Jean M. Baker Law Office is a law practice focused primarily (though not exclusively) on juvenile Child in Need of Assistance (“CINA”) cases. Please feel free to look around if you’re needing general information and resources, but understand that this is general information and NOT legal advice.
If you need legal advice or assistance, please contact me. I offer a free 30-minute consultation, during which time we can decide whether I would be a good fit for you.
Although most attorneys in juvenile court are court appointed (though not all), the following are things to consider when choosing an attorney.
- Private pay is not always better than court-appointed. For a complete discussion of this, click here to read my blog post.
- Ask the attorney how often you should expect to hear from him. Some attorneys are very busy and typically meet their clients at the courthouse right before the hearing. They may not be great about returning phone calls. This can be frustrating for clients. I tend to check in periodically with my clients, and we definitely have a more in-depth phone call in the week or so prior to the hearing.
- Ask if your attorney uses technology to keep you informed. I use software called MyCase.com. This allows me to upload documents my clients want to see (Orders, filings, Family Team Meeting (“FTM”) notes, etc.), add important dates to the calendar, and confidentially communicate with my client. As long as you have a valid email address, you can access this site 24/7. And anytime something new is posted, you will get notification of that. If you are a private pay attorney, you will receive your invoice electronically, and you can pay your bill on line as well.
- Does your attorney take time to answer your questions, walk you through the process so you know what to expect, and encourage and support you? Some attorneys want to work on the legal issues only. However, working with DHS/juvenile court can be confusing, full of new terms, acronyms, and expectations. It tends to be more collaborative than adversarial. All of this can contribute to an already stressful situation, so I take the time to explain all of it, and also offer my clients written “cheat sheets” that cover the same information. And, of course, it’s on the website under resources.
- Is your initial impression one of trust and competence? Don’t underestimate the importance of a good working relationship. A CINA case is not, typically, a quick process, so if you do not like or trust your attorney, it will be a long year or two. That doesn’t mean you are going to be “bff”s, but a good relationship will go a long way towards success.
- Are you willing to listen to your attorney and follow her advice? While it’s true that the clients have to do the “heavy lifting,” some attorneys will tell you what you need to do and then expect you to simply do that. I provide significantly more support than that. I provide a task list to my clients (non-incarcerated parents) so you don’t forget what you need to do. I also follow up to make sure you are making progress, and encourage my clients to call with questions, or if they are having trouble getting things done. I want to help so we can give the court a great report and safely get to a good outcome sooner. And here’s another truth: you will likely be asked to do things like go to therapy, attend treatment for a substance use disorder (if applicable), parenting classes, etc. In some cases, you might not want to do what’s being asked, or maybe you don’t even think you need that particular service. If that’s the case, talk to your attorney about it and let her decide if that’s something she needs to “fight” about (and it’s often better to let the attorney do the fighting, rather than you). If it’s not, then you will just need to suck it up and do it. It’s usually a small price to pay to get your kids back, and will often help you. Which is the point of services, after all.
Once an attorney is involved, whether a private pay attorney of your choice or a court-appointed one, the following will help you have a good working relationship and move your case forward.
- Make sure your attorney (and the rest of your team) always has current contact information. If your phone is shut off, make sure there’s a back-up person that can let you know if the attorney needs to talk to you. Make sure you stay in contact wit your attorney; if you don’t return calls, meet with him, or show up for hearings and FTMs, your attorney may ask the court to allow him to withdraw. And then you no longer have legal representation (which rarely leads to a good outcome).
- To the best of your ability, do what DHS and the court are asking you to do. You don’t have to be perfect, and a relapse will not automatically “doom” your case, but you do have to be putting forth a good effort and signficantly complying with what is being requested.
- If you do relapse, or if there is some other problem (maybe DHS isn’t responding to your calls, or maybe you are having trouble finding a therapist who takes your insurance, for example), call your attorney and let her know right away. We can’t help you if we don’t know there’s a probem. Sometimes DHS can help with things like transportation or a gift card to buy clothes for the kids, for example. So if there’s something you need help with, let your attorney know. Even if it’s something DHS can’t help with, you’re not any worse off than you were before you asked.
- Be honest with your attorney, even if—or perhaps especially if—it’s something negative. I may not be able to protect you if the first time I hear about a problem is at a hearing. Do not assume that DHS will keep me informed—they are too busy to notify attorneys of every issue with a client. It’s better if you keep me in the loop, and be honest about it. If you say a drug screen will come back negative for all substances, a positive test will hurt you more than if you just told me initially that it would be positive.
- If you are a private pay client, make sure you that you are paying your bill every month. If you can’t pay the full amount, call your attorney immediately and make payment arrangements. Most attorneys, including me, are willing to work with you on this, but like you, we can’t work for free.
Hopefully this will help you choose and work with your attorney towards a successful outcome. Call me at 515-778-0017 if you have any questions.
Jean M. Baker, J.D.
PO Box 65572
W. Des Moines, Iowa 50265