It is never a good day when you make an appointment to see a lawyer.
Whether you are in the middle of a complicated financial dispute or discussing sensitive parenting arrangements with your ex-partner, going to see a lawyer means that you accept that you need outside help to resolve a personal problem and taking this step can be a hard and painful one.
This process can be made easier on you if you keep in mind the following handy points when retaining a lawyer:
- Are you comfortable with the lawyer? Even if you have been referred to a particular lawyer by a friend or work colleague, does not mean that this is the right lawyer for you; it is a good idea to ‘shop around’ until you find a lawyer you are comfortable with because your case may last months if not years;
- Are you better off with a specialist? Whilst you may have in the past hired a general practice lawyer for a variety of legal purposes, sometimes going to see a specialist firm with lawyers trained and continuing training in family law can be very good value for money. They will get to the real issues faster, their advice will be up to date with the latest authorities and they are more likely to negotiate a better deal for you.
- Unlike lawyers you see on television, a good family lawyer may not appear aggressive. This does not mean they cannot still achieve the best possible outcome for you. Ask yourself if your aggressive lawyer is actually preventing resolution by fanning the flames of conflict.
- Consider hiring a lawyer who has the 'bigger picture' in mind and will consider your long-term family life. Is the lawyer so focused on ‘winning’ the case that it results in lasting family damage to your children, your extended family and your friends?
- Pay attention to how your lawyer treats you in the initial conference. Are they listening to you and your personal concerns? A good lawyer will listen to you, even if some of your comments may not be legally relevant. They are still part of the overall picture.
- Be aware that lawyers are not trained therapists or qualified financial advisors. It can be very cost-effective to limit your discussions with your family lawyer to legal issues, and see your counsellor or other advisors to discuss your feelings about the break-up, or your future financial goals.
- Family law in Australia operates as a ‘no fault’ process. Drinking, having affairs, gambling and other factors may or may not be relevant to your family law situation, (depending on your individual case) but what you can rely on is that you will not be judged about these issues, so be upfront with your lawyer. Remember that everything you tell your lawyer is strictly confidential unless you give your lawyer permission to disclose it to the other side or a court. If you tell your lawyer everything that might be relevant to your case, your lawyer is in a far better position to represent you.
- Feel free to discuss costs openly: what will this cost me? When do I have to pay? Will I be charged for every email and phone call?
- Be aware that no matter how hurt or angry you are, the court will not compensate you for pain and suffering. Try to remain objective about what the legal system can and can't do for you.
If you bear in mind those points above, you are likely to have a good working relationship with your legal advisor. This in turn should lead to your case being run efficiently, cost-effectively and with you having maximum control over the outcome.