Selecting a lawyer to navigate one’s path through a relationship break-up is a critical decision. Like visiting an oncologist or perhaps even the dentist, a consultation with a family lawyer is not something which has universal appeal.
Choosing the right lawyer to guide a separating party may be the most important decision that you may make in the post-separation haze.
As a specialist family lawyer who has practiced in the field for close to 2 decades, I have noted an alarming trend over the past few years. There appears to be an increased number of lawyers who market themselves as family lawyers with little or no knowledge of the area.
Whereas in years gone by, lawyers with boutique practices in commercial, workplace relations, property and or / estates law wouldn’t ‘deign’ themselves to touch family law files, this is now no longer the case. Quite often, a junior practitioner with limited experience will be asked to manage the file (and client).
A scenario involving a non-family lawyer is dangerous to the client. It is not uncommon for the practitioner to act as a mouthpiece merely amplifying their client’s gripes and adopting belligerent positions under the guise of championing a robust approach. Moreover, the prospects of a case heading into litigation is increased due to the challenge of trying to negotiate sensibly and with an opponent lacking a full understanding of family law and its nuances.
Litigation is an expensive process and cases can be prolonged in the court system by lawyers who are not au fait with the process or who revel in the incursion of unnecessary fees for their client. Unfortunately, the consequence of this type of behaviour is not limited to their client. Your client will also bemoan the deepening hole in his or her pocket.
Much criticism has been levelled at family lawyers who are routinely accused of preying on vulnerable clients and charging excessively. From my years of practice, I have found these stereotypes to be the exception to the rule and demeaning to the many practitioners who are solutions-focussed and keen to encourage their clients to adopt reasonable positions.
As professional vocations in the world we live in become more specialised, clients like any consumers should be encouraged to seek the advice of those who are skilled in the family law jurisdiction. Parties can be directed to Accredited Specialists in Family Law by contacting the Law Institute of Victoria.
It is important for would be clients to meet with their nominated practitioner to assess for themselves the competence and confidence of the practitioner and to undertake any necessary background research to verify their credentials and experience.
Clients are cautioned about utilising the services of a trusted lawyer who has assisted them in past commercial or property dealings. Not only may there be potential conflicts of interest, there is a risk that the practitioner may only ‘dabble’ in family law and be unaware of the latest developments or legislative changes which arise from time to time.
Family lawyers come with varying degrees of experience and operate from many different locations including the CBD, suburbs or regional towns. My practice straddles the city of Melbourne, its bayside suburbs and the Mornington Peninsula.
Different lawyers charge different fees and depending on the financial circumstances of the client, a competent junior practitioner with a solid grounding in family law and working under the supervision of experienced mentors may offer a cost-effective option.
It is important for parties experiencing the challenge of a relationship break-up to have confidence that they are being represented in a caring, commercial and diligent manner. This is the expectation of a specialist family lawyer.