By Melissa Brisman, Esq. and Lauren Cuozzo, Esq.
Published in Resolve for the journey and beyond, Fall 2009
Gestational carrier arrangements can be tremendously overwhelming financially, legally, and emotionally. One way prospective parents can ease the burden on themselves is to find a reproductive attorney who can guide them through the process. The purpose of this article is to help prospective parents do just that.
First, prospective parents should research the qualifications and experience of any attorney they are thinking of hiring, while keeping in mind that they will benefit from retaining a reproductive attorney with substantial experience in the area of reproductive law. You should also be aware that a family law practice differs substantially from a law firm that practices reproductive law. There are many sources on the internet, including websites and message boards, that offer a wealth of information on reproductive attorneys.
Prospective parents should not only look for an attorney with substantial experience but also one who inspires confidence and who they can relate to on a personal level. A reproductive attorney is not a psychologist or psychotherapist, but prospective parents need to feel comfortable discussing many personal issues with their attorney. If you are fortunate enough to find an attorney who not only has professional experience in this field, but also someone you feel confident in and at ease with, you will find yourself with a professional who will be able to provide you with the most up-to-date information and advice you need to protect your interests.
Second, look for a reproductive attorney who can provide more than just legal assistance. Gestational carrier arrangements are complicated, and prospective parents can easily become overwhelmed trying to answer questions such as these:
Prospective parents may want to hire an attorney who can connect them to an escrow agency, an insurance agent and/or a donor agency. This type of “one-stop shopping” can be invaluable.
Third, each gestational carrier arrangement is unique. There are at least three different methods that attorneys use to charge for their services, and it would benefit prospective parents tremendously to ask any potential attorney about his or her billing practices prior to signing any retainer agreement. Some attorneys work on a contingency basis. This is not appropriate for the area of reproductive law, and prospective parents should steer clear of any attorney who would offer them such a payment option for these services. Most attorneys will charge an hourly rate, meaning that prospective parents are billed a set amount for every hour (or part of an hour) that the attorney is working on their case. Since each gestational carrier arrangement is unique, it is nearly impossible to foresee the amount of time that an attorney may need to spend on a case. For that reason, an hourly billing arrangement makes it virtually impossible for prospective parents to budget their legal fees. Given all of the unforeseeable expenses prospective parents discover along the way, it would be beneficial to find a reproductive attorney
who works on a flat fee basis. When retaining an attorney for a flat fee, prospective parents can take comfort in knowing what their legal fees will be in advance.
Fourth, prospective parents should ask any reproductive attorney they are thinking about hiring where he or she is licensed to practice. Prospective parents will discover that the entities involved in their gestational carrier arrangement may be located in different parts of the country. Prospective parents are at a great advantage if they hire an attorney who is licensed in at least one (if not more) of the states in which the parties reside and/or the state in which any medical procedures are being performed. By hiring an attorney licensed in several different states, you can be confident that the advice you are receiving from your attorney is based on that attorney’s knowledge of the laws in the state(s) in which you are working.
Fifth, and finally, when prospective parents retain an attorney they are hiring not only that attorney, but the whole law firm. One sign of a good attorney is the presence of a knowledgeable and experienced legal staff. An attorney with an experienced staff can make a world of difference as opposed to a sole practitioner with no office staff or an attorney with poorly trained or inexperienced personnel. Although the support staff cannot offer legal advice, they can ensure that all other aspects of your case are handled in a timely and professional manner. If possible, try to find out how long the employees have been working with the attorney, as a high turnover rate may be indicative ofinternal problems in the attorney’s office.
With this information in mind, prospective parents should be able to find a reproductive attorney who will be invaluable to them on their journey to parenthood.
Lauren Cuozzo is an associate at the firm, Melissa B. Brisman, Esq.,LLC, and focuses her practice solely on transactional and litigation work associated with reproductive law. She can be reached at email@example.com.