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Unfortunately, we see a lot of clients as their second or third family lawyers. Usually these clients have spent a significant amount of money, and have yet to really either progress the matter or they’re at a loss as to what is going on. As a result they are often disenchanted, a little wary and sometimes exhausted. Like all professions, there are good family lawyers and there are bad family lawyers. Here are my top 10 tips to help you avoid the good from the bad:

  1. Avoid lawyers who claim to be both fierce litigators and collaborative negotiators. You cannot be both. Some firms do however offer sub-specialists such as negotiators, parenting litigators, experts in business/commercial family law etc which allows you to choose the lawyer to match your needs and your style.
  2. Choose a lawyer or law firm that specialises in family law. Practising in this jurisdiction requires an absolute commitment to family law. As a hot political topic, there is continued pressure on government and legislators from various lobby groups to make changes to the legislation and regulations relating to child support, children’s issues, prenuptial and cohabitation agreements, superannuation, tax, the involvement of third parties and there are frequent changes in the Courts approach from new case law. Also, in my view, part of the expertise you are “buying” must necessarily include knowledge of Court process, the most effective mediators, the best counsellors, the premier family law barristers, and best business valuers. That expertise must further include an intimate understanding of the judges of the Court, their preferences, and the means by which the best outcomes are achieved before them.
  3. Check the admission date of your lawyer and ask the question as to how long have they specialised in family law. Often those lawyers claiming to have experience in fact have very little.
  4. Beware of the lawyer that talks about “winning”. I believe that you win when you achieve the most optimal outcome in the circumstances. Often when one party feels that they have “lost” as a result of a legal process, it will lead to immeasurable conflict for children being co-parented for years to come. In my mind, that conflict and the associated risk is not a “win”.
  5. Talk to your lawyer on the phone before making an appointment to see them. Make sure you are comfortable with their style. Are they easily able to be understood?
  6. Don’t be afraid to look for another lawyer or ask for another lawyer at the same firm (if possible) after your initial meeting. A good relationship with your family lawyer is vital.
  7. Expect your lawyer to see red flags around corporate and trust practice, taxation issues and less than advantageous financial outcomes. Whilst arguably the domain of a skilled accountant and financial advisor, you should at the very least expect your lawyer to be able to read and understand a set of financial statements and know when further advice of that nature is needed.
  8. Look for firms that provide a few points of contact at the firm who have a good working knowledge of you and your matter. There is nothing more frustrating than not having important questions answered when you need to them or having your matter left stagnating while “your lawyer” is on leave.
  9. You wouldn’t see a doctor without a referral and a strong recommendation – adopt the same approach with your family lawyer. Ask for a recommendation from those people and professionals in whose judgment you trust. The best marketers may not be the best family lawyers.
  10. Whilst it should never be used as the sole basis for a decision as to which family lawyer you use, compare your lawyers charge out rates with other specialist family lawyers. You need to try to seek a balance. Too many people go with the cheaper hourly rate not thinking that what a specialist family lawyer can do in 3 or 4 hours may take the “cheaper by the hour” non specialist 8 or 10 hours to do. We see this often. On the other hand, very high charge out rates (over $500 per hour) and you may not be able to progress your case very far before you run out of money. Often firms with family law sections are competing alongside the firm’s other areas of law such as insurance, property, construction and other corporate and commercial areas. This places significant pressure on family lawyers to have the same charge out rates as their colleagues in the same firm.