Jane Miller, an Accredited Family Law Specialist, offers five tips to help you choose a family lawyer to suit your needs.
Jane Miller, an Accredited Family Law Specialist, offers five tips to help you choose the best family and divorce lawyer to suit your needs.
Choosing the right family lawyer to help with your divorce is an important decision facing people who are leaving a relationship. Not only is choosing someone with the right legal skills and expertise invaluable, it is important to choose a family lawyer that you can work well with, during this distressing time. Making the right choice early should help produce the best result possible in the least amount of time and at a reasonable cost.
Here are some useful tips when thinking of selecting your family lawyer.
1. Start your search for the right lawyer as early as possible
You do not want to be placed under the stress of finding and engaging your lawyer in a short time frame. For example, don’t leave it until you receive a letter out of the blue from a lawyer acting for your ex, demanding a quick response. It is preferable to seek and instruct a family lawyer as soon as you know the relationship is on the rocks. If this is not possible, then you should engage a family lawyer as soon as possible after separation. Attend an initial appointment for some valuable preliminary advice, even if it is hoped the separation will be amicable. You will get some useful advice about your rights and obligations, and this will also secure the services of the lawyer therefore preventing your ex from using that lawyer or their law firm against you.
2. Only use an expert
Family law has grown in complexity since the introduction of the Family Law Act in 1975. Since then, the Act has undergone numerous and significant amendments, and is regularly under review by Parliament. Each year the Family Law Courts determine thousands of cases which set precedents for how the Act is to be applied. This continuous process of change in the Family Law system means that lawyers working in the area must dedicate a great deal of time to keeping abreast of the law as it currently applies, and doing so improves their performance for their clients. This means that choosing a lawyer who practices predominantly in family law will best advance your case and ensure you get the right advice. Experienced family lawyers from reputable firms regularly participate in professional development training. For Accredited Specialists in Family Law professional development is mandatory, and they have also passed a gruelling examination set by the state’s Law Society.
Finally, don’t forget other useful research tools, such as Google and lawyers’ websites. Check whether your proposed lawyer is an active participant within the family law profession. For example, have they delivered papers at conferences, sat on relevant committees or been asked for professional comment about topical family law matters? This information can help you assess whether a lawyer is indeed a family law expert.
3. Ask around
In today’s world, where around 40 percent of marriages end in divorce, everyone knows someone who has recently or is currently going through a relationship breakdown. If you find yourself in similar circumstances, then speak to these people about their experience with the lawyers they may have encountered. Not everyone is willing to speak about their personal circumstances, but most people would be open about whether they had a good or bad experience with their lawyer. You could also ask a trusted professional for a recommendation to a family lawyer, such as your financial planner, accountant or conveyancer.
4. Meet your lawyer
When you have chosen a proposed family lawyer, make an appointment to see them as soon as possible. Take a close friend or relative to this appointment to help you absorb the advice you will receive, but also to assess whether this is the right family lawyer for you.
This appointment should allow you to assess whether you and the lawyer will work effectively together, if the rapport between you is good and if you feel that you will both be able to communicate openly and effectively. Finally, assess if you feel comfortable that the lawyer will get you the best result in an efficient manner.
As with all professional relationships, if you do not feel comfortable with using the services of this lawyer, then acknowledge this early on and make other arrangements. If the lawyer works in a firm with other family lawyers, ask if there is another lawyer available to look after your matter. Alternatively, or if there are no other lawyers at the firm who can help, find another lawyer using the steps above. It is better to change lawyers early if you are not happy, as this process may be more complicated once your lawyer has started substantial work for you.
5. Cost vs service vs result
At the end of your matter, the cost of the lawyer’s professional services, the service they provided and their impact on the final result of your matter will influence your ultimate view of whether they were a good family lawyer for you to have used. In other words, the costs of the lawyer’s services will not be the only consideration as to whether you are happy with them. Even still, costs cannot be ignored when instructing a lawyer.
It is required that your lawyer discusses fee estimates at your first appointment. An ethical family lawyer will be upfront about their charges and give clear advice about costs. The lawyer will probably only be able to provide an estimation of fees, as much depends upon when your matter resolves, and how you ex conducts themself during the process. Even though you will only receive a fee estimate and not an exact quotation, this is crucial information for you to have early on. If your lawyer doesn’t raise the topic of fees with you, then ask about potential costs. If you lawyer isn’t open and clear about costs, then you might feel the communication is too poor to use their services.
However, don’t choose your lawyer based just on cost alone. Sometimes using a lawyer with a higher hourly rate may ultimately see you with more money in your pocket at the end of the process. This is because you will be using an expert who is more efficient in what they do, and their final bill may be less than a lawyer with a lower hourly rate. Secondly, a true expert should help you achieve such a good financial result in a property settlement that using their services effectively pays for itself. Finally, don’t forget the value of good service during a traumatic time. When providing good service, your lawyer should help you feel comfortable, informed, heard and as influential as possible on the outcome of your matter.
By following these steps the best family and divorce lawyer for you can be selected as early as possible. Making the right choice in this situation will give you the best chance at a good result, in a reasonable time frame and at a fee which represents value for money.
For assistance with your family law issue contact your nearest TGB office.