Getting the Most out of your Family Lawyer
A relationship breakdown can be one of the most challenging and stressful experiences in your life and, ultimately, you’ll more than likely end up having to resolve matters through the Family Court (whether by litigation or an Application for Consent Orders).
But to make the process simpler and improve the overall and – let’s be frank – stressful and often negative experience of litigation, you need to know how to get the most out of your lawyer.
Here are 10 suggestions that might help:
1. Choose a lawyer who’s qualified in Family Law
Check your lawyer’s knowledge of and experience in family law. Do they practise exclusively in the area, are they an accredited specialist or is it just one of a number of areas they give advice on?
Do not be embarrassed to query their experience and qualifications at your first meeting (even if you’ve already checked them out on the internet) and don’t waste your money if you do not have confidence in your lawyer’s ability to conduct your case in a timely, professional manner. If you have doubts, go elsewhere.
2. Make sure your lawyer informs you about solutions and alternatives
Most lawyers will be able to handle your matter efficiently enough in the Family Court. But is your lawyer “solution-focused” and looking for an appropriate resolution to your problems? Are there other ways of getting matters resolved besides litigation? Ask your lawyer about alternatives to Court litigation like mediation, informal conferences, counselling or even arbitration.
These processes are becoming ever more popular given the significant expense involved in even “basic” litigation, and ever-lengthening delays in conducting matters at the Family Court.
Currently, the average time taken from starting a case until resolution at Trial is at least 2 years. Of course, not all cases end up at Trial, and most settle somewhere along that 2-year timeline, but the delays are still enormously impacting people wishing to get their lives ”back on track”.
3. Help your lawyer by providing the complete picture
Your lawyer will need detailed and accurate information to solidify your case and to properly represent your best interests. Everything you tell your lawyer is privileged and cannot be disclosed to the Court or other party without your express authority; so, tell the full and true story – even the embarrassing parts and any events which might not necessarily help your case.
Your lawyer’s job is not to judge you but represent you. Nor is it to “twist” the facts of your story to achieve a certain outcome by omitting potentially damaging information from your case. However, they will not be able to act in your best interests if they do not know the complete picture, or if details detrimental to your case are revealed at a much later stage. Remember to tell your lawyer if your circumstances change:
- you start a new job;
- enter a new de facto relationship;
- or receive an inheritance.
4. Raise the issue of fees and costs at your first meeting
Don’t be afraid to ask your lawyer what their services will cost. They are duty bound to provide you with full details and they should advise you as to estimates of the possible costs at each stage of the proceedings.
If you anticipate problems in paying your fees, let your lawyer know at the earliest opportunity and discuss the possibility of meeting the costs in instalments. A Litigation Funding Application may also be possible, depending on the circumstances.
5. Prepare for meetings and discussions with your lawyer
Try to be totally organised prior to talking with or meeting your lawyer. Prepare in advance an “issues list” or questions and keep to the point – remember your lawyer’s time is your money.
Disclosure of documents and information is usually an area where Family Lawyers cross swords – so ensure that all relevant documents are provided to your lawyer – whether they assist your case or not.
6. Ask your lawyer questions and listen to their advice
The family law system can be complex so don’t hesitate to ask questions if there is something you are not sure of. Keep asking until you understand. You must also take time to listen to what your lawyer is saying.
The advice you receive is based on extensive training and years of experience. Although that advice may not be what you want to hear, it must be considered carefully and understood. Don’t retain a fixed outcome in your head if your lawyer advises it’s not achievable, or even probable.
7. Don’t sign documents until you are satisfied what they mean
If you are unclear as to the contents or the effect of documents you’re being asked to sign, ask questions until you are satisfied that you fully comprehend. Every document you sign should be read carefully, line-by-line.
There are no “second chances” after signing and saying “but I didn’t understand” later down the track will be of no assistance.
8. Take an interest in your matter and stay in touch
You should take an active interest in your case, and not avoid dealing with difficult issues or bury your head in the sand. This requires maintaining your own electronic or hard copy “case file” containing copies of all documents relating to the matter.
Your lawyer is obliged to send you copies of all relevant correspondence and documents. This will ensure you are kept updated, enable you to keep asking questions and will facilitate more effective consultations with your lawyer.
Be on time for your appointments.
9. Demand high quality service – your interests must be paramount
Lawyers are expensive. You are entitled to expect a high quality of service which caters for your best interests. Don’t be afraid to tell your lawyer if you’re not satisfied with the handling of your case. Complain if the service is not what you require or expect. If you don’t, things will simply go on as before.
10. Be careful of anything that’s “free”
Be wary of family lawyers offering “free” services, initial 15-minute consultations, or $50 consultations.
Generally, good lawyers will value the services they provide, and take pride in their professionalism, so cut-price initial deals and very brief “free” advice should probably be avoided.
In truth, to take proper instructions (even on a basic matter) and give meaningful, considered advice will take at least an hour. A 15-minute consultation will probably leave you with more queries and concerns than you had at the start.
Following the simple tips above will ensure you help your lawyer to act in your best interests. Depending on the attitude of your spouse or his/her lawyer, some matters may be beyond your lawyer’s control.
But many of the issues which can be controlled lie in your asking questions, providing detailed, comprehensive instructions to your lawyer on a regular basis, and taking an active interest in your case.
Let’s meet, and figure it out
For practical advice about what you should do next, please call to arrange a no-obligation initial consultation.