What makes a good family lawyer for one person, might not necessarily make them a good fit for someone else. When you are going through a separation, it can be a daunting and confusing time to know what to look for and how to choose a divorce lawyer.
In this article, I share what I have found may help you make the right decision when you are looking to choose a divorce lawyer that suits your needs.
1. Understand yourself
Before you go seeking your ideal lawyer, it is incredibly important that you understand yourself and what you need from your lawyer.
Consider whether you are a detail-oriented person. Are you going to want to know all the mechanics, the plan, and the steps involved in executing the plan? Or, are you a “big picture” person and engaging your lawyer to fix the problem for you, and don’t need to know all the steps involved in how your lawyer will go about executing it?
Ideally, the relationship between you and your lawyer should be a short-lived one, because your matter is resolved amicably, quickly, and cost-effectively. However, you should bear in mind that there is always a chance you could end up in a three-year relationship with your family lawyer. Which, in some cases, could be longer than the relationship with your ex-partner.
Therefore, how to choose a divorce lawyer starts with understanding you. It is an important prerequisite in terms of how you best function and work with others. Do you want to know how to build the bridge? Or do you just want to cross it?
2. Be comfortable with a lawyer who will debate, not dictate
Lawyers are often stereotyped as ‘don’t question my advice, rulers of the universe’. The reality is that our clients are entitled to want to talk to their lawyer about the why’s and the how’s, rather than a lawyer simply dictating what they are going to do and rubber-stamping it.
As a client, you want a lawyer who is comfortable debating scenarios with you rather than dictate to you that it is their way or the highway. When you are interviewing your potential lawyer in the initial consultation, you want to get a feel for whether they are open to that or not.
3. Ensure you are in the front seat
One of the greatest complaints people going through the separation and divorce process often have is that they do not understand, or are not aware of, what the next step is. This is because a client may feel like the separation process is being entirely driven by their lawyer.
As an experienced family lawyer, I always explain to my clients that I want them in the driver’s seat with me. I do not want to have a situation where they are feeling like they are in the back of the bus having no idea where they are going or what is happening. I want my client to be aware, for example, that I have written to the other lawyer and that we are waiting on a response, and that if the response is positive, the next step will be ‘X’. Equally, I want my client to know that if the response is negative, then we might have to look at an alternative step.
Essentially, I want people, whoever they choose as their lawyer, to understand and be completely on board with the plan and strategy, and that their lawyer is continuing to communicate with them.
I like my clients to be the ones with their foot on the accelerator or the brake. If they want to speed things up or slow things down, it is entirely up to them.
4. Be okay with honesty
A few weeks ago, I had an initial consultation with a potential client. This consultation went for about two hours. During the meeting, I didn’t get a good feeling about her proceeding with me, because I could tell she was not happy with the advice I gave her. A week later she notified me that she had decided that she was not going to proceed with me and had found a different lawyer for the matter, one that had given her different advice and as it happened, had told her what she wanted to hear.
As a client, you are of course allowed to get more than one lawyer’s opinion. But when you are making your decision on who to go with, it is imperative you do not base that decision on hearing what you want to hear.
Look for a lawyer who is going to give it to you straight. Your lawyer should be honest with you even when it is something you may not want to hear because it is unfair to you to be set up for false hope.
I believe it is important to be told a range of what you might expect in a property settlement.
That you could get as much as X, but it is equally important to be told you might get as little as Y, too. To be given realistic expectations of your best- and worst-case scenarios is important.
If during your initial meeting, your family lawyer is reluctant to provide definitive advice, that is usually a sign of a good lawyer. You do not want a lawyer that is giving you a sales pitch and a promise of your desired outcome from the get-go.
Your lawyer needs to be prepared to stand behind the advice that they are giving you.
5. Compatible values
When selecting a family lawyer, you must be sure you are comfortable with the values and approach that your lawyer will bring to your situation.
If you have a lawyer who is focused on getting you working through your angst and into a good place, but you want a lawyer who will try and score points, delay proceedings and play obstructively, then you have a mismatch in values.
Your lawyer may hear your pain and anger, but a good lawyer will be able to help you move through that and recognise the best thing for you is to get your matter resolved and get things onto a good footing for you and/or your children.
Warning signs or alarm bells to look out for during an initial consultation include a potential lawyer who is quick to provide advice without taking the time to know your full story. Or, if they make sweeping statements about likely outcomes.
If you have been referred to a family lawyer for an initial consultation, ask your referrer for more in-depth information about the lawyer. You could ask about the style of approach the lawyer used, what the lawyer focused on, and what their values were. That way, you will have a bit more information about what you could expect and help you identify what you want to know about them and their approach to resolving matters like yours.
Also consider a lawyer who works exclusively in family law, rather than across a number of areas of law. Someone who works in family law every day will have more experience and a depth of knowledge about how to help you and your children, most effectively
While this is not an exhaustive list, it should give you a good head start to help you determine how to choose a divorce lawyer that will best support you and your needs.
Phillips Family Law is an award winning Family Law practice serving clients across Australia and abroad. Regardless of where you are in your decision-making process, we can make you aware of your options. To discuss your situation confidentially phone +61730079898 or secure a time by clicking here.
Disclaimer: The content in this article provides general information however it does not substitute legal advice or opinion. Information is best used in conjunction with legal advice from an experienced member of our team.