How to find a fam­i­ly lawyer and make the most of your first conference

In Brief

Select­ing a fam­i­ly lawyer is not a sim­ple mat­ter; you don’t take the first you find in your inter­net search. Prepa­ra­tion before your first con­fer­ence with your lawyer can also ensure the con­fer­ence is pro­duc­tive and you get the answers you are seeking.

You should take time to select a lawyer best for your par­tic­u­lar needs. Here are some point­ers for you to think about:

  • There is noth­ing wrong with con­duct­ing an inter­view with a lawyer to deter­mine if they are right for you. You will have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to ask ques­tions to deter­mine their lev­el of expe­ri­ence, see how they inter­act with you and whether they speak plain Eng­lish. You will also find out whether their style fits with yours and see if the two of you are a good fit.

  • Be pre­pared that a good, expe­ri­enced lawyer will not tell you what you want to hear — rather they will tell you what you need to hear. There­in lies the dif­fer­ence for many. It’s not always an easy mes­sage for the lawyer to deliv­er. It takes integri­ty and con­fi­dence, but that’s the least you should expect from your fam­i­ly lawyer. Your lawyer should be hon­est and use their expe­ri­ence to guide you in pro­gress­ing your case.

  • If you have young chil­dren, look for a lawyer who will make clear that you will need to put their needs first and that they will not sim­ply act as a mouth­piece for you if you are mak­ing unrea­son­able demands in rela­tion to your chil­dren. A fam­i­ly lawyer who is aware of the impor­tance of your chil­dren is an asset in your case. Your lawyer will be inte­gral in join­ing you to write your child’s divorce sto­ry” and it is essen­tial to have a fam­i­ly lawyer who will take you through the process to ensure the best pos­si­ble out­come for you and your family.

  • If your mat­ter involves com­pli­cat­ed prop­er­ty struc­tures select a firm that has a com­mer­cial law depart­ment who can assist where nec­es­sary. Also ensure that your lawyer has close work­ing rela­tion­ships with oth­er finan­cial experts who have knowl­edge in that area.

  • It will be nec­es­sary through the process to share very per­son­al details about your life, your mar­riage and your finances. It is very impor­tant that you feel com­fort­able with the lawyer you pick.

  • Most impor­tant­ly, you should select a lawyer who will share and sup­port your atti­tude to your divorce and one that will not esca­late mat­ters sim­ply to increase the legal fees that you spend on your matter.

Once you have select­ed a lawyer (or lawyers) that you think will be able to assist you, the next step is gen­er­al­ly a first con­fer­ence with the lawyer. 

See­ing a lawyer for the first time can be very daunt­ing, espe­cial­ly at a time when you are already feel­ing vul­ner­a­ble. Your first meet­ing is impor­tant because it is an oppor­tu­ni­ty for you to get as much direc­tion and clar­i­ty as you can as to what to do next. 
So, what can you do to help your lawyer pro­vide val­ue for mon­ey from your first meeting?

Under­stand what a lawyer can and can­not help you with

Under­stand­ing the role your lawyer will play before your ini­tial meet­ing will help you prop­er­ly pre­pare for your first meet­ing; which is the next essen­tial step. It is impor­tant to set your expec­ta­tions now on what your lawyer can and can­not help you with. This will also give you clar­i­ty on what ques­tions to ask.

So, what can your fam­i­ly lawyer help you with? They can:

  • advise you about your legal rights and respon­si­bil­i­ties in regards to divorce, par­ent­ing, child sup­port, spouse main­te­nance and property.
  • act as a buffer between you and your for­mer part­ner, to engage in nego­ti­a­tions to reach agree­ment about the divi­sion of your prop­er­ty and/​or par­ent­ing of your children.
  • help you devel­op an action plan, cre­ate prac­ti­cal solu­tions to prob­lems which can be resolved inde­pen­dent­ly from the legal sys­tem and deter­mine which solu­tions would best suit your circumstances
  • con­nect with oth­er pro­fes­sion­als to assist you in deal­ing with any fam­i­ly vio­lence such as police and to also assist you with non-legal prob­lems aris­ing from your sep­a­ra­tion includ­ing, finan­cial advi­sors, accoun­tants, mort­gage bro­kers, and men­tal health professionals

What your lawyer can­not do is:

  • help you emo­tion­al­ly recov­er from the break­down of your relationship
  • help you change or alter your for­mer spouse’s atti­tude, per­son­al­i­ty or par­ent­ing styles; or
  • help you with any prob­lems that are not legal­ly based

Pre­pare, pre­pare, prepare

As Win­ston Churchill said Fail to plan, plan to fail”. Being organ­ised and pre­pared for your first meet­ing will lim­it the work your lawyer will have to do to pro­vide you with the ini­tial advice you need. What a lawyer can advise you on great­ly depends on the facts and infor­ma­tion you give them and your defined goals. The work you do before your first meet­ing like gath­er­ing, organ­is­ing and mak­ing note of the rel­e­vant infor­ma­tion will pro­vide your lawyer with essen­tial infor­ma­tion, there­fore, they can spend more time on your advice rather than help­ing you gath­er the infor­ma­tion required.

For exam­ple, if you are seek­ing advice about prop­er­ty mat­ters, it is very help­ful to have to hand:

  • A list of all assets in your name, your for­mer part­ners name, or joint names, with your best esti­mate of the val­ue of each asset. If the assets include com­pa­nies, it is help­ful to know the names of each enti­ty and, if pos­si­ble, who owns shares in each entity;
  • A list of all the lia­bil­i­ties in your name, your for­mer part­ners name, or joint names, with details of the funds owed under each liability;
  • Detail on the val­ue of each of your super­an­nu­a­tion interests;
  • Details of what (if any­thing) each of you owned when you com­menced liv­ing together;
  • Any infor­ma­tion you might have about (sub­stan­tial) gifts of mon­ey or inher­i­tances received by either of you;
  • An overview of your cur­rent liv­ing expenses.

If you are seek­ing advice about par­ent­ing mat­ters, your lawyer will be assist­ed in advis­ing you if you are able to tell them:

  • The full names and dates of birth of each child;
  • Where the chil­dren are cur­rent­ly living;
  • Where the chil­dren attend school/​daycare/​preschool;
  • The chil­dren’s week­ly rou­tine – i.e. extracur­ric­u­lar activ­i­ties, sports and the like;
  • How much time the chil­dren are cur­rent­ly spend­ing with each child;
  • Any addi­tion­al needs your child might have;
  • Any con­cerns you have for the chil­dren in the oth­er par­en­t’s care;
  • Whether the oth­er par­ent has put for­ward any pro­pos­als about the arrange­ments for the children.

Take your time to pick a lawyer that is most appro­pri­ate for you and one who will give you the sup­port and has the knowl­edge to make a world of dif­fer­ence in your divorce experience.

At Swaab our advice is objec­tive, hon­est and prac­ti­cal. We will do our best to keep you out of the courts so that you can avoid the expense, delay and uncer­tain­ty that this brings but if court becomes nec­es­sary you can rely on our skill and exper­tise to get you through it.