on each client’s case. There are no concerns about associate attorney competency in my office because I do not have any. While there is much to be said for the additional income an associate can generate for a busy law firm, I have chosen quality of representation above all else. Indeed, this blog just scratches the surface of the issue and I may add more on the topic in the future.

Focusing on the needs of the client and the results sought have always been a hallmark of my Long Island practice over the past 30 years. Feel free to contact me, H. Michael Stern, Esq., a Long Island divorce and family law attorney, if you are interested in discussing your matrimonial, divorce or family law matter at hmsternesq@gmail.com or by phone at 516-747-2290.

My Long Island office is conveniently located adjacent to the Roosevelt Field Mall Ring Road at 666 Old Country Road in Garden City, New York.

The above offers general information for educational purposes. It does not provide comprehensive or complete legal analysis. Any information that I provide should not be relied upon as legal advice or legal opinion on any particular facts or circumstances. Outcomes and results described do not mean or suggest that similar results or outcomes can or could be obtained in any other situation. Each legal matter should be considered to be factually unique and subject to varying results. The invitation to contact the author is not a solicitation to provide professional services, nor is it a statement of availability to perform legal services in any jurisdiction other than the State of New York. This is attorney advertising. Prior results do not guarantee future outcomes.