Our duty as family lawyers is to take the heat out of matters, to hose them down, rather than adding fuel to the fire.
If we take up our client’s cause, we lose our objectivity and impartiality. Our judgment becomes clouded. We are prevented not only from carrying out our duty to the Court and the administration of justice, but also preventing us from providing sound, commercial advice to our clients.
The result can be disastrous for the parties involved in the litigation, taking its toll both emotionally and financially. It can lead to the breakdown of parenting relationships, and the loss of valuable resources better spent on investing in the parties’ futures or those of their children.
We have a duty as family lawyers to facilitate the just resolution of disputes as quickly, inexpensively and efficiently as possible. In other civil jurisdictions, parties to litigation even have an overarching obligation to cooperate with each other and the Court in the conduct of the proceedings.
Aggressive practices, from writing scathing letters said to incur the “wrath” of the author, to the “take no prisoners” approach which result in Pyrrhic victories, have not gone unnoticed in the family law jurisdiction and is the subject of recent criticism by a number of Family Court Judges. Whilst this is not the approach we adopt when assisting people going through relationship breakdown, unfortunately we see it all too frequently.
In the lead up to Christmas, it is a timely reminder that we do not assist our clients to resolve matters if we engage in these practices.
It is not uncommon at this time of the year for nerves to become frayed, tempers to flare, and conflict to intensify between parties, particularly when they are motivated to resolve matters before the mental deadline they set themselves, 25 December.
We, as lawyers, are in an envious position to assist our clients to sort the wheat from the chaff, to take an objective viewpoint, to reality test our clients, to temper their instructions, and not act merely as a mouthpiece venting their frustrations. If we do not, we cannot assist our clients to resolve their matters and move on with their lives, and we merely entrench the conflict which they have asked us to assist them to resolve.
Instead of taking up our client’s cause and becoming enmeshed in their conflict, we take a level-headed, commercial but empathetic approach to advising our clients. We assist our clients to make decisions based on good judgment, not emotion. It is this approach which consistently causes our clients to thank us at the end of their matters for our level-headed approach, our steady hand, our professionalism, our rational advice and our calm manner.
So in the enduring words of Australian Crawl, don’t be so reckless, throw down your guns.