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What to Look for in a Family Lawyer

After the reality of the separation has set in, most people start thinking about how the future will look, and how they are going to finalise the current chapter of their lives.

Not surprisingly, for the first time ever it dawns on them they should probably speak to a solicitor and specifically a matrimonial lawyer or family lawyer. If you watch a lot of US drama programs the phrase “divorce lawyer” might be on your radar.

Having never been in this situation before, stressed and fearful about the future, and with the internet overflowing with options for lawyers of all shapes and sizes; the next question springing to mind is “which family lawyer should I choose?”

Here are 5 tips that I think might help you weed out the winners from the “wannabes”:

  • Firstly, make sure they know something about family law and the way the family law system operates. This might seem like a given, but take it from an accredited specialist family lawyer in Brisbane who deals with other Brisbane lawyers on a daily basis; there are plenty who dabble in this area without a high level of knowledge. Ideally your solicitor will specialise in family law and be a Law Society accredited family law specialist. Getting poor advice early on can set the stage for a protracted, unhappy and expensive litigation;
  • Secondly, find a lawyer who’s happy to speak to you frankly about costs. You have the right to negotiate the retainer and it is important that budgets are discussed before the work starts. Sometimes commercial considerations will need to shape the decisions you make; and failing to plan ahead can lead to disaster. The worst lawyer is the one who runs up a massive bill, and deserts you half way through a matter when the funds run dry. Your family lawyer should put your best interests ahead of their fees.
  • Thirdly, your family lawyer needs to be level headed and not seek to unnecessarily antagonise your ex-partner. Separation can be high conflict; however often relationship are ongoing, especially where children are involved. Ask your family lawyer about the FLPA “Best Practice Guidelines for Family Lawyers”. If they turn their head like a confused puppy you may be in trouble. Sometimes it becomes necessary to adopt an aggressive approach, however this should only occur after more amicable attempts at resolution have been exhausted; or in response to an ex-partner (or their lawyer) resorting to bully tactics.
  • Fourthly, you and your family law matter are unique and you need to be treated as such. As I heard one of our Judges say in the Federal Circuit Court in Brisbane recently, “…this is not a sausage factory”. People deal with the stress of separation in different ways and your lawyer needs to have the life experience and maturity to understand where you are at. Additionally, the advice you receive must be tailored to your particular circumstances and a case plan developed early on as to how your matter will be managed. The old business adage applies here, “those who fail to plan, plan to fail”. Having a plan also helps manage your budget; and remain focused on the important issues to be negotiated or determined.
  • Fifthly, find a lawyer you like. I’m not kidding, it’s important. You need to be able to trust this person with the most personal aspects of your family life and you need to respect the advice their giving you. If you like your lawyer chances are it’s because your gut is telling you they have your back and they’re trying hard to help you.

Hopefully the above will be helpful in finding the right lawyer for you, and take some of the stress out of separating; and moving forward with your life.

By Peter Hooper – Brisbane lawyer specialising in family law


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