If I had written this article five years ago it would have said – when selecting a family lawyer choose one that is confident, knows the law well, has a good reputation and a winning record (or something like that). Now I have been practicing as a family lawyer for more than 10 years and I think have some wiser insights, so read on because I have six tips to ensure you choose the right family lawyer.
The first one is fit. When I was researching engagement rings the best article I read said that you need to find out what your future-hopefully-fiance wants. If you buy the most beautiful round diamond ever, but all your fiancé has dreamed about from age 3 is a pear-shaped stone, then she’ll be disappointed no matter how objectively good the one you got is. Family lawyers are a bit the same. You need to find one who fits with you. There’s heaps of variables – aggressive vs collaborative, old vs young, male vs female, phone calls and meetings vs everything in writing. We can adapt to what our clients’ preferences are but if the natural fit is off it’s going to be an experience that you find frustrating and adds to your stress. So you need to find out who fits. I think that’s the biggest one.
Maybe a function of that but I think the next one is communication. You can tell over time which clients you have/had a really open and honest communication with and who was a bit guarded. Some people are naturally more private but the lawyer/client relationships that are professional but friendly, easy, and underpinned by a clear mutual trust and respect are much more effective. Some of this goes to communication medium – as I tell Jim frequently these days, communicating significant issues over text message or social media is very normal for some clients – but a lot of it is content too. You have to communicate effectively with your lawyer. This includes what you want, what you’re disappointed by, what your concerns are; if you’re worried about raising any of those things that’s a real indicator the relationship isn’t right for you.
I think the best family lawyers are specialists. It is a highly specialised area. I’m sure there are some excellent lawyers in Australia doing family law work who aren’t family law specialists but they are the exception not the rule.
If you’re struggling to find a lawyer, go and watch Court. The court duty lists are all public and you can sit at the back and watch for a day or a week until you find one who has a rapport with their clients and the Judges that you think would suit you. I’ve had quite a few people approach me at Court to ask for a card over the years – some were there shopping and some weren’t – but I always think it’s a more ‘frontline’ place to find a lawyer than by reading profiles or reviews on Google.
You need to know what winning is to you. If you need an outcome immediately, and your lawyer is a plodder, that’s not going to work. If you need someone to really go into bat for you, and your lawyer is totally outcome-focused, then that might not work either. But before you know if your lawyer is right for you, it’s worth taking the time to consider what the most important things are to you – some suggestions are maintaining an amicable relationship, privacy, immediacy, minimising stress, minimising cost, a ‘fair’ outcome, the ‘best possible’ outcome, etc.
Finally if your lawyer can’t or won’t talk to you about fees I think you have to go somewhere else. All lawyers are expensive but the good ones normalise a conversation about costs.
We do our best at FGD to have our client services managers (and lawyers) talk to current and new clients about the above to ensure we match our clients with the right lawyer. If you think your current lawyer might not be right for you give us a call to see if a change is in your interests.
Article By: Adam Bak
Adam joined the firm in 2006. Since then Adam has established himself as one of our leading litigation lawyers and has run some of the firm’s biggest cases, in both parenting and property matters. He became a director of the firm in 2013. While he now tries to help his clients reach agreement wherever possible he still regularly appears in Court and is one of our best advocates. Adam has a particular interest and expertise in cases involving businesses, corporate structures and valuation issues.