Dan Toombs (DT): Hi I’m Dan Toombs. Today I’m chatting to Dan Buckley, Partner of Brisbane Family Law firm, Best Wilson Buckley – to find out a little bit more about the firm. Good Morning Dan
Dan Buckley (DB): Good Morning Dan
DT: I’ve seen the firm’s Mission Statement and its vision and they’re great, but in simple terms, what’s the Best Wilson Buckley message?
DB: If you’ve got a friend or family member who’s going through a separation, you want to put them in the hands of people that care about them as a person, are exceptional at what they do and will get the best outcome for them
DT: In business terms, what’s the firm’s “point of difference”?
DB: Look I think these days the traditional approach of family lawyers is completely out of whack with almost every other service industry. That approach of “this is what the law says, this is what you have done wrong and these are the consequences” just seems absurd these days.
It’s a digital age – there’s so much information readily accessible and that information is being produced in an increasingly more digestible form. A couple of minutes of “Google research” will produce hundreds of blog articles summarising the legislation, countless “how to” videos showing people how to run a spousal maintenance application and even a few webcasts about how to prepare for and approach a private mediation.
The modern family lawyer needs to be more flexible, more nimble, more aware of the need to meet our clients’ specific needs and be more in tune with the expectations of a modern user of professional services.
As a service provider, providing family law services to clients, we need to be providing something much more than just a rehash or interpretation of the law but pragmatic and commercial solutions as to how best to navigate the particular circumstances for a particular client.
We need to be nimble enough to facilitate instructions from our clients based on what they tell us they need and what they tell us is important to them. Sometimes they want to negotiate directly with their spouse and want us as merely as a sounding board. We need to be able to do that, whilst also being able to negotiate the financial issues with their spouse’s lawyer, with the assistance of both parties’ accountant and in some cases involving assets that are held under different corporate structures and located across different countries.
DT: Between a quarter and a third of people in Queensland were born outside Australia. How does the firm address the resulting cultural diversity in its clients?
DB: It’s a fairly fundamental approach we have I think – when acting for a family law client you must have an understanding of their personality, their background and an understanding at what stage of the grieving process they are at. This must also naturally include an understanding of their cultural background.
For a client who is a follower of Islam – negotiations (or Orders) around who the children spend time with at Christmas, will not be important to them but spending time with the children during Eid al Fitr and Eid al-Adha will be.
Or in the case of a client that adheres to the principles of Sharia Law, it is insufficient to address just the legal divorce without also addressing the parties’ religious divorce including its execution and implications, such as the right to re-partner and have children to a new partner.
It’s also about truly embracing and recognising modern Australian society’s wonderful diversity as multicultural, multi-religious, multilingual and recognising that each client that seeks your support will have a different story and different background.
DT: We’ve all heard the stories about exorbitant amounts of money being spent by spouses on legal fees arising from a family law dispute. Unfortunately these stories are not just limited to US celebrities. Some of these stories suggest that the sole or major motivation of the parties’ family lawyers is directed towards their own personal financial gain, rather than that of their clients. How does Best Wilson Buckley deal with the issue of fees?
DB: Look, I really like to think that, in the vast majority of cases, the primary goal that motivates most family lawyers is getting a good outcome for their clients. Obviously, they want to be paid for that work. The way that we try to deal with this is to start the conversation early. We have a publication on our website, “How to control your legal fees”. It’s the first document we send to clients.
Most clients are very good about this issue. People are happy to pay for good service. In most circumstances, they just need to know up front what they are likely to be up for, and what circumstances that is likely to change. They are paying with essentially after tax dollars, so they also need to know when bills are likely to be due so they can budget for this.
The key I think, is to consistently carry out a kind of cost benefit analysis for our clients, at each stage of their matter. There is no point, in a financial matter, in spending the same amount (or more) on legal fees to progress your matter than the amount that is in dispute between you and your former spouse.
DT: What about clients who don’t have access to any funds when they need the firm’s services?
DB: One of the best initiatives we have put in place over the last couple of years is to negotiate arrangements with our bank to allow us to offer certain client’s the opportunity to defer payment of their legal fees. In circumstances where our client may not currently be in paid employment, and therefore unable to access to funds (or even apply for a loan), and they are likely to receive some funds/assets from their property settlement, the firm can defer payment of their legal expenses, until their property settlement is finalised. The firm’s arrangements with the bank, essentially allows us to meet the firm’s expenses (rent, wages, insurance etc) in the meantime.
DT: what about the firm’s approach to staff?
DB: From a business perspective, some very astute people have said some very profound things about staff being the most important asset of a business, backed up by lots of stats about happy staff being more productive.
To us, I think it’s a lot simpler than that. We spend a lot of time working together each day (possibly more than most friends and family). It’s essential therefore that we respect each other, support each other and care for each other.
The focus then is to find really good people – people who are intelligent, compassionate, resilient and have a good sense of humour! – and do everything you can to keep them.
DT: Thanks for your time Dan
DB: Thank you Dan