How to Choose the Right Family Lawyer for You
Choosing the right family lawyer to help with your divorce/property settlement/children’s matters is an important decision facing people who are going through separation.
Not only is choosing someone with the right legal skills and expertise invaluable, it is important to choose a family lawyer that you feel comfortable with during one of the most stressful times in your life. Selecting the right family lawyer early should help produce the best result possible in the least amount of time and at a reasonable cost.
Here are some of our top tips for you to consider when selecting the right family lawyer for you.
1. Seek advice from the right lawyer as early as possible
Whilst the idea of seeing a family lawyer may be daunting, ideally you should seek advice from a family lawyer as soon as you know that separation is on the cards. The reason for this is that you do not want to be placed under the stress of finding and engaging your lawyer in a short time frame. Don’t leave it until you receive a letter from a lawyer acting for your spouse, demanding a quick response, as this will only cause you to hurry and engage a lawyer, without making sure they are the right fit for you.
Seeking preliminary advice early also means that you can understand your rights and obligations and use this knowledge to try to amicably negotiate an equitable settlement with your spouse at an early stage to prevent matters escalating. A quick and amicable settlement means that the matter can be dealt with efficiently and cost-effectively and you can move on with your life.
If it is not possible to seek advice from a family lawyer at an early stage, then you should engage a family lawyer as soon as possible after separation.
2. Only use an experienced family lawyer
Family law has grown in complexity since the introduction of the Family Law Act in 1975. Over time, the Family Law Act has undergone numerous and significant amendments and is regularly under review.
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. This then improves their performance for their clients.
This means that choosing a lawyer who practices predominantly in or specialises in family law will best advance your case and ensure you get the right advice.
3. Do your research
If you find a lawyer that you are considering, research them – have they achieved many precedent cases in their career? If so, how many? This means that they know the law well and are willing to challenge existing precedents to get a just and equitable result for their clients. Don’t be afraid to ask a lawyer about their experience. Given you are about to spend your hard earned money on legal fees, it is preferable to find the right lawyer first time round.
There are other ways to research your proposed lawyers – check online reviews, Google, any social media that the lawyer or their fir may have and also 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 an experienced family lawyer and not just a lawyer who does family law.
3. Ask around
In modern society, where around 50 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 the lawyer you have picked 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.
Also question what sort of family lawyer you want – do you want a “bulldog” family lawyer who pushes hard for litigation who is usually aggressive in their approach. Or, would you prefer someone who is softer natured, but firm and calm in their communication? Both types of family lawyers have their merits, but you need to consider what type of family lawyer is going to be most suitable for you and your needs.
As with all professional relationships, if you do not feel comfortable with using the services of this lawyer for whatever reason, 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.
If there are no other lawyers at the firm who can assist, 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.
What you don’t need is to select a lawyer who is not right for you, have them undertake initial work for you, then decide to change lawyers later on when you have incurred the legal costs of the first lawyer and then will have to pay the second lawyer to review everything undertaken by the first lawyer to continue with your matter.
5. Cost, service and results
After finalisation of your matter, the cost of the lawyer’s professional services, the quality of the service 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 (ie. was your family lawyer good value for money).
The cost of the lawyer’s services will not be the only consideration as to whether you are happy with them. However, costs cannot be ignored when instructing a lawyer as it is imperative that your family lawyer is commercially minded enough to balance the amount you are spending and may spend on legal fees if your matter progresses with any possible settlement you may receive. You don’t want a lawyer who continues to litigate or send correspondence backwards and forwards with no real result except incurring more legal fees for you.
At your first appointment, your lawyer should discuss fee estimates with you. 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 spouse conducts themselves 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.
When your lawyer sends through their Cost Agreement and Disclosure Notice, as required under the Legal Profession Act, ensure that it contains the same amounts as you were quoted during your initial consultation before signing and returning it to them.
Despite costs being a major factor in the consideration of whether a lawyer is the right fit for you, 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.
Even if a lawyer offers a fixed fee service – does this mean that you are going to be treated the same way as clients paying an hourly rate. Whilst you would like to think so, consider that if lawyers are charging fixed fees then they can’t afford to spend too much time on your matter which means that they are potentially doing less work for you then they may otherwise be doing for a client.
Finally, don’t forget the value of good service during a distressing 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.
If you need assistance with your family law matter, please contact our experienced family lawyers today – Toowong (3870 8244) or Albany Creek (3264 7692).